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Hay feeding options to stretch short hay supplies

August 20, 2012

Hay feeding options to stretch short hay supplies

John Jennings – Extension Forages

Shane Gadberry – Extension Beef Nutrition


Hay supplies are limited statewide. Purchased hay is expensive, if you can find a good supply. Offers of hay from southeastern states are coming in daily. Most of that hay is reasonably priced, but transportation cost can more than double the hay cost.  If you’ve been feeding hay or have to feed hay from now until hopeful fall grazing, what management can help stretch your slim supply?

Hay that will not be fed until winter should be protected from weathering during storage. Many people do not have adequate barn storage for large amounts of hay. Hay can be stacked outside, but for long-term storage, make sure it is up off the ground and covered. It can be stacked on pallets, poles, large crushed rock, or even tires.  Do not use damaged or rotted pallets or tires with exposed steel belting.  These could result in metal contaminants and potential hardware disease.  Do not use cheap blue tarps to cover hay. These tarps are not UV protected and will fall apart within a few months of exposure to wind and direct sunshine.

Research has shown that cows can consume most of their hay intake during the first few hours of access to the hay. With that in mind, producers can try limiting the time cows have access to the hay to 5-6 hours per day to reduce hay waste. This should only be done with hay that meets the nutritional needs of the cow. Limit-time feeding with poor quality hay will cause under nourishment and production losses.

Other options include different feeding methods. Feeding hay in rings can cut feeding waste by half compared to unprotected access. Ring feeders with a metal skirt around the bottom reduce waste more than pipe feeders.  Hay feeders can also be a less wasteful method than manger type feeders.  Unrolling hay can increase waste if more hay is offered than consumed in a short time. Grinding or processing hay can increase consumption and reduce waste to less than 1 percent if fed in large feeders, such as recycling heavy equipment tires or large troughs.  Research has shown that processed hay fed on the ground was just as wasteful as other methods. One producer is evaluating temporary electric fence to control trampling of unrolled hay. He unrolls a large round bale and then stretches an electrified poly wire down the middle of the length of the unrolled hay. Initial observation is that the cows line up along the hay line and do not trample or lay on the unrolled hay. Waste compared to unprotected unrolled hay has not yet been determined.

In cases where some rainfall has occurred and grass growth is returning, limit grazing while continuing to feed hay can help avoid overgrazing the recovering pasture. Limit grazed pasture also works well as a supplement for lower quality hay and can be a less expensive alternative to purchased feed supplements. Grazing 2-3 days per week along with feeding hay the remaining days or vice versa can can help stretch limited forage.


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