Cows waste more hay than farmers guess. Justin Sexten, beef nutritionist, learned that by asking visitors at a University of Missouri field day.
Farmers on tour wagons guessed 10% loss—at most.
MU researchers found 20% loss of fescue hay fed in common ring feeders used on most farms.
Sexten will share hay feeding tips at a field day, Sept. 25, at the MU Forage Systems Research Center, Linneus, Mo.
Last winter researchers compared three types of bale feeders on the beef farm at the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, Columbia.
Different types of bale feeders
They used open ring feeder, sheeted feeder and cone feeder. Sheeted feeders cover the bottom of the ring with sheet metal. The cone feeder suspends a bale in the center of the ring.
Waste costs farmers money. For Missouri, wasted baled hay can total $64 million a year. The U.S. loss adds up to more than $1 billion. That was for 2012, as loss depends on hay value. "That shows that when hay supplies are short, waste becomes more expensive," Sexten said.
"When cows waste hay, farmers learn the expense when they must buy feed to replace the loss," he said. That happened when farmers ran out of hay after the drought of 2012.
Sexten told farmers he thinks the 20%loss was too low. The study at the MU farm was under ideal conditions. The fescue bales had been stored in a nearby shed. "There was no rot on the bottom and top of the bales. Rot would be sorted off by the cows.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
"You probably can't move a bale stored outside from along the fence to the feeder without losing 5%," he added.
In the study, Wesley Moore, then a graduate student, picked up every sprig of hay dropped on concrete slabs around bale feeders. He dried and weighed wasted hay and subtracted that from original bale weight.
"On the open ring, he picked up 20% of every fescue bale," Sexten said. "That adds up to big bucks with 20% lost every day of every bale."
The sheeted feeder lost 13.6% and the cone feeder lost 8.9%.
Cone feeders cost the most to buy. The open ring cost least. "Don't look at just initial cost. Look at long-term cost of waste," Sexten said. Also, other feeders made of heavier steel might last longer.
What about unrolling hay?
Sexten agreed with a farmer who said he preferred to unroll bales for feeding. "That's efficient, but adds waste if you unroll more hay than cows eat in a day. It might work if you feed one bale to 40 cows, but if you unroll a whole bale for 20 cows, about half will be lost," he said.
"Oh, I hear you saying 'I like to leave some for the cows to lie down on,'" he added. "But do you want to pay $40 a bale for bedding?"
MU research centers are part of the Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. They hold field days to share local research that might apply across the state. The events are free.
Source: MU Extension