Content Coordinator / Arrowquip

Feed waste is a sight no rancher wants to see, but unfortunately it is inevitable. Research from the University of Missouri shows that more than 50% of forage is lost due to feed waste or improper storage. In 2022, the cost of dry hay was between 2 cents and 7 cents per pound of dry matter and has only increased since then.

When feed waste is present, cattle lose weight by burning calories to try and maintain their bodyweight because of inadequate forage access. Winter is especially hard on cattle, so an ample amount of free-choice forage is essential. The key to support your cattle is finding the right feeding practices to minimize waste.

Reducing feed waste is important, especially with forage shortages in certain areas and skyrocketing prices everywhere. Wasted feed leads to increased expenses and lost profit, as well as additional labor.

Here are seven steps to reducing feed waste on your cattle operation this winter:

  1. Start with high-quality forage. Cattle can be picky and will waste less feed if given higher-quality forage. Whether you produce your own hay or you buy it, test the quality so you know your cattle are getting the best. Work on improving the quality of your hay for the following year, and feed the lower-quality forage in smaller amounts early in the winter season to help reduce waste.
  2. Use proper storage. Hay stored indoors better maintains its quality, meaning cattle will be less likely to pick through, leading to less waste. If your forage needs to be stored outside, ensure it stays covered and feed it before the forage stored indoors. To better preserve your bales, wrap them, store them off the ground or cover them with a tarp.
  3. Prepare your feed location. Dealing with the elements is unavoidable. This includes dealing with mud and water. You can reduce the amount of mud by installing proper drainage and footing materials. Make sure to prepare your cattle operation before winter comes by laying gravel down and setting up your drainage. Additionally, if space allows, consider using multiple locations for your cattle. You can also help reduce feed waste by feeding your cattle on concrete slabs or floors, as feed is more prone to disease and rot if fed on natural ground.
  4. Consider feeding frequency. Feeding your cattle small amounts of forage more often will help to reduce waste but will increase labor costs. Frequency of feeding will depend on the number of cattle and the layout of your operation. It’s key to find the sweet spot for your operation and stick with it to help reduce waste and save money.
  5. Change how you feed. The way you feed your cattle can either increase or decrease feed waste. Feeding large round bales can increase waste, but there are ways to reduce the risk – such as using a bale feeder. Formed haystacks have the highest percent of feed waste while small square bales have the lowest. It is best to avoid unrolling a round bale unless you plan to feed daily, otherwise the loss of feed will be a huge waste.
  6. Use a bale feeder. Adding one or more feeders to your operation can significantly reduce feed waste. Without a bale feeder, loss of feed can be as high as 30%. Consider using a round bale feeder that is made to reduce waste by suspending the bales off the ground. This will not only minimize waste but also slow cattle intake, saving you time and money.
  7. Experiment with bale grazing. Bale grazing means placing many bales – usually round – strategically throughout the area where your cattle are. Implementing bale grazing will depend on the area and number of cattle you have, but it will help reduce waste and lessen environmental impacts.

Winter weather and feed waste are inevitable on anybody’s operation, but extremes can be avoided. Although there will always be some degree of waste, applying some, or all, of these strategies can significantly reduce waste and increase profit on any cattle-handling operation.