Manage Hay Feeding To Reduce Costs And Improve Profit

   Feeding the beef cowherd this winter is likely to be expensive due to the added cost of production. In addition, about 30 percent of the hay allocated to the cows during the winter is wasted due to poor management and feeding practices, which increases the cost of wintering the cowherd.
   Approximately 92 percent of the Tennessee beef cow-calf producers winter their cowherds on hay. Hay is simply too valuable to permit a high volume of waste. Ohio State University recently published its 2013 hay enterprise budgets, which showed the cost of grass hay production at $67.86 per ton, and alfalfa hay was priced at $92.96 per ton. Tall fescue is the primary source of hay for Tennessee cowherds, and UT economists estimated the cost of production to be approximately $95 per ton. The average hay price reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service for 2006 to 2011 was $80.33 per ton. Regardless of how the hay is valued, producers cannot afford a 30 percent loss.
   The cost could rise to $123.50 per ton with a $28.50 loss, given the cost per ton of Tennessee fescue hay and the 30 percent loss in feeding. A Tennessee mature beef cow could consume about 1.6 tons of hay during a 120-day winter feeding period; the daily winter feed cost per cow would be about 4.8 cents per day. Factoring in the 30 percent loss due to poor management, the cost would increase up to 6 cents per day, or 25 percent.
   Feeding methods also affect the amount of waste and cost. The use of hay feeders compared to allowing free access to the hay has resulted in reduced waste and is a recommended practice. For example, Michigan State University beef specialists studied four types of hay feeders: cone, ring, trailer and cradle. All types allowed approximately 14.5 inches for each cattle. Dry matter waste was 3.5 percent, 6.1 percent, 11.4 percent and 14.6 percent for the cone, ring, trailer and cradle feeders, respectively.
   Normally, when cattle are allowed unlimited access to large round bales, a large percentage of the hay is wasted. Purdue University researchers have reported a 30 percent loss, Texas workers reported a 24 percent loss, and UT researchers reported a 27 percent loss when using the unlimited access method. The use of a ring feeder reduced waste by 8 to 9 percent.
   Larry Moorehead, UT Extension director and agent in Moore County, has conducted “on the farm” demonstrations to estimate hay waste for various feeding practices. He showed that by using cone feeders, waste was reduced to 1.6 percent. This loss is less than the reported 4 to 5 percent. However, it was still a large reduction in waste.
   Regardless of the feeding practice applied to your cow-calf herd, some hay will be lost. However, proper management will greatly reduce these losses. Because hay is an expensive commodity, it will be to the producer’s advantage to apply those practices that will aid in maintaining waste at the lowest possible level thereby reducing the winter feed bill and increasing profitability.∆
DR. JAMES B. NEEL: Professor, Department of Animal Science, UT Extension Beef Cattle Specialist, University of Tennessee

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