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  • Eric Bailey, University of Missouri

Angus Advisor: Midwest Region

Reducing hay feeding waste

Use bale feeders to reduce hay waste. When large round bales are fed without a feeder, cattle have unrestricted access, leading to substantial waste. Bale feeders designed to restrict access and control hay consumption minimize wastage. Studies show using bale feeders can lead to notable hay savings. While the exact amount varies, it is possible to reduce waste from 40% of a bale to less than 10%. 

Feeder design: Feeders with solid bottoms and suitable heights prevent cattle from pulling out and trampling on hay. Cone-shaped or tapered feeders restrict access to hay, allowing only small amounts to be consumed at a time, reducing waste.  

Feeder placement: Provide ample space to accommodate all animals without overcrowding, which can lead to trampling and wastage. Put enough rings out so no more than 10 cows stand around a feeder at one time.

Controlled feeding: Unrolling bales on pasture can reduce wastage. Feeding one day’s worth of hay will reduce waste compared to putting out enough hay to last multiple days. Evaluating feeding frequency and adjusting can reduce losses due to bedding and fouling hay spilled outside feeders and encourage complete consumption. 

Quality assessment: Regularly assessing hay quality is crucial. Poor-quality hay may be less palatable, leading to wastage. Monitoring hay moisture levels prevents mold or bacterial growth, which can render hay unappetizing or unhealthy.

Hay storage: Storing hay in a dry, well-ventilated area, preferably on pallets or racks, prevents moisture absorption from the ground. Rainfall or snowmelt can be avoided by covering hay with tarps or storing it in barns.

Supplementary feeding: Assessing the nutritional requirements of the herd and considering appropriate feed or concentrate supplements can minimize hay wastage by ensuring cattle consume required nutrients without excessive reliance on hay.  

Monitoring and adjustment: Regularly evaluating hay consumption and wastage rates allows for identification of areas for improvement. Feeding strategies can be adjusted based on observed patterns and feedback from the herd. Look at BCS change for 30 days to see if a feeding plan is working. 

Improving forage utilization

Improving forage utilization

Try to increase forage utilization when grazing pasture, allowing you to graze longer and feed hay for fewer days next winter. 

Rotational grazing: Implementing a rotational grazing system divides pastures into smaller paddocks and rotates animals between them. 

This reduces selective grazing, promotes even distribution and encourages uniform plant growth. It is possible to double the amount of pasture forage grown that ends up in a cow’s mouth with a managed grazing system. 

Rest and recovery periods: This is the key to rotational grazing systems. Allowing pastures adequate rest and recovery periods between grazing cycles promotes regrowth and replenishment of root reserves. Rest periods across Missouri depend on the season, but could be as short as 21 days in April and May to longer than 60 days between grazing events during this time of year. 

Fencing and water infrastructure: Making cows walk more than 1,000 feet to water may reduce grazing distribution and forage utilization in Missouri. Think about where water is in your pastures and if there is a simple, temporary fencing solution that could improve forage utilization.  

Proper stocking rate: Matching the number of animals grazing a pasture to its carrying capacity is crucial. Overstocking leads to overgrazing, reduced forage availability and decreased utilization. Understocking results in underutilization of available forage. Regular monitoring and adjusting stocking rates based on pasture condition are vital.

Monitoring and observation: Regularly observing pasture condition, forage height, species composition, and signs of overgrazing or underutilization allow for adjustments in grazing practices. This ensures optimal forage utilization and pasture health. 

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