Stop wet winter weather from causing hay feeding loss

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The weather is not wanting to be friends starting off the new year. My normally drained barn loft is nothing but a big mud hole right now. The forecast for the next couple of weeks looks like we are going to be continuing our battle with temperatures in the 30s to low 50s and wet with both rain and possible snow in some areas. 

For small livestock producers, including those with 5 to 10 cows, 15 to 20 head of goats or sheep, or even just two horses during this type of weather, minimizing hay loss and waste while feeding is a must — especially now with the prices of everything we buy going up. 

Hay loss from feeding can range anywhere from 2% to as much as 60%. Feeding losses can occur from trampling, weather conditions, fecal contamination, method of storage and overall hay quality. So, it is important to prevent as much hay feeding loss as possible, especially for small producers.

One way to prevent hay feeding loss for the small farm livestock producers is to not feed in the same area all winter, unless you develop a heavy use pad for your winter-feeding operation. This will prevent muddy conditions, soil destruction and compaction. 

If this is not possible, moving the feeding area around to well-drained sites helps alleviate some of the mud. In addition, only feeding the amount of hay the animals will eat in one day will help. 

When feeding large amounts of hay, using hay racks or bale rings are very helpful to place a barrier between the hay and animals to reduce hay waste.

When feeding round bales, think about putting old tires, blocks or fence posts in the round bale feeder first then setting the round bale of hay on top. This will keep the bale from sitting directly on the ground and collecting moisture and creating waste that your animals will not eat. Yes, it involves a little more work, but it also provides a little more feed for your animals. 

Utilizing a barn, lean-to or some type of portable roof system over a round bale feeder will also help small farm livestock producers minimize hay waste losses. Don’t let animals have access to get in and lay on the hay because then they will not eat it. 

To reduce hay losses and waste during feeding, make sure you select well-drained sites. Always use hay feeders to reduce trampling, compaction, mud and hay losses. Minimize the amount of hay that livestock have access to at any one time.

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