Tips for cutting your winter feed bill

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Winter-feeding is one of the most expensive areas in an animal feeding operation.

It can comprise more than half of your annual costs to keep a beef cow over the winter in some areas. Since we live in an area that requires feeding for the majority of the winter, maximizing feed value and minimizing waste is essential to your bottom line.

Hay

All summer, producers fret about making hay. They worry about the weather, the timing, the dryness, and the quality trying to make the best hay possible for winterfeeding. Then, a large number of those producers take that hay and leave it outdoors, to be rained and snowed on.

Hay that is stored outdoors has more spoilage which will result a more rapid deterioration of the quality of hay over time. As hay stored outdoors sits, rain and snow leach nutrients out of the hay and even good quality hay will decline. When you start feeding hay, it will be of higher quality, especially if it is stored outdoors. As the winter wears on, the quality of the hay may deteriorate, especially if it has been a wet fall and winter. Animals may start to refuse the hay, or eat only the center portion, especially if they have been spoiled by good quality hay to start out with.

Health

If an animal begins to refuse hay or eat less than what is required for maintenance or lactation, their health will begin to suffer. They will start losing body condition score, or their milk production will decrease, affecting both mother and calf performance. In order to keep your animals at optimum body condition score, you will have to supplement with feed if your hay is not quality enough to keep up with nutrient demands, or they begin to refuse it.

Use of herbicide to control weeds, seeding and fertilization to increase the amount of favored grasses or legumes are ways to increase the quality of your hayfield, but you also need to be concerned about protecting the quality. Even the best hay stored in the improper conditions will not be a good utilization of resources, so it is important to store it properly.

Storage type

Research at the University of Tennessee on storage methods and waste of hay concluded the following about storage methods and their percentage of loss associated with each one: Stored on the ground with no cover, 37 percent loss; stored on tires with no cover, 29 percent loss; stored on the ground and covered, 29 percent loss; net wrapped and on the ground, 19 percent loss; stored on tires and covered, 8 percent loss; stored in the barn; 6 percent loss. This research suggests that losses can be detrimental depending on storage type.

Spoilage of the hay can occur from moisture getting in to the top as well as bottom. Therefore, if you are unable to store hay indoors, getting it off the ground and covered can be almost as beneficial. Additionally, feed hay in small amounts or invest in a hay feeder to minimize waste. This will keep the cattle from contaminating the hay by walking on it.

Feed hay in a well draining area so that it will not absorb moisture or get soiled. If you are intending to feed hay from one certain area all winter long, invest in some gravel or feed on a concrete pad to minimize the mud.

If you can, feed hay in several different spots you can rotate throughout the winter so that you will not cause damage to any particular part of your pasture. If you have to store some hay outside but also keep some inside, feed what is stored outside first so that it doesn’t have as much of a chance to be exposed to the elements.

It takes a lot of time, effort and patience to make hay that you keep for your own use and if you have to buy hay, it can be a great expense. Take care to protect your hay as best as you can so that you can be as economically efficient as possible during these costly winter months.

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