The right equipment can help reduce forage losses. For example, feed bunks are excellent for feeding small square bales, says Rick Rasby, extension beef specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Round bales can be fed in specially designed racks. Loose or compressed hay stacks can have collapsible racks or electric wire around them to reduce trampling the hay around the edges, he adds.
By using the right equipment you will see:
- Feeding losses when hay is fed daily in bunks can be kept in the 3% to 14% range.
- Well designed feeders (with solid bottom panels) will have losses in the 3% to 10% range for an average forage loss of about 6%.
By contrast, large bales fed free choice without a rack or feeder in muddy conditions can result in forage losses exceeding 45%.
"No matter how hay is fed, efforts that limit the amount of hay accessible to trampling will save feed," he says. "Feed hay at a well drained site and firm ground when possible. Hay racks or bale feeders with solid barriers at the bottom prevent livestock from pulling hay out to be stepped on. Some producers have fed forages on an up-slope with the hay next to an electric fence. Their observation is that, when the hay is spread in a long line so that all cows have access next to the electric fence, forage losses due to trampling are minimal."
The type of forage presented to the cattle can impact the amount lost during the feeding process, he adds. Allowing cattle free access to forages that have a thicker stalk or stem results in greater forages losses during feeding compared to thin stemmed forages like hays. When cattle are fed forages like sorghum-sudan hay and the feeding method and access are not controlled, they tend to select the leaves and upper parts of the stalk and not the lower part of the stalk resulting in greater feeding losses. When feeding method and amount that cows have access to is controlled, feeding losses are not much different among forage types.
"Even if big-round-bale feeders are used to reduce forage feeding losses, there still can be substantial losses," says Rasby. "There is not a lot of data on bale packaging quality on feeding losses. It appears loosely packaged bales fed in a bale feeder can result in high feeding losses. Cows pull the loose hay through the feeder and forage is deposited on the ground around the feeder."
Dry matter losses occur when handling hay from field to feeding. By the time the hay is fed, losses can be substantial, and can essentially increase the amount of production needed from the original standing crop by 35%. By effectively controlling the amount of hay lost and wasted during harvest, storage, and feeding, production costs can be reduced and hay making more profitable, he says.