Interesting Tidbit on Winter Feeding…

Feeding methods cost:

A three year wintering investigation was conducted at Dickinson Research Extension Center in North Dakota to determine the effect of hay feeding methods on cow wintering cost. The average amount of hay wasted needs to be calculated when determining how much hay to provide to cows every day or when making forage purchases. A conventional method of rolling round bales out on the grounds was compared to either shredding rounds hay bales on the ground with a bale processor or feeding hay in a tapered-cone round bale feeder. The cows used in the study were in the third trimester of pregnancy and were fed for an average of 59 days during the test period. This study compared cow wintering performance, hay consumption necessary to maintain cow body condition, labor inputs, wintering cost, and hay waste, when hay was either rolled out on the ground, shredded with a bale processor on the ground, or fed in a tapered-cone round bale feeder.

Cow growth, body condition, hay intake, fat depth, and waste data were collected for three years. Cows were weighed, visually condition scored, and measured for rib fat depth using real-time ultrasound at the beginning, middle, and end of the 59-day study between the 12th and 13th rib. Hay waste was estimated manually and with GPS special mapping. Cows were fed to maintain or improve their starting body condition prior to calving.

Cows fed using the conventional method in which bales are rolled out on the ground gained less than when cows were fed with either the bale processor or tapered-cone feeder. Starting, ending and condition score change differed between years, but there were no differences due to method of feeding hay. During the first two years of the study, cows fed using the tapered-cone feeder had greater rib fat depth increase than either the roll out or bale processor methods. There was no difference among feeding methods in the third year. Hay intake to maintain body condition was greatest for the cows fed with the bale processor and lowest for the tapered-cone bale feeder. On average, when compared to the tapered-cone feeder, 5.0 and 15.3% more hay was fed per cow using the roll out and bale processor methods, respectively.

Waste contributed to the increased amount of hay required among the roll out and bale processor cow groups to maintain body condition and subsequent production. This study indicates that if you are feeding hay on the ground, add at least 15 percent to the total amount fed or purchased to compensate for waste. For example, if you normally feed 28-30 lbs per head per day, increase that amount to 33-35 pounds of hay to ensure that adequate nutrition is provided to the cow on a daily basis. If you are feeding on mud, then doubling the amount will help compensate for waste. When calculating the amount of hay needed to feed the cow herd during the winter, remember to compensate for waste.

Source: Landblom, D.G., G.P. Lardy, R. Fast, D.J. Wachenheim, and T.A. Petry. 2006. Effect of hay feeding methods on cow performance, hay waste and wintering cost. Dickinson Research Extension Center North Dakota State University 2006 Annual Report.

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2 thoughts on “Interesting Tidbit on Winter Feeding…

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  1. Living in North Dakota, I’m very familiar with winter feeding and the scientists who did this research. I hope your readers will consider that this article only considers cow performance and doesn’t discuss the environmental impact. Cows fed from feeders may waste less hay, but they also concentrate the urine and feces and severely compact soil when fed in a concentrated manner. Perhaps you consider the feeding area “sacrificial” in terms of soil quality and if so, that’s fine. Most livestock operations have places like that, because we need to gather and feed in close proximity at certain times of the year. You have to make sure you have plenty of feeder space for the amount of livestock or some will be pushed out.

    One of the benefits of rolling out a hay bale is to be able to feed in a pasture or on a field. If the ground is frozen – as it is most of the time we feed hay in North Dakota – compaction is minimal. Leftover hay isn’t completely wasted as the livestock will utilize it for bedding and anything else left becomes fertilizer for the soil. Additionally, the urine and feces are spread over a large area and provide fertilizer for the coming year. The microbes in the urine and feces provide important boosts to soil fertility that you can’t get from commercial fertilizer. Rolling out bales allows the entire herd to eat an at time so even those animals on the bottom of the pecking order are well-fed. If you vary placement and rollout of the bales, you can spread the benefits. Plus it makes sure those pregnant animals exercise a bit which they can be reluctant to do in late gestation, but it’s very important to calving ease.

    Since this blog is about holistic farming methods, I hope your readers take into account the entire scope of winter feeding. Certainly during blizzards we may want the livestock close to the homestead, but as a general rule, spreading out livestock for feeding has many side benefits.

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