Reducing Hay Waste

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Feeding hay in the winter can be one of the largest expenses for livestock owners. Consequently, we want to ensure that our animals are eating the hay put out for them and not using it as a bed or just trampling it. It is estimated that livestock will waste 15-40% of the hay made available to them. How do we reduce this waste and encourage efficient consumption? The strategy that makes the biggest difference in reducing hay wastage is to only put out enough hay to feed your animals for a day or two. Obviously, this is much more labor intensive since animals need to be fed on a more frequent basis.

Black Cows Standing Near Hay BalesThis can be done in different ways. Some producers will unroll bales. This spreads out the cattle across the pasture and spreads out the manure being deposited. Animals have less competition for the hay and ensures equal access. If you have a hill or slope in your pasture, you can use gravity to help you unroll bales. Just be careful of runaway bales! Another way is to use attachments that can be added to your tractor or truck. Another way to accomplish this is called bale grazing. With this method, round bales are spaced out over the pasture and temporary fencing is used to restrict access to one bale at a time. Most of the labor is front ended with bale placement. All that will need to be done throughout the winter is moving temporary fencing. No need to try and crank up the tractor in the cold. This takes planning and calculating how much hay you will need beforehand. There is a learning curve with this method, as producers have to learn how much hay to provide to how many animals and for how long. But if done well, bale grazing can provide many benefits. Hay feeders are one option that many livestock producers use. One of the simplest options is a hay ring. The hay ring prevents animals from trampling on the hay as it comes lose from the bale. A mobile feeder on a trailer is another option and allows you to relocate the feeding site easily. 

This helps distribute the manure build up more evenly across the pasture which helps recycle nutrients back into the soil. The size of your pasture and your pasture management plan will determine which method works best for your operation. For smaller scale operations and horse farms there are options like the hay hut or wasteless hay feeders. They are more expensive but have been proven to be more efficient in reducing hay waste. There are also large hay nets that can be fitted over a round bale. The spacing on the net will determine if hay intake is affected or not. These options all work well on a small farm or horse farm. There are many options to consider if you want to reduce hay wastage this winter. Consider your management plans and how winter feeding fits into things. What works for one producer may not work for another. If you need any help figuring out winter feeding strategies, feel free to contact me at or 704-238-7196.

Written By

Rachel Owens, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionRachel OwensExtension Agent, Agriculture - Livestock Call Rachel E-mail Rachel N.C. Cooperative Extension, Union County Center
Updated on Dec 29, 2020
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