Reducing livestock hay loss over winter

round hay bale in field at sunsetFeed costs tend to be one of the most costly parts of caring for livestock- whether for horses, cattle, sheep or goats.  One large component of feed cost is how much hay your critters are using (or wasting).

A University of Minnesota study evaluated the use of nine different types of round bale feeders for horses on safety, hay waste, cost, intake, and weight change of horses against a control (no hay feeder).  Results of the research indicated that using no hay feeder wasted approximately 57 percent of the hay.  All of the hay feeders reduced the amount of hay wasted, from five percent wasted up to 33 percent wasted.  Feeder types that allowed horses to get their head in a bale and pull hay out resulted in more wasted hay on the ground (13 to 33 percent).  Feeders which restricted access to hay resulted in less waste (five to 11 percent).

Feeder type Hay waste, % Hay intake,

% BW

Herd weight change, lb Payback ($100/t), months
Waste Less 5a 2.3a 70a 8e
Cinch Net 6ab 2.4a 183a 0.8a
Hayhut 9bc 2.3a -7ab 4c
Covered Cradle 11c 2.4a 55a 20f
Tombstone Saver 13cd 2.2a -35ab 4cd
Cone 19d 2.1a 57a 9e
Tombstone 19d 2.2a 174a 2b
Ring 19d 2.1a 0ab 2b
Hay Sleigh 33e 2.0a 37a 5d
No feeder 57f 1.3b -225b

Results of the University of Minnesota Extension hay feeder study.  Numbers with a different superscript letter are statistically different within a column.

The study noted that horse injuries related to using the feeders tested are not common.

As shown by the hay intake data in the chart, intake was not affected by feeder design.  Horses consistently ate 2 to 2.4 percent of their body weight when eating from a feeder.  Horses actually ate less when not using a feeder, only taking in 1.3 percent of their body weight each day.  Not using a feeder may actually result in herd weight loss due to greater hay spoilage.

Similar studies with different feeder types have been done with beef cattle herds.  A study from Michigan State University evaluated four different feeders.  One hundred sixty beef cows were grouped into pens of 20, with eight pens in the study.  For this study, hay waste ranged from 3.5 to 14.6 percent.

Feeder type Daily hay waste, lb/cow Hay waste, %
Cone 0.9 3.5
Ring 1.6 6.1
Trailer 3.5 11.4
Cradle 4.2 14.6

Hay waste from various designs of round bale feeders based on dry matter.

The MSU study used video cameras to record animal behavior while the study was going on.  Researchers noted that cattle feeding from the cradle had almost three times the amount of headbutting and displacement of other cattle compared to other feeder types.  There were also four times the number of feeder entrance behaviors with the cradle compared to other feeder types.  Feed waste was correlated with these behaviors.

Assuming a 50 cow herd, hay waste per cow at 3.5 pounds, and a 200 day feeding period, waste over the course of a winter would be 17.5 tons (35,000 pounds).  At $100 per ton, this would be a cost to the farmer of $1,750 in wasted hay!  Reducing the waste to 1.6 pounds per head per day in the same scenario would reduce the wasted hay cost to $800, saving the farmer $950 over the course of a winter.

Hay waste losses can vary greatly depending on the use of a feeder and type of feeder.  The differences in these studies show that one type of feeder may not be the right choice for all livestock, although using feeders of any kind does reduce hay waste.  Reducing hay waste over the course of a winter by using a hay feeder can result in a significant cost savings on your livestock feed bill.



The University of Wisconsin-Extension provides research-based information to help citizens of Wisconsin make informed decisions based on science.  UW-Extension extends the boundaries of the university to the boundaries of the state, helping the people of Wisconsin and beyond access university resources and engage in learning, wherever they live or work.


Note: This article originally was published in the Marquette County Tribune, Waushara Argus, and/or the Berlin Journal.  This article was written by Lyssa Seefeldt, UW-Extension Agriculture Agent for Marquette County unless otherwise noted.