Winter feedlot

Keeping stored feed from spoiling is challenging enough without tossing the unpredictable weather of winter into the mix.

Most of the issues occur with the hay supply, says Dan Loy, Extension beef specialist with Iowa State University. He says timely harvesting and baling of hay can help reduce the potential for storage loss.

“If it’s too wet, you’re going to have some damage,” Loy says. “Net wrap will help reduce storage losses by 5 to 15% in some cases. If you don’t wrap, just covering it is going to help.”

Storing big round bales on a well-drained surface will also help reduce spoilage.

“If the area is poorly drained, you can see as much as a 50% loss,” Loy says. “Even placing bales on a rock surface is going to help.”

Putting a roof over stored hay is even better. He says less than 5% of hay tonnage would be lost if it is stored indoors, such as in a machinery shed.

Loy says the strange growing season resulted in more calls about silage this year, adding the weather also generated more interest in bagged baleage. He says managing silage is challenging once it is placed in the silo.

“Most of your storage management occurs when you initially store it,” Loy says, adding farmers need to be extremely careful when dealing with silage.

Testing the quality of forage is usually a good idea, but with the huge swings in summer weather, it could be even more important this year.

Justin Waggoner, Extension beef specialist with Kansas State University, says a forage analysis costs between $20 and $30 per sample. He calls that money well spent.

“Growing conditions here and in the Midwest have been all over the place.” Waggoner says. “That lends itself to a lot of variability with feedstuffs.”

He says just a 1% dip in protein levels and the resulting supplementation could cost up to $17 per cow over a 60-day period.

“That’s not good when magins are already pretty tight,” Waggoner says.

Keeping dry feed out of the elements should greatly reduce loss, he says, especially when feeding large amounts of distillers, corn or ground hay.

“You need to be able to control shrink and manage any potential losses,” Waggoner says, adding exposure to wind can also cut into feed quality.

He says using building like a machine shed with a concrete floor will keep dry feed from spoiling.

“The storage doesn’t have to be elaborate. It just needs to be dry and pretty much water-proof,” Waggoner says.

Colder weather should also stretch the viability of wet stored feed, he says, although exposure to air is going to speed up spoilage.

Loy says with more silage chopped this year, farmers need to understand how to manage it. ISU has a tip sheet on dealing with silage at

“This is not something we typically see, so you need to stay safe when working with it,” he says. “If you have a big pile and you aren’t used to it, a cave-in is a real safety risk. Manage the face carefully. There are good resources out there that can really help you out.”

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Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.