Linda Geist

CLEVER, Mo. –Due to poor storage and feeding methods, only about half of Missouri hay reaches the cow’s mouth, says University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist Andy McCorkill.

This leads to waste and reduced profits, especially as producers reset their herds post-drought. “Make sure your high-value hay gets in the mouth of an animal,” says McCorkill.

McCorkill was one of the speakers at the Christian County Livestock & Forage Conference at Clever, Missouri, on March 7.

A hay barn to protect your investment is the best bet, McCorkill says. If you can’t put hay under a roof, pay strict attention to outside storage practices that expose bales to sunlight and precipitation:

• Run hay bales in rows in a north-south orientation on a sloped site that allows drainage.

• Space bales 3-plus feet apart for better ventilation and easier access with a tractor.

• Butt bales end to end.

• Place bales on gravel or elevate them on pallets or old tires to reduce moisture wicking from the ground. Bales stored on damp soil flatten and squat closer to the ground, exposing more of the bale to weathering and spoilage.

Bale size matters, too. Larger-diameter bales have less loss. Smaller bales have about twice as much exposed surface for the same amount of hay.

In a 5-foot bale, more than 30% of the bale is in the outer 6 inches, the part most apt to spoil. More than 26% is in the next 6 inches. Just over 20% is in the well-protected 12-inch center core, according to MU Extension livestock specialist Jim Humphrey.

Consider how and where you feed. Feed cows in a well-drained area and feed hay that has been store outside first.

Feed more often and limit cow access to hay to avoid waste, says McCorkill. The hay buffet should not be open all hours. Make cows clean their plate before you serve them more hay.

MU and Michigan State studies show that as much as 40% of hay goes to waste when producers feed three or more days’ worth of hay at a time. Daily unrolled hay bales waste 12% of the supply, and cradle feeders waste 14.6%.

Hay rings reduce waste, but not all hay rings are created equal. Choose the right size and type for your operation, and consider investing in the most efficient type. Place rings on an elevated surface in a well-drained area.

Open rings, the least efficient, may waste up to 20%. Only 3.5% of hay goes unused in cone feeders, the most efficient, and 6.1% goes to waste in bale rings, according to MU studies.

There is less waste when feeding square bales rather than large bales in an open ring. Large, round unrolled bales fed in rings have 45% waste and are the least efficient, according to research done at MU in 1973.

Hay quality also plays a crucial role in the amount of waste, says McCorkill. When higher-quality, more palatable hay is offered, the herd will clean it up better regardless of the type of hay ring used. A Missouri trial suggested there was no statistical difference in hay waste between the varying bale ring types when alfalfa baleage was the roughage used.

For more information, see the MU Extension publication “Reducing Losses When Feeding Hay to Beef Cattle” at

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