COLUMBIA, Mo. — Feed makes up 60-70 percent of the cost of running a cow-calf operation. In 2008, the University of Missouri estimated that a beef producer’s hay and winter forage accounts for 61 percent of the cow’s annual feed costs.
“There can be vast differences from farm to farm on the hay expense. During the hay-feeding season is a good time to see where savings can be made,” said Eldon Cole, livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
Cole said that while he is driving down the road or through the hay feeding areas of other producers, it is easy to observe how much waste is really taking place.
“Big bale feeders are one of the worst culprits when it comes time to point fingers at waste factors. Low-quality hay ranks as a close second as far as waste is concerned,” said Cole.
Research shows that bale-feeder design is a factor in waste. The most-saving design is the cone-shaped feeder.
“We are beginning to see different modifications of the cone feeder, but they do come with a higher price tag. The higher price is justified when feeding high-quality, high-priced hay,” said Cole.
“The higher price of that feeder also pencils out favorably when you compare less than 10 percent waste to in excess of 30 percent lost feed.”
Cole said the latter waste amount is seen with worn-out, poorly designed bale rings that stay in one place all season long.
There are advantages — manure distribution and animal sanitation — to unrolling big bales. But this method of feeding does require some extra equipment for some farms. However, proper management can make this a good alternative to bale feeders.
“Research also shows that hay waste is reduced by limiting a cow’s access time to big bale feeders,” said Cole.
In the University of Missouri study, when hay was in the feeder free choice, 13.4 pounds of waste occurred per cow per day.
In contrast, if the cows were given access only nine hours per day, they wasted only 9.2 pounds of hay. When access time was cut back to six hours, their waste fell to 5.7 pounds per day for pregnant cows.
Body condition and weight gains were comparable for the three treatments.
“Hay is too expensive to waste, so as cattlemen try to minimize costs in this belt-tightening time, this hay-feeding season is an important time to observe feeding practices closely,” said Cole.
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