Editor’s note: The following was written by Travis Meteer, University of Illinois Extension educator, for the university’s Cattle Connection blog on Nov. 5.
Feeding hay ad libitum is the most popular winter feeding strategy in the Midwest. In most cases, hay is packaged into large round bales and fed in some type of feeder.
Many different designs claim to reduce hay waste, and research in this area has helped identify designs that truly do.
Low hay supplies prompt me to review this research. Many producers need to stretch the hay they have. Those looking to buy more hay this winter may find themselves paying steep premiums. Reducing hay waste can be a worthwhile investment in any year, but when hay prices are elevated it pays quickly.
I have pulled two trials that do a nice job of showing the benefits to an improved hay feeder design. First, Buskirk et al. evaluated large round bale feeder design and the subsequent effect of hay utilization and hay waste. The study compared four different hay feeder designs: cone, ring, trailer and cradle.
All feeder designs resulted in similar cow intakes. However, the amount of hay wasted was different between designs. Hay waste was least to greatest in this order: cone, ring, trailer and then cradle.
The type of hay offered in this trial was second-cutting alfalfa and orchard grass. The hay tested approximately 13 percent CP, 53 percent NDF and 35 percent ADF on a dry matter basis.
Researchers at Oklahoma State University also looked at hay feeder design and associated wastes. Four different feeder designs were evaluated: cone, sheet, ring and poly. Hay waste for the feeders as listed in parenthesis were: cone (5.3 percent), sheet (13.0 percent), ring (20.5 percent) and poly (21.0 percent).
Costs were analyzed as well. They assumed a hay price of $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.
It is easy to see that improved feeder designs like the cone-shaped hay feeder can save producers money by reducing hay waste.
Profitable cow/calf producers will always be focused on reducing feed costs.