Winter feed is a big expenses for livestock producers. Here are some strategies to make sure cattle waste as little hay as possible.

Hay feeding method plays a role in the amount of forage wasted. Feed hay in a bale ring rather than giving cattle unrestricted access to a bale. Cone feeders, which hold the bale up off the ground and make the cattle pull the hay down from above their head, generally reduces the amount of hay they drag out of the feeder and trample. Using a feeder with a solid or skirted bottom significantly reduces the amount of hay pulled from the feeder and trampled.

When cows have 24-hour access to hay, they can waste as much as 25% of the bale. Limit feeding is one way to reduce hay waste. Although this increases labor requirements, it reduces the opportunity for cattle to waste hay. This can be done by unrolling only a one day supply of hay, grinding it with a bale processor and feeding a day’s worth of feed, or putting only the daily supply of hay in a bale ring feeder.

If the bales being fed in a hay ring will provide more than a one-day supply of hay, limit access to the bale to only a few hours. Research shows that limiting access to good quality hay for as little as three hours per day provided acceptable performance for dry cows during late gestation. Limiting access to nine hours per day reduced hay consumption and hay waste with very little impact on cattle performance.

For more information, contact Valerie Tate, field specialist in agronomy for University of Missouri Extension in Linn County by email at or call 660-895-5123. MU Extension programs are open to all.

Valerie Tate is a field specialist in agronomy for the University of Missouri Extension.