Hay feeder design can reduce hay waste and cost

The 2011 drought has depleted pastures across much of Texas, Oklahoma and the adjacent states. The cost of hay doubled between the spring and late summer. It is not uncommon for hay to sell for $80 to $100 per bale, regardless of bale weight. With these increased prices, have you considered the cost of the hay wasted due to the type of hay feeder you use?

Researchers at Oklahoma State University recently concluded a study that compared four common hay feeder designs: 1) modified cone (CONE); 2) open-bottomed steel ring (RING); 3) polyethylene pipe (POLY); and 4) sheeted-bottom steel ring (SHEET). Cattle were fed one bale in the assigned feeder prior to data collection to allow for an adjustment period. Hay waste data was collected at 24-hour intervals starting on day four of the second bale of hay fed and continued until day seven. The percentage of hay wasted was determined by weighing the amount of hay outside of the hay ring on each collection day. Hay waste was the lowest for the CONE feeder, while the POLY feeder and the RING feeder had the highest percentage of waste (5.3 percent versus 21 percent and 20.5 percent, respectively). The SHEET ring feeder had intermediate wastage at 13 percent (see table).

Here is a practical example of how you can apply this research to your ranch operation. The value of hay wasted was calculated using the following assumptions: a producer with 30 cows will feed 180 bales of hay that weigh 1,200 pounds each during a six-month period. Hay was valued at $70 per bale. Annually, the modified cone ring feeder will waste $667.80 worth of hay while the SHEET, RING and POLY feeders will waste $1,638; $2,583; and $2,646 worth of hay, respectively. In this example, the decrease in wasted hay will more than pay for the cost of the hay feeders.

Consideration must be given to the additional equipment requirements necessary for the modified cone ring feeder. This style of feeder will require the use of a tractor with a front-end loader to set the bale into the feeder. The sheeted steel ring, open-bottomed steel ring and polyethylene pipe ring feeders can all be placed over the hay bales by hand.

The Noble Foundation has developed an online calculator to help you estimate the value of the wasted hay in your situation. This tool is available at www.noble.org/tools/hay-ring along with many other valuable agricultural calculators at www.noble.org/tools. Contact a Noble Foundation consultant or your local county agent for assistance in determining hay needs for your herd and the cost of using the various types of hay feeders available in your area.

David Lalman, Ph.D., is with the Department of Animal Science, Oklahoma State University.