Doling Out the Hay
So now you have your hay, how do you dole that out? For us hay is a pretty precious resource. We’ve got sweat equity and a ton of worry in our hay supply, and if you have to buy hay you have invested a lot of your hard-earned money. So keeping waste to a minimum is important I think. I cannot even begin to convey how much it bugs me when I see wasted hay. A quick tour around the interwebs will give you an eyeful of wasted hay. And what’s the worst in my mind is the cavalier attitude about wasting hay. I have heard numbers bandied about at high as a 50% expectation of useful hay. Wow! I. Could. Not. Afford. That. Our cows don’t waste any hay. I’m not kidding. Zero waste. How can be?
A lot of that has to do with quality I believe. We make quality hay, and I know how hard that is to do. Besides having good standing hay to begin with you have to deal with the weather, or equipment breakdowns. With poor quality hay you probably can expect 50% of the hay to be discarded by the animals. So we work hard to avoid that. We used to get hay off other “farms” in exchange for the baling of the hay. Many times our cows would not eat it. One year, much to our surprise our cows chose hay from here that had been rained on for over a month, over hay from one of those depleted farms I mentioned in the previous post. We had baled that rained on hay just to get the mess out of the field, and planned to use it for bedding. We didn’t offer it to them we just bedded the feeding shed with the rained on hay and filled the feeder with the “good” hay. Hours later when we went back to the barn, the cows had eaten a good portion of the bedding hay, and had tossed the other hay out of the feeder. You should have seen the stink eye we got when we flipped that hay back in the feeder for dinner. Happy Cows did not live in Oregon that day. So I have to concede that possibly all that wasted hay I am seeing is due to quality or lack thereof. I don’t know about your area, but here you can pay the same amount for crappy hay and good hay. The test of good hay is if your stock will eat it, and clean it up. We still talk about the cows choosing what we considered junk hay over hay that had never seen a drop of rain.
So, lets assume you bought or put up quality hay. The way you feed the hay out too can make a huge difference in how much hay is wasted. We feed in a number of ways during the winter. If the cows are outside and we have not brought them in for the deep bedding period, we deliver the hay to them via pickup and drop the hay off each side of the pickup bed. When feeding like this you want to drop off small amounts of hay and space it at least a cow length plus, so the cows don’t poop or pee on the hay behind them spoiling it for eating. We use small square bales so about a half a bale in each spot is about right. If you feed like this you want to feed in a different spot each day. You will be avoiding feeding on manured areas and placing a more suitable amount of disturbance where you want it. If you’re trying to boost your fertility feeding like this in the poor spots of the pasture will help. Livestock do not like to eat hay their feet have touched because they know they have walked in their own manure. That’s why fence line feeding where you put all the bales together and in the same spot each day will waste a lot of hay, essentially wasting the waste, because there is no way to reclaim that extra manure, urine and soiled hay. It might be convenient to just shove the bale over the fence and not fire up that big tractor or pickup and drive out in the field but, really you should.
Still assuming that we all have quality hay, feeder design may have something to do with hay wastage. These feeder panels pictured above are fixed to a log, you know to hold it firmly in place… . Well, that’s the problem, depending on cow size, if you mount the feeder too high, calves will have a hard time reaching the hay, and if you mount it too low like above, the cows will be uncomfortable because the top bar of the feeder is pressing on their neck the whole time they are eating. This will cause them to reach in and pull out a mouthful of hay and stand there eating it comfortably. But if you have ever pulled apart hay bales of any type you know some always falls out of your hand. So there goes the hay, on the ground and most likely it will get wasted because it gets stepped on. The reason the stock doesn’t eat soiled hay? Because they have a natural repugnance to cow manure, just like in the pasture the repugnance zone that never gets grazed is because of the manure. So no, they are not being fussy, or cute and turning up their nose at perfectly good hay, they are protecting themselves from parasites. Cows are anal that way, and I suspect so is every other grazer if they have a choice. If there ever is an appropriate place to anthropomorphise folks, this is it. Put yourself in their place in regards to eating and feeding.
♥ Is it comfortable to eat there?
♥ Is it clean? No manure of any type, not trodden on before feeding, by chickens, goats, etc., etc.
♥ Is it dry and not rained on or ruined?
♥ Do they feel safe there eating? Will the boss cow ram them from behind while they’re eating?
We got a little smarter with this feeder design, mostly because we wanted to do deep bedding and you must have a movable feeder gate to accomplish this. We looked at a lot of designs including Polyface’s, and came up with this installation for our barn. The first thing to crap out on these panels were the solid sheet metal bottoms that keep the hay on the correct side of the panel. The cows bashed them to smithereens in about seven years, and they were on the wrong side of the panel to really work well. So this summer Hangdog replaced them with plywood. Easy to replace and not quite so dangerous to the bovine bashers should they (plywood panels, not the cows) come loose.
When we were researching feeders for inside winter feeding, the one design we kept seeing was mangers slanted in towards the cow side of the barn, which always resulted in pulled out hay, which quickly becomes sodden, dirty hay. I suppose in a dream world where you can waste hay till the cows come home, that would be fine. Hay Schmay who cares? Unfortunately I don’t live or haul hay in that dream world, I don’t really like wasting hay as you can tell by now. So to that end we rigged up the feeder so the cows stuck their heads in on our side, and if they scoot the hay out of the manger, it is on our side of the barn so we can fork it back within their reach. Not unlike a nice feed alley that you see in larger barns.
So those are the basics, keeping the hay clean, keeping the hay fresh and really looking at the feeder or method you use to feed out the hay and most importantly, watching the cows to see if it is working for them, you may be able to adjust or change-up your feeding area a little bit and stop some of that slippage, and maybe spend a little less on hay.
I can’t really finish this post without saying a thing or three about round bales. I am for one glad we never progressed that far. I know it probably sounds like heresy to go against the round bale crowd, but for smallholders? Really you need some equipment to handle those bales, and forgive my ignorance, I have no idea how much feed that is, and for a cow or two it just doesn’t make sense, unless you don’t mind the waste. There are so many designs of round bale feeders, I have a feeling finding the one that really works without wasting most of the hay is like finding a needle in a haystack. I get it though, I know some folks have no choice, that’s what is available and you do have to make do. I also understand the hay guy’s dilemma too, he doesn’t want to handle all those little bales, and the big bales make perfect sense in that regard. Get big or get out really left its mark.
I’m on a roll I think…next: So you think you want to try deep bedding?