How to reduce hay feeding costs

hay field

With the recent cold snap, forage growth has all but come to a halt across most of the state. Feeding hay is a necessity when there is limited availability to graze forages.

While feeding hay is a necessity, it can also be rather expensive, as often livestock waste a significant amount of the hay put in front of them.

Limit feeding

Consider providing limited access to round bale feeding areas to minimize waste. Only allowing 8 to 12 hours of access per day can significantly reduce the amount of waste, especially when feeding in a round bale feeder.

For this approach to be successful, there should be enough feeder space to allow every animal to eat. Using electrified poly wire to manage access as a possible option to limit cow access or utilizing a sacrifice paddock with permanent perimeter fence would also work.

Cattle can also be limit-fed in a bunk. Provide mature beef cows with 24 linear inches of bunk space. In a bunk-fed system, the amount of hay fed should be determined based on cow condition and fed as a percentage of body weight.

Processing hay

Feeding processed or ground hay will also reduce waste as cattle can take more uniform bites of forage rather than pulling at long-stemmed particles and dropping a portion of each bite.

By processing the forage into 1- to 2-inch-long particles, forage digestibility and nutrient utilization is improved by as much as 30%. If buying hay, consider whether the bale was made with a chop-cut baler with a knife processor. Due to increased digestibility, processed bales should be of higher value than unprocessed long-stemmed bales.

No mud

Anytime hay is set on bare ground there will be waste as dry matter is lost. Consider feeding hay on a heavy-use pad/area with a limestone or concrete base. A heavy-use pad requires some manure maintenance throughout the season and should be scraped periodically.

Your county NRCS office may have opportunities to assist on the construction of a heavy-use feeding area.

Unrolling bales

Unrolling large round bales works best when the ground is frozen. Frozen ground prevents the trampling of hay into the mud. Unrolling does have an advantage when it comes to manure distribution across a pasture, but generally have a larger percentage of waste. If unrolling large round bales, only unroll what a group of animals can consume within a single day.


Feeding hay can be expensive. To reduce hay-feeding costs consider implementing the following strategies. Feed hay in a feeder of some sort, some are better than others in terms of limiting waste. Process hay into smaller particles to reduce feeding waste and improve digestibility. Feed hay (and cattle if possible) in minimal mud. Limit feed forage to meet the animals’ needs, matching hay quality to production stage. Don’t feed the highest quality hay to animals in mid-gestation; save those forages for late gestation and lactation.


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