Farm Talk

January 17, 2012

Specialist discusses limit-feeding hay

by Mark Parker

Parsons, Kansas — Beef producers faced with limited standing and stored forage may be able to significantly reduce hay needs this winter.

Limit-feeding hay, reducing hay waste and feeding an ionophore can decrease winter hay needs by a third, Oklahoma State University Beef Specialist Dave Lalman told producers attending the recent KOMA Cattle Conference in Dewey, Okla.

Although not a good option for already-thin cows or heifers, limit-feeding can reduce intake by 20-25 percent.

The reduction, he said, can be accomplished by limiting hay access to six hours/day or providing a reduced daily allotment of flakes or unrolled hay.

According to studies Lalman cited, cows will gain somewhat less weight in a limit-feeding scenario but the difference is not dramatic due to greater efficiency.

“Reduced intake reduces the passage rate through the rumen and increases digestibility,” Lalman said. “Cows are also more aggressive about eating hay and they waste less.”

The animal scientist cautioned, however, that limit-feeding hay is not a good strategy with poor quality hay.

“With good hay and cows in good body condition, though,” he said, “it might be a good strategy for cattlemen with limited forage supplies.”

Reducing hay waste is another opportunity to reduce hay supply needs.

He referred to an OSU study of several hay feeder types, noting that common open-bottom feeders without steel sheeting wasted about 21 percent of the hay fed.

Feeders with a cone insert, however, wasted only about five percent. Ring feeders with a steel bottom had a waste score of about 13 percent.

Acknowledging that the feeders wasting the least hay in the study cost significantly more ($525 for the cone feeder vs. $100 for the open-bottom ring feeder), Lalman suggested that current high hay prices make them worthy of serious consideration, adding, “Any kind of feeder is certainly better than none, though.”

Asked about unrolling hay or feeding flakes on the ground, Lalman said it’s very difficult to measure waste in those situations. He said, however, that the key to limiting waste for unrolled hay, or flakes fed on the ground, is to provide no more than the cows will consume in a fairly short time frame.

Whatever producers can do to limit waste, he said, is well worth the effort.

“It blows my mind that we go to all the work and expense of raising good hay and then waste 21 percent of it in the feeder,” he said.

Feeding an ionophore — Rumensin is the only one labeled for breeding cows — has been shown to reduce intake by about 10 percent without affecting performance, Lalman said.

In an Oklahoma State research trial, cows receiving 200 mg/day of Rumensin, prairie hay and two lbs./day of a 30 percent protein supplement gained 30 pounds over 58 days.

The Rumensin cost was about two cents/day.

“Using better feeders, limiting intake and feeding an ionophore — we can sure save about 30 percent on our hay,” he concluded.