Reducing livestock hay loss over winter

Feed costs tend to be one of the costliest parts of caring for livestock—whether for horses, cattle, sheep, or goats. One large component of feed cost is how much hay your critters are using (or wasting).


A University of Minnesota study evaluated the use of nine different types of round bale feeders for horses on safety, hay waste, cost, intake, and weight change of horses against a control (no hay feeder). Results of the research indicated that using no hay feeder wasted approximately 57 percent of the hay. All of the hay feeders reduced the amount of hay wasted, from five percent wasted up to 33 percent wasted. Feeder types that allowed horses to get their head in a bale and pull hay out resulted in more wasted hay on the ground (13 to 33 percent).  Feeders which restricted access to hay resulted in less waste (five to 11 percent).

As shown by the hay intake data in the chart, intake was not affected by feeder design.  Horses consistently ate 2 to 2.4 percent of their body weight when eating from a feeder. Horses actually ate less when not using a feeder, only taking in 1.3 percent of their body weight each day. Not using a feeder may actually result in herd weight loss due to greater hay spoilage.

Similar studies with different feeder types have been done with beef cattle herds. A study from Michigan State University evaluated four different feeders. One hundred sixty beef cows were grouped into pens of 20, with eight pens in the study. For this study, hay waste ranged from 3.5 to 14.6 percent.

The MSU study used video cameras to record animal behavior while the study was going on. Researchers noted that cattle feeding from the cradle had almost three times the amount of headbutting and displacement of other cattle compared to other feeder types. There were also four times the number of feeder entrance behaviors with the cradle compared to other feeder types. Feed waste was correlated with these behaviors.

Assuming a 50 cow herd, hay waste per cow at 3.5 pounds, and a 200 day feeding period, waste over the course of a winter would be 17.5 tons (35,000 pounds). At $100 per ton, this would be a cost to the farmer of $1,750 in wasted hay. Reducing the waste to 1.6 pounds per head per day in the same scenario would reduce the wasted hay cost to $800, saving the farmer $950 over the course of a winter.


Hay waste losses can vary greatly depending on the use of a feeder and type of feeder. The differences in these studies show that one type of feeder may not be the right choice for all livestock, although using feeders of any kind does reduce hay waste. Reducing hay waste over the course of a winter by using a hay feeder can result in a significant cost savings on your livestock feed bill.


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