Reduce hay loss with various bale feeders for beef cattle

snowy pasture

Hay is a primary source of nutrition for beef cattle, especially during the winter months. However, feeding hay without proper management can result in significant hay wastage and increased feeding costs.

Several universities have conducted various studies on different types of bale feeders to reduce hay loss and improve efficiency. In this article, we will compare various bale feeder options to help beef cattle producers make informed decisions for their operations.

Cone bale feeders

Cone bale feeders are a popular choice for reducing hay loss. These feeders elevate the hay bale off the ground and limit access to the cattle. Studies have shown that cone feeders can reduce hay waste to around 3.5-6.5%, making them an efficient option. The elevation of the bale keeps it out of the mud and manure, preventing spoilage and contamination.

Ring bale feeders

Ring bale feeders are another widely used option due to their lighter weight. They consist of bars that surround the bale. Cattle pull hay from the ring, which helps reduce trampling and waste. Studies have indicated that open-ring feeders can reduce hay loss to about 6-19%. Having this type of feeder with a solid sheet around the bottom of these feeders prevents hay from being pushed out and minimizes access from the bottom, further reducing waste to 6-12%.

Cradle bale feeders

Cradle bale feeders are designed to hold the bale securely and allow cattle to access it from the sides. Research suggests that these feeders had losses of around 15%. Cradle feeders were found to be the least efficient in reducing hay losses.

Trailer-mounted bale feeders. Some universities have explored the use of trailer-mounted bale feeders. These feeders can be moved easily from one location to another, which can help prevent damaging sod and creating mud in certain areas. These studies were just under 12% hay loss on average.


Choosing the right bale feeder for beef cattle producers can vary depending on the unique characteristics of each operation, with implications reaching far beyond the simple conservation of hay. The diverse options, from cone bale feeders that elevate and protect against spoilage to ring feeders with solid sheets that minimize trampling but are more easily moved. While some may question the efficiency of cradle feeders, the adaptability and maneuverability of trailer-mounted feeders provide an alternative to prevent pasture damage.

Although the price of feeders varies, as does the amount of waste, practical success depends on selecting a feeder that aligns with the unique needs and management style of each farm. As producers consider these options, the primary goal remains to reduce hay loss, trim feeding expenses and ultimately enhance the overall health and productivity of the beef cattle herd.


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The author is an agriculture and natural resources educator for OSU Extension in Perry County. Send questions or comments to or in c/o Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.


  1. We use a combination of a round bale feeder with a chain bale hammock and a Hay Chix round bale hay net. We’ve used this combo for over 10 years and have very little waste. Our operation is small but this saves a lot of hay.


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