Maybe you’ve seen the studies that have concluded that round bale feeders have the lowest hay waste percentage of all hay feeding methods, with tapered-cone style feeders showing the highest efficiency. That sounds great; you can choose a sheltered area of pasture near a water source, set down a feeder and plop a bale into it as needed. It’s much quicker and simpler than unrolling or shredding the bale, and saves money too. However, University of Missouri livestock specialist, Dona Funk has a few suggestions you’ll want to consider.
Move it or lose it
Pasture and money, that is. “When we bale hay we take nutrients off the soil,” Funk said. “By feeding that hay in the same place for a long period of time we concentrate those nutrients in a small area. We could recycle those nutrients if we would just move the rings around; spread out the manure. With the price of fertilizer these days we don’t need to waste nutrients we could be recycling.”
When hay feeders are left in the same spot bale after bale, the nutrients build up to excess levels which makes it hard for grass to grow in those areas. Funk believes this is the reason producers often get weeds in the areas where they have left their rings. The excess nutrients also run off into our creeks because there is little or no grass in those areas to prevent erosion.
Stay out of the mud
The ground around bale feeders can quickly become a trampled, muddy quagmire during winter weather. “This urine and manure filled mud is not good on feet,” Funk said, adding that “standing or laying in mud also increases a cow’s chance of getting mastitis.” Many illnesses are caused by or spread through contact with fecal matter, including calf scours and Johne’s Disease.
Another benefit of moving the hay ring is lessening the waste of hay. “Cows will clean up the leftover hay if it is clean, not muddy,” Funk said. “Plus, it gives calves a good, dry place to lay down.”
Mud also adds an element of risk for the producer when trying to maneuver a bale into the ring. Even large tractors can slip in deep mud, possibly resulting in a not so round anymore hay ring.
Water quality control
Spring rains can flush waste into water sources such as ponds and streams. The result is excessive nutrient content in the water which is harmful to aquatic life and cattle who drink the water. Again, many illnesses are spread or even caused by contaminated water.
Plan your work, work your plan
“The best plan I’ve ever seen to feed round bales was where they had the hay set up like stockpiling,” Funk said. “They just moved the electric fence back one bale at a time and rolled the ring to the next bale.”
So before you plop another bale down and head back to the barn, take a few minutes to move that feeder to a new area.