Hay Feeding Losses

This is the time of year when we need to be concerned about hay feeding losses. This is especially true when feeding large round bales that have not only been stored outside (where considerable weathering loss has occurred), but will also be fed outside on the ground. Feeding losses can occur with any feeding system; the objective should be minimize the loss so that animals can consume most of the hay given to them.

Most large hay packages are fed on sod and offers the advantage of distributing hay on pasture land rather than concentrating it along a feed bunk or barn. When hay is fed on sod, livestock usually waste and refuse less hay in situations in which they have a solid footing. Dry, well-drained, sites should therefore be chosen for feeding hay outside.

Feeding in only on area permits selection of a convenient feeding location which is easily accessible and which minimizes the size of the area in which sod is killed. However, it causes excessive sod destruction, may create muddy conditions, often results in heavy spring weed pressure, and can result in soil compaction and/or ruts in the pasture.

Some livestock producers who feed in only one area prefer to feed on concrete or to haul in large gravel so the hay can be placed on a solid foundation. Also, some producers feed the lowest quality hay first, thus initially causing excessive hay wastage but providing a foundation for further feeding.

Frequently moving the feeding area allows manure to be spread more uniformly over the pasture(s) and therefore improves the soil fertility in bare or thin spots, while reducing the severity (though not necessarily to total area) of sod damage.

When hay is fed on sod, the amount of hay wasted will be much less when only a one-day hay supply is given, and when hay is fed in such a manner that all animals have access. However, unrestricted animal access to large round bales or stacks will result in grossly excessive feeding waste.

If substantial quantities of hay must be put out at one time, erecting a barrier between the hay and the feeding animals will reduce waste. The barrier can be an electric wire, feeding racks or rings, panels, wagons or gates. Feeding racks and rings are available in a variety of shapes and sizes. Racks which prevent hay from contacting the ground are particularly effective.

When racks or panels are not used, enough animals are needed to eat the amount of hay offered in a relatively short period of time. Waste can be reduced by having at least one cow for each foot of outside dimension (circumference) of the hay package. (Source: Don Ball et.al. in Minimizing Losses in Hay Storage and Feeding).