With the dramatic jump in local hay prices this fall, many operations are looking at total cow numbers, and taking a long, hard look at the hay pile. High hay prices are forcing all producers to evaluate the total amount of hay needed this winter. Previous columns have emphasized the importance of hay sampling and analysis to stretch existing feed supplies. Providing a balanced diet and mixing and managing hay supplies, to avoid over-feeding any nutrient, will help reduce overall costs. Managing hay feeding waste can also reduce the total winter hay needs, while also making spring clean-up a lot more bearable. Discussions of winter feeding methods need to be kept in context – not all methods work for all operations. Ease of feeding, convenience, labor required, and cost vs. return all need to be considered.
Hay Loss Associated with Stationary Round Bale Feeders
For smaller producers, and small groups of cattle, large round bales create a problem. How do you deliver the correct amount of feed daily, while minimizing waste? Early methods of dropping an entire bale in the pen, without a feeder, resulted in considerable waste. Studies done in the 70s and 80s estimated that 35 to 45 percent of the bale was wasted. Round bale “ring”-type feeders reduced this amount considerably. These traditional ring feeders were more recently improved by adding an additional cone-shaped framework in the middle of the feeder that elevates the round bale. These “cone” feeders create a separation between the bale and the animal, so that less hay is pulled out of the bale and trampled, reducing waste compared with ring, trailer, and cradle feeders as shown in the table below.
Hay loss associated with various round bale feeders.
Round Bale Feeder Type
Buskirk et al., Michigan State, 1999 Ring Cone Cradle Trailer
Estimated dry matter intake, lbs/cow/day 25.1 25.4 24.3 27.1
Hay dry matter waste, lbs/cow/day 1.6(a) .9(a) 4.2(b) 3.5(b)
Waste, % dry matter basis 6.1(a) 3.5(a) 14.6(c) 11.4(b)
(abc)Within a row, means lacking a common superscript letter differ (P < .05).
Hay Loss Associated with Delivering Feed Daily
For larger groups of cattle, where feed is delivered daily, bale processors have definitely made it easier to handle and uniformly deliver hay to cattle. If you are feeding round bales on the ground, round bale processors seem to reduce the amount of waste by 3 to 10 percent compared with rolling the bales out manually, as shown in the following table. Only two studies are reported here, and it is very difficult to estimate the amount of hay that is delivered and not consumed. Feeding cattle in bunks also reduced the amount of waste by 5 percent. Although feed bunks may reduce waste, they also create additional management issues such as having to feed in the same spot every day and providing adequate bunk space to allow all animals to eat at once. However, bunks also make it easier to deliver supplements, grains, and by-products that may help to reduce overall feed costs.
Hay losses associated with different methods of delivering hay.
Round Bale Feeding Method
Study Rolled out on ground Processed, fed on ground Processed, fed in Bunk Round bale cone feeder
Blasi et al., K-State, 1993
• Wheat hay offered, lb DM/day 24.6 21.2 22.3
– Amount wasted, % 23(b) 13(ab) 8(a)
• Sudan hay offered, lb DM/day 19.9 20.8 20.1
– Amount wasted, % 22 16 11
Landblom et al., NDSU, 2002
• Mixed hay offered, lb As-Fed/day 30.9 29.9 26.3
– % Decrease in feed used - - 3.2% 14.9%
(ab)Within a row, means lacking a common superscript letter differ (P < .05).
Does it Pay??
Attempting to determine whether or not the addition of bale processors or bunks actually pay for themselves becomes a tricky issue, depending on the size of the herd and the price of forage. Let’s assume that the use of a bale processor and bunks both help to reduce waste, and the benefits from each can be added together. The following table tries to put dollar amounts on the benefits and expenses associated with bale processors and bunks, expressed as annual costs per cow.
Partial budget for feeding systems
Herd size, No. of Cows
Benefits and expenses, expressed as annual $/cow 250 500 1000
Benefit of 6.5% annual hay savings, processor(a) 19.50 to 26.81 19.50 to 26.81 19.50 to 26.81
Benefit of 5% annual hay savings, bunks(a) 15.00 to 20.63 15.00 to 20.63 15.00 to 20.63
Bale processor annual expenses(b) 16.60 8.30 4.15
Annual feed bunk cost (c), 3.20 3.20 3.20
Cost vs benefit of bale processor and bunks 14.70 to 27.64 23.00 to 35.94 27.15 to 40.09
(a)Estimates based on feeding 1.5 ton/cow, and using hay prices of $200 to $275/ton.
(b)Approximate values based on $20,000 purchase cost and 6% interest on investment, 20% salvage value, 10 years of use, and $1350 estimated annual repair/maintenance costs.
(c)Bunk costs were estimated at $20/foot initial cost, 5 year life span, and bunk space of 1 ft/cow
(assuming that cattle can eat from both sides of bunk, this would mean 2 ft of bunk space/cow)
Items that are not included in this estimate include any potential reductions in time and labor (may or may not be an issue, depending on whether the kids are away at college or not). Another potential benefit, especially with bale processors that include an electronic scale, is the improved accuracy and consistency in delivering feed. As with nearly all purchases, investments made in equipment become easier to swallow when you can spread the expense over a greater number of cows. The success of bale processors is also related to the type of processor, and the quality of forage. Additional processing of coarse, low-quality forages should improve utilization and reduce waste, while high-quality grass hay and alfalfa may be less affected by processing. When teamed with forage analysis, ration balancing, hay budgeting, and feeding management, managing hay waste is an additional tool to more efficiently manage winter nutrition, one of the largest expenses for cow/calf producers.