Making, transporting and feeding hay is a large investment in time, equipment and money. How can you reduce loss of hay during feeding to make that investment go further?
There are many ways to feed hay, with each method impacting waste differently. If hay is fed unrestricted, cattle can waste 45 percent of the hay they are provided. Limit feeding hay so only what is required is fed will significantly reduce waste right away. Studies show that cattle fed daily versus fed every four days, needed 25 percent less hay. That’s a huge amount, but labor and equipment cost slightly increased.
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A common and usually labor efficient method of feeding is to feed hay directly onto the ground by unrolling bales, distributing ground hay or loose hay and bale pod grazing. With any of these methods, there should only be enough feed distributed or available for one day.
Bale pod grazing is when bales are spread out across a field or pasture, and temporary fence is used to confine animal access to one or several bales. When it’s time for more hay, the producer moves a fence instead of moving a bale. The losses will depend on herd size, however, because this relates to limiting feeding or limiting access.
Limiting access by physical barriers is another way to decrease hay loss. Bale rings, racks, fences, feed bunks, bale pod grazing or another form of limited access can all decrease waste. These methods work by reducing trampling and animal ability to lay down on the hay. The most effective physical barriers have solid side bottoms. This prevents the hay from being pulled out onto the ground. While these methods are effective, they require the purchase of additional equipment which for large herds or changing feeding location can add significant time and money.
No matter the improved method, reducing fed hay losses will improve the return on the hay investment.