Reduce Hay Waste To Control Winter Feeding Costs


   Last month’s article was on storage of your hay and how different storage methods can have an impact on quantity and quality of your hay. This month I want to discuss the many options you have feeding large round bales to cattle – some are much better than others at reducing waste and ensuring all cows (heifers, smaller cows, and big boss cows) have access to the hay.
   Winter-feeding of the beef cows represents the greatest expense in most beef cow-calf enterprises.  Depending on your location, hay prices are very high this year. These higher than normal prices should cause farmers to evaluate their winter-feeding strategies to identify ways to reduce feed costs through minimizing feed waste.
   Many cattlemen will begin feeding hay in November (some may have begun well before then due to poor pasture conditions) and continue through March (151 days). Cattle will eat 2-3 percent of their body weight each day (1200 lb cow will eat 30 lbs per day). Thus one 1200 lb cow will eat at least 2.5 tons each winter (assuming the prior assumptions). Now assume you have 30 cows; you will need at least 56 tons of hay for your herd for the winter. 
   You can easily double your hay usage, if your method of feeding is to place bales out in the pasture or lot without any type of feeder. In this situation the hay becomes expensive bedding for the cows.  You will also double your winter feed costs. When feeding hay the waste can vary from 5-50 percent depending on how you feed the hay to your cows and can  significantly increasing your feed costs.
   A recommendation given often to reduce feeding loss is to use bale rings when feeding large round bales. This was clearly documented by    South Dakota State University. Their three year study included 3- to 10-year-old cows allocated to three treatment groups. The hay was either rolled out on the ground, fed in a windrow using a bale processor or fed in a tapered-cone round bale feeder. Gestating cows were fed an average 58 days to document feed waste, cow performance (weight gain, ultrasound fat depth change, body condition score change and hay intake), labor inputs, and feeding time, which were subsequently used to develop an economic analysis.
   Hay required per cow was based on a dry matter intake equation which took into account cow body weight and net energy maintenance requirement. Cows in the cone bale feeder treatment had an increased ending weight, backfat depth and body condition score, but decreased hay consumption when compared to other treatments. Hay quality between treatments was similar. In this study, feeding method not only influenced the amount of hay fed, but cow performance as well. 
   How? When hay is fed on the ground, a certain amount will be spread around and leaves will be shattered and trampled, leaving stems. The leaves of any plant have the highest levels of protein and energy, so we inadvertently lower the quality intake of the cattle. When this data was put into an economic model, the tapered-cone feeder lowered equipment cost, feeding time and overall wintering cost. Other studies have shown feeding losses as high as 45 percent when hay is fed on the ground versus in some type of restrictive feeding method. This loss would also include animal refusal due to other factors such as spoilage.
   A study conducted at Michigan State University evaluated the quantity of hay loss and feeding behaviors from different round bale feeders.   Cows were allotted pens with four feeder designs: cone, ring, trailer, or cradle. At the end of a 7-d period, each feeder type was assigned to a different pen for a second 7-d period. Feeder access, occupancy rate, and occurrence of agonistic (combative) interactions were recorded. 
   Dry matter hay waste was 3.5, 6.1, 11.4, and 14.6 percent for the cone, ring, trailer, and cradle feeders, respectively. Cows feeding from the cradle feeder had nearly three times the agonistic interactions (any social behaviour related to fighting) and four times the frequency of entrances compared to cows feeding from the other feeder types. Feed losses were positively correlated with agonistic interactions, frequency of regular and irregular entrances, and feeder occupancy rate. 
   Another consideration, after ruminating on this data, is the ability of smaller cows and heifers to access hay to meet their nutritional needs depending on the type of feeder you have. Cradle feeders may result in those smaller cows and heifers losing condition and affecting their performance since they would be experiencing more agnostic behaviors and spending less time eating but more time moving to and from the feeders.
   Another great study on hayfeeder design and associated waste was conducted at Oklahoma State University. Four different feeders were evaluated: cone, sheet, ring, and poly. Hay waste for the feeders was: cone 5.3 percent, sheet 13.0 percent, ring 20.5 percent, and poly 21.0 percent. Costs were analyzed as well. They assumed hay cost $116/ton or $70/bale. Assuming a producer with 30 cows will feed 180 bales in a season, the costs associated with hay waste were: $667 (cone), $1,638 (sheet), $2,583 (ring), and $2,646 (poly) per season.
   Based on these studies it is easy to see that improved feeder designs like the cone-shape hay feeder can save you money by reducing hay waste and stretch short hay supplies.
   Regardless of whether you have sufficient hay supplies this year, you may still want to evaluate your hay loss and determine if there are ways to reduce hay waste. Reducing hay waste will also save you money. The data supports the use of round bale feeders to reduce hay waste; the amount of reduction will vary by type. Round bale feeders can also help maintain the quality of hay during feeding by protecting it from trampling, which can in turn influence cow performance. Remember good management will always pay. ∆
   DR. TERESA L. STECKLER: Extension Specialist, Animal Systems/Beef, Dixon Springs Agricultural Center, University of Illinois
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