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Making Hay Stretch

Making Hay Stretch
By Nicole Santangelo
Now is the time to start thinking about how to stretch your hay reserves through the winter.
With early hay feed out in Northern Pennsylvania this winter, many producers are already asking how they can stretch their hay reserves. The short window to make dry hay was of no help, locally. Below we review techniques many fellow producers are using to help their hay storage last the winter.
Graze hay fields
Here in Northern Pennsylvania we have had snow cover and temperatures kept forage in good condition. Hay fields that were not able to be harvested, are now being grazed by cattle and sheep that can nose under the light snow to access high quality forage.
Hay Rings and Feeders
There are several hay feeder options available with different benefits. A group of hay rings called “hay conservation feeders” and “slow feed nets” for rounds are a newer technology embraced by some producers to reduce waste when livestock pull hay through the ring. A study at Michigan State University Extension looked at waste differences in Hay Feeder Design between Cradles, Trailers, Rings and Cones. Cones were most efficient with Rings taking a close second.
University of Minnesota Extension has an article “Feeding horses with a Round-bale Feeder” that describes a 2010 study showing various feeders and efficiencies with horses. Remember to move your hay feeder around if you are feeding directly on the ground in crop fields or pastures. Consider feeding indoors or in a bunk to help reduce hay trampled and waste.
Feed 1-day supply
Reducing access to hay by just a couple hours a day can increase efficiencies. Furthermore, the most hay waste is found when feeding more than a one-day supply. This can be difficult to manage from a feeding perspective. A similar article “Reducing Losses when Feeding Hay to Beef Cattle” by University of Missouri Extension reviews these concepts.
Utilize hay alternatives
This year might pay in some areas to utilize other resources on the farm, such as grazing corn stalks, straw and other supplements that meet the nutritional demands of your livestock.
Alternative forages
The easiest way to manage hay supply and reduce winter feeding costs is to grow more forage by rotational grazing or growing short season forage crops that can be ensiled or grazed later in the winter or early in the spring such as rye or triticale. Likewise, reduce hay feeding in summer, by planting a summer annual such as sorghum-sudangrass that can reduce or eliminate the summer slump.
Store hay, high and dry
This year even hay stored in drier locations away from trees are experiencing significant spoilage. This is always reduced by covering bales and storing off the ground where possible. Remember, a tight bale will shed moisture better.