Hay loss and feed waste are inevitable components of most beef production systems.
"However, understanding the sources of hay loss from storage and feeding, as well as the impacts of restricting access to hay, can allow producers to develop strategies to optimize feed utilization on their operations," says Carl Dahlen, North Dakota State University Extension Service beef cattle specialist.
The location of hay and whether it is covered during storage greatly affect the loss potential. For example, research evaluating hay loss found an average dry- matter loss of 28 percent, with a range of 5 to 61 percent, for hay stored outside without a cover.
Potential hay loss is reduced as the climate dries because precipitation, contact with wet ground and moisture from other bales are reduced. Dahlen recommends placing uncovered bales stored outside on a hard surface, in single rows, with bales stacked face to face. This eliminates moisture accumulation on the faces of bales and points where bales touch when stacked in a pyramid. The hay loss evaluation showed that when hay was stored outside and covered, the loss fell to 13 percent, and bringing the hay into a building reduced the loss to about 5 percent. However, producers need to consider the economic merit of building a structure to store hay or purchasing tarps and covering haystacks before beginning construction or making purchases, Dahlen cautions.
A hay storage cost comparison tool is available at http://www.extension
haystoragecost.xls to help producers explore the economic implications of different storage techniques.
Hay waste studies at NDSU, the University of Minnesota and Michigan State University discovered that cows fed processed and windrowed bales consumed more hay and had a 16-pound weight gain advantage during a 60-day feeding period compared with cows fed rolled-out bales. In addition, the amount of wasted hay was slightly greater for rolled-out bales than processed bales. However, an economic analysis showed the cost of feeding was greater when using a bale processor compared with rolling bales out for feeding.
"Producers evaluating the two scenarios need to consider whether additional pounds gained when feeding processed hay are worth the added expense," Dahlen says. "In cases where greater intake is desired - for example, thin cows that need to put on weight - the added expense may be worthwhile."
Feeding bales in a hay ring resulted in less waste compared with rolling bales out on the ground, according to the research. In addition, feeding processed hay in a bunk resulted in less waste than feeding processed hay on the ground.
In all cases, the hay intake was similar (about 26 pounds