Don’t lose sleep over lost hay rations

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PRINCETON, Ky. – This winter, hay supplies will be extremely tight on most farms across the Midwest. The 2007 spring freeze followed by prolonged drought led to a 30 percent to 50 percent reduction in hay production this year.
Therefore, it is important not to waste this valuable commodity when feeding it to cattle.
Reducing hay losses during feeding decreases waste, so cattle consume most of it, said Garry Lacefield, forage specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.
Hay losses can be the result of trampling, leaf shatter, chemical and physical deterioration, fecal contamination and simply the animal’s refusal to eat it.
Rate of loss. Feeding losses in various research trials have ranged from less than 2 percent to more than 60 percent where no attempts were made to reduce loss.
With an already reduced yield, farmers cannot afford to let their hay be reduced to rubbish, Lacefield said.
“Remember, too, when you lose hay you are also losing money,” he said.
“It does not matter whether you baled it yourself or purchased the hay, there is a cost involved with hay production.”
With some simple changes, feeding losses of 3 percent to 6 percent are quite common and acceptable for most conservative feeding programs, although the lower levels are associated with feeding programs requiring high labor and daily feeding.
Large round bales are the preferred choice for many cattle producers.
Reduction. One easy way to help reduce losses is to use hay rings or racks with large round bales. The rings limit access to the hay and can help reduce loss by keeping cattle from trampling and bedding down in the hay.
Be sure to provide enough rings to accommodate the number of animals feeding and have the animals clean up the majority of the hay before providing more.
Producers should avoid feeding in areas of excessive mud, which can cause waste and are hard on the animals.
Hay feeding areas can be constructed by putting rock over geotextile fabric. Cost share programs are available to aid in construction.
Storage options can also impact the amount of hay your cattle will ultimately consume. Bales stored outside will degrade quickly and result in less hay available than bales stored under roof.
Feed bales in outside storage first to reduce excessive loss.

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