In the brief, post-harvest, fall season before daylight grows short and the first frost prevents cattle from grazing in the pasture, farmers and ranchers running cow-calf operations finally have the time and labor available to prepare their facilities for the long winter ahead.
This effort goes well beyond the important task of properly and efficiently preparing hay and feed for cattle during the winter, and is also the time when many farmers and ranchers work to maintain and even upgrade cattle working equipment in preparation for spring calving, cattle inspection, and doctoring.
Preparing for winter
With winter approaching, farmer and ranchers must now consider not only how to stretch their winter hay. Simply going with traditional hay rings can cost thousands of dollars per winter in wasted hay and labor; premature maintenance and replacement; and even preventable livestock accidents.
“If you don’t mind throwing away about 30% of every bale, up to 50% depending on the cow, then maybe you don’t need a hay saving feeder,” says Randy Williams, who owns a 286-acre registered Hereford cattle ranch near Fairland, Okla. that focuses on breeding bulls, with about 80 momma cows.
As for Williams, he says, “Every time a cow drops half the hay in her mouth and stands on it I lose money because she won’t put it back in her mouth. I was losing about $10 in hay every time I set out a round bale in my older hay feeders. That’s not counting lost time in maintenance and repair. I’ve had cows tear up some of my hay rings.”
To reduce hay use and equipment maintenance, Williams bought several Hay Monster feeders from GoBob Pipe and Steel, the supplier that first introduced “Hay Conserver” feeders about 10 years ago and has shipped over 10,000 such feeders across the U.S.
Unlike traditional feeding rings, where cattle stand outside the feeder, tear the hay out, and let the excess fall from their mouths to be trampled and wasted, “Hay Conserver” feeders force cattle to place their heads through metal bars to get the hay. Any feed the cows drop falls back into the feeder to be eaten later.
“I’m saving about $50 per cow every winter in lost hay alone with my Hay Monster feeders,” says Williams. “Since they’re made of such heavy duty pipe, they’ve required no maintenance and would be fine in any bull pen. I’m more efficient too since I don’t have to baby them; I can drop a bale in one without worrying about damage.”
For feeding grain or silage to cattle, ranchers and farmers sometimes use feed bunks or troughs with light tubular frames and plastic or thin gauge pans. But these often break or rust out prematurely.
“I had some troughs with plastic pans, but they don’t last because cows will step on them or calves jump across them,” says Williams. “They’ve got to be built strong because cattle will push hard to get the last bit of grain.”
Williams recently turned to a durable, high-volume “super bunk” model designed to feed cattle ground hay, silage or other high volume forage. To ensure that feed and supplements will not get trapped into square edges or corners and wasted, the sides of the trough are sloped inward toward the bottom. The bunk has skids and a tow bar for easy transport around the pasture.
“The 14 gauge plate steel will last and the high-volume, easy clean design makes feeding more efficient,” says Williams.
Since Williams plans to build some bull pens next year, he is also considering a heavy-duty, “half pipe” metal feeding bunk as an efficient alternative to plastic or concrete pasture bunks. Constructed of a 20-foot metal pipe split in half, these feed bunks are plated to seal the ends, with metal legs welded underneath for durability. The product is also available by the foot for constructing long, fence line bunk systems.
These metal bunks feature a 5/16-3/8 in. thick trough, making them virtually indestructible and impervious to rusting out despite harsh winter conditions. At a little over 1000 pounds, they are too heavy for cattle to move, but easy enough for the farmer.
“When we start taking bulls up to 22 months, for safety I don’t want to get in the pens with them,” says Williams. “We plan to feed them over the fence with GoBob Forever bunk line feeders, which should last decades.”
Preparing for spring
Now is the peak time for farmers and ranchers to build, add to, or improve their cattle corrals and working facilities – where cattle are branded, de-horned, vaccinated, doctored, or sorted – before winter sets in. But merely settling for standard cattle working equipment without considering if better options exist can be costly.
When cattle working equipment is required, until recently a rancher’s only choice was costly, portable lightweight, bolt together units or very expensive custom made units built on site. But permanent custom units that improve cattle working safety and efficiency are now available at an affordable price.
For instance, GoBob’s adjustable cattle alley is constructed from all new schedule 40 pipe so it is heavy, built to last, and comes complete with four gates, though gate size and number can be customized.
While traditional alleys are 20 feet long, the livestock equipment supplier offers custom lengths from 10 to 40 feet and adjusts from 30 in. wide down to 18 in. without pins and levers, using smooth rotary adjustment.
“Custom alleys and gates are almost required because ranch layouts are unique and everyone works cattle a little differently,” says Williams. “Custom equipment can be particularly important to part-time ranchers, who may need to adjust alley angle to use existing barns or pens.”
For added safety, alley height can be customized from 3 to 6 feet or more, catwalks added, and even special combo alleys provided.
According to Williams, cattle can get excited and stressed when you get them in an alley or head them into a chute. “By using versatile equipment you can adjust to your set of cows, whether it is a higher alley, a double alley, or adding catwalks, you make it safer and easier for yourself, your help, and your cattle.”
“I buy heavy duty cattle working equipment and prefer to customize equipment when possible because it only takes one preventable accident to make you wish you’d done it right,” says Williams.
The livestock equipment supplier’s crowding tubs can similarly be customized by the angle cattle enter or exit to make ranchers’ cattle working operations more efficient.
Using pre-manufactured radius panels for easy permanent installation, ranchers can custom build their traditional or cornerless crowding tubs to turn cattle 90 degrees, 180 degrees, or something in between because the panels and even the crowding gate are sold separately. Instead of limiting crowding tubs to standard 90 or 180 degrees, the custom crowding tubs can vary tub angle to suit ranchers’ layouts.
For greater versatility, the supplier’s loading chutes can be constructed for both semi and stock trailers, with the loading sides reversed at the rancher’s discretion. Such dual purpose cattle loading chutes allows loading semi’s or stock trailers from one location by simply changing the position of the loading gate. Safety features from catwalks, to access gate, sheeted sides, plate floor, and anti-slip bars can also be added.
“Buying quality equipment in the cattle business makes sense because you buy it once and it works as intended when you need it,” concludes Williams. “Your ROI can be surprisingly quick when you avoid premature replacement costs, equipment downtime, safety issues, and operate more efficiently.”
Whether farmers and ranchers take advantage of durable hay saving feeders or operate more safely and efficiently with custom cattle working equipment, the time to improve their operation is now – before the first frost of winter sets in.