How you store hay and feed it to your animals should minimize losses as far as possible while ensuring their nutritional intake is stable. Hay that is not stored well is subject to losing its nutritional value or becoming moldy. Additionally, how hay is fed to the animals will determine the percentage of feed loss – which happens without fail.
It is better to feed ruminants hay by the bale instead of by volume. Feeding by volume is labor intensive and risks overfeeding. Instead, you can calculate the number of bales needed for your animals based on the bales' weight and dimensions and the animals' feeding needs.
However, when feeding hay by the bale, you would need to present it to your animals in such a way that it reduces waste. Some hay will inevitably fall to the ground and be soiled through trampling and excrement. To minimize waste when feeding, it should be placed in a feeder or fed in smaller amounts throughout the day.
Why You Should Feed Hay By The Bale And Not By Volume?
When feeding hay to ruminants, their hay intake should be calculated according to their body weight to meet their dietary needs. The amount of hay they need is calculated in mass rather than volume. This is because different hays have different densities, nutritional values, and moisture contents.
If a farmer were to mete out the hay by volume, there is a risk of overfeeding the animals and causing health problems like obesity or colic. Feeding hay by the bale allows you to better calculate and control the weight (or estimated weight) of hay needed.
For example, the amount of hay or hay equivalent cows need in a day is equal to three percent of their body weight. Put another way, for every one-hundred pounds of a cow's body weight, the cow requires three pounds of dry hay. To demonstrate, the average cow weighs 1,600 pounds. Therefore, the calculation for hay needed for a 1,600-pound cow will be as follows:
Cow's mass x 3% = 1,600 pounds x 0.03 = 48 pounds of hay daily.
How To Control Hay Intake When Feeding By The Bale?
As you can imagine, weighing each cow's daily hay requirements is labor intensive and not always practical – especially if you have many cows or other ruminants. So, feeding hay by the bale is more practical, but there still needs to be some form of control to ensure the animals get roughly the correct amount of hay.
The way you feed your animals hay will depend on the number of cows you have. For example, if you have a small herd, you can feed hay in small amounts. For larger herds, you can put the hay in a feeder to reduce the chances of waste.
Whichever way you opt to feed your cows or other ruminants using hay bales, limiting their access to the hay will help to minimize losses. If left unrestricted, cows will waste up to 45% of their hay when eating.
A hay rack or "hay ring" limits how much hay will fall to the ground and be trampled. The additional benefit of putting hay bales into a feeder is that you can put out more than the daily quota of hay at a time.
If you don't have a feeder but choose to feed by the bale, you can place large round bales in the pastures or feeding areas. The hay losses will be higher, but you can reduce them by calculating how many bales to put out daily.
The easiest way to determine the number of hay bales needed is to know the weight of each bale. However, if you don't know the weight of the hay bales, you can estimate how many to put out using this method:
Measure the circumference of the bales. For each foot of circumference, you can feed one cow. For example, a bale of hay with a 5-foot radius will have a circumference of just over 31 feet. Therefore, a large hay bale with a radius of 5 feet should be able to feed up to 31 cows daily.
Points To Consider When Purchasing Or Making Hay Bales
Hay is expensive, and when not managed properly, you can lose up to 50 percent of your hay stock through transporting, storage, and feeding losses. Some people prefer buying smaller bales because they are easier to handle – especially if they don't have the necessary equipment to move large bales.
However, buying lots of smaller bales tends to be more expensive than buying fewer larger bales. Additionally, how the bales are packaged will determine their longevity and potential losses.
Order Hay By Weight, Not By Bales
When ordering hay, it is packaged into bales. However, bales vary in size, shape, and weight, so it is wiser to specify the amount of hay in pounds when ordering. Additionally, it is always recommended that you order extra because there will inevitably be hay loss during transportation, storage, and feeding.
The table below gives an idea of the estimated weight of hay bales when bought, stored, and put out for feeding. For illustrative purposes, we can assume that we need to feed 25 cows for a week, with each cow eating 26 pounds of hay daily.
Bale Size (ft)
Estimated bale weight (lbs.)
Bale weight after 10% storage loss (lbs.)
Bale weight adjusted for 5% feeding loss (lbs.)
Hay consumed per cow daily.
Hay bales needed to feed 25 cows for 1 week
4 x 4
4 x 5
5 x 5
5 x 6
Table 1: Effect of bale size on weight and the number of bales required to feed 25 cows for 1 week
When you know how many bales should last a week, you can divide that figure by 7 to know how much hay to put out daily. But, of course, the bale sizes you've chosen will impact how labor-intensive it is to distribute the daily quota of hay.
Round Hay Bales Are More Practical And Cheaper
A typical round bale of hay measuring 4 x 4 feet weighs around 670 pounds, whereas small square bales can weigh about 40 pounds each. That means that one 4 x 4 round hay bale is the equivalent of just over 16 small hay bales. Assuming you have the equipment to transport one large hay bale, it is less labor-intensive (and cheaper) to feed one big bale than 16 small bales per day.
Where Will You Store The Hay Bales?
The hay bales you choose should be in accordance with how you plan to store them. For instance, round bales are created so they can be left outside. On the other hand, square bales will need to be kept under cover, off the ground, and in a dry area to prevent them from deteriorating.
Additionally, bales wrapped in stretch-wrap plastic will help to prolong the lifespan and quality of hay during storage.
Check The Hay Bales For Mold
Hay bales are prone to becoming moldy under the wrong conditions. In addition, smaller ruminants like goats and sheep can get listeriosis from moldy hay bales, so it is wise to assess the hay's quality when you purchase it and before you feed it. Additionally, opened bales should be consumed within three to four days.
When feeding ruminants, it is better to provide by the bale and not by volume. Feeding by volume is labor intensive and can lead to overfeeding the animals because of the different nutritional values and densities of hays. Instead, it is more cost-effective and less labor-intensive to feed by the bale, as long as you minimize waste by using a feeder.