How Much Hay Will a Cow Consume?

This week’s snowy weather has reminded cow calf producers that winter hay feeding has begun or will begin shortly.

Estimating forage usage by cows is an important part of the task of calculating winter feed needs. Hay or standing forage intake must be estimated in order to make the calculations. Forage quality will be a determining factor in the amount of forage consumed. Higher quality forages contain larger concentrations of important nutrients so animals consuming these forages should be more likely to meet their nutrient needs from the forages. Also cows can consume a larger quantity of higher quality forages.


Related Content: 

How Much Hay Do You Really Need This Winter?

Producers Searching for Additional Hay 

Now's the Time to Put Body Condition on Cows


Higher quality forages are fermented more rapidly in the rumen leaving a void that the animal can re-fill with additional forage. Consequently, forage intake increases. For example, low quality forages (below about 6% crude protein) will be consumed at about 1.5% of body weight (on a dry matter basis) per day. Higher quality grass hays (above 8% crude protein) may be consumed at about 2.0% of body weight. Excellent forages, such as good alfalfa, silages, or green pasture may be consumed at the rate of 2.5% dry matter of body weight per day. The combination of increased nutrient content AND increased forage intake makes high quality forage very valuable to the animal and the producer. With these intake estimates, now producers can calculate the estimated amounts of hay that need to be available.

Using an example of 1200 pound pregnant spring-calving cows, lets assume that the grass hay quality is good and tested 8% crude protein. Cows will voluntarily consume 2.0% of body weight or 24 pounds per day. The 24 pounds is based on 100% dry matter. Grass hays will often be 7 to 10% moisture. If we assume that the hay is 92% dry matter or 8% moisture, then the cows will consume about 26 pounds per day on an “as-fed basis”. Unfortunately we also have to consider hay wastage when feeding big round bales. Hay wastage is difficult to estimate, but generally has been found to be from 6% to 20% (or more). For this example, lets assume 15% hay wastage. This means that approximately 30 pounds of grass hay must be hauled to the pasture for each cow each day that hay is expected to be the primary ingredient in the diet.

After calving and during early lactation, the cow may weigh 100 pounds less, but will be able to consume about 2.6% of her body weight (100% dry matter) in hay. This would translate into 36 pounds of “as-fed” hay per cow per day necessary to be hauled to the pasture. This again assumes 15% hay wastage. Accurate knowledge of average cow size in your herd as well as the average weight of your big round bales becomes necessary to predict hay needs and hay feeding strategies.

Big round hay bales will vary in weight. Diameter and length of the bale, density of the bale, type of hay, and moisture content all will greatly influence weight of the bale. Weighing a pickup or trailer with and without a bale may be the best method to estimate bale weights.

 

Latest News

Winter bale grazing
North Dakota To Consider Voluntary Checkoff

A North Dakota state representative has introduced legislation that would make the state's additional $1 beef checkoff voluntary. It would have no impact on the national Beef Checkoff.

12 min ago
.
Greg Hanes: What Have You Done for Me Lately?

In this commentary Greg Hanes, CEO of the Cattlemen's Beef Board, discusses the ways that Beef Checkoff dollars have been used in the past few months.

56 min ago
Cattle and hog feeding
Profit Tracker: Steady In The Red

Cattle and hog feeding margins were little changed last week, with both recording modest losses. Beef packers saw improved margins on significant gains in wholesale beef prices.

16 min ago
USMEF Audio: Taiwan Expands Market Access for U.S. Red Meat, but with Some Controversy

On Jan. 1, Taiwan implemented market access changes for imports of U.S. beef and pork. For beef, the 30-month cattle age limit was eliminated. For pork, it established maximum residue limits for ractopamine residues.

12 min ago
PepsiCo, Beyond Meat Partner to Develop New Plant-Based Snacks

PepsiCo Inc and Beyond Meat Inc said on Tuesday they would form a joint venture to develop and sell snacks and beverages made from plant-based protein.

2 hours ago
Data shows home cooking brings families together.
The Pandemic Upped My Cooking Game

New research shows I'm not the only one who upped my cooking game last year. A new study provides insight into which cooking and consumption habits are likely to continue into the new year and beyond. 

1 min ago