Everything you need to know about hay and balage – from cutting to feeding

Published 10th February 2021
All Studies Pasture and Soil Feeding Why Free Range

Each year, billions of acres/hectares of forage crops are harvested for hay around the world. Unfortunately, losses of hay – also including losses of time, labour and money during harvesting, storage and feeding are often high. Just in the United States, it is estimated that the total value of hay storage and feeding losses nationwide exceeds three billion dollars annually. Unfortunately, many producers probably do not realize how large their losses really are, or that with relatively little effort or expense they could be reduced considerably. In 2020, the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association organised a digital conference to provide information as to how and why hay losses occur, and how they can be reduced.

The first part of this presentation (0:00 – 45:45) is about making balage, the second part (45:46 – 1:06:32) is about how to work it into your feed program, and the third part (1:06:33 – 1:30:57) is really about feeding efficiencies with balage and dry hay. This last part was presented by Lance Paskewitz, Hustler’s Business Development Manager for North America.

A sustainable and economical forage feeding methodology

Lance has been working most of his career as a nutrition specialist, helping many cow-calf operations around the United States to improve their feeding program and to get the most of their existing resources (grass, land, climate…). For Lance, one of the most efficient ways to feed out cattle is the “Gentle Windrow Feeding”, a technic that mimick grazing through intentionally gentle distribution of stored feeds into a long a narrow windrow. In the video above, Lance takes the audience through the 6 key benefits of windrow-feeding.

How windrow-feeding can become your best pasture management tool?

“If animals – bunched or scattered – are left in any one place too long, or if returned to it too soon, they will overgraze plants and compact and pulverize soils.

Allan Savory

One of the most common causes of bad pasture production is using hay rings and hay wagons. This method of feeding livestock, over against the method of a daily windrow of hay, can “save time” but it certainly does some seriously consequential damage to the pastures! Not only does it continuously bring the tractor out to the same spot in the pasture often, but it also brings a serious amount of concentrated hoof traffic to that area. One of two things will happen: If the drainage is good, you will get hard compacted soil that grows nothing. If the drainage is bad, you will get a large mudhole that only grows weeds and other invasive species. That is why you often see large black circles in some pastures from satellite images – nothing good is growing there.

However, hoof traffic isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Windrow-feeding is some of the best management tools we can use to systematically move our livestock to a new area every day. This has the twofold positive effects of hoof-aeration (over against soil compaction) and evenly distributed manure and urine which actually fertilize your forages rather than damaging them.

How windrow-feeding can help to maintain a target body condition scoring (BCS) with minimal inputs? 

The average bred cow weighs about 1,200 pounds and typically consumes 2.5% of its body weight on short stem hay, or 30 pounds/day of hay. Over an 80-cow herd, that is 2,400 pounds of forage fed daily or over 180 tons during a 5-month timeframe. At $55/ ton1, you will spend about $9,900 over that period. According to a study by Dr. David Lalman of Oklahoma State University, “… the cows eating long stem consumed 1.8% of their body weight in dry matter (DM) intake and retained the same body condition.” So imagine if you could feed out long-stem hay reliably with a bale processor, how much could you save?

You already know that everything starts with the quality of your feed. Most operations put a lot of time, money, and effort into harvesting and storing the highest quality hay possible. Doesn’t it seem like you should carefully consider how you feed it out? Most of the nutrition is retained in the leaves and/or grain; why create a bunch of dust and pulverize your hay by feeding with a traditional flailtype bale processor? To maximize nutritional uptake, it is essential to gently fluff the hay out, so it’s not broken up and the nutrients destroyed and lost. The patented rotor system of the Hustler Chainless bale processors can help to achieve that result very easily in a limited amount of time.

With windrow-feeding, the effects of hierarchy within the herd are mitigated. Cows and calves at the bottom of the pecking order have easy access to the feed because the dominant ones will be to far away to chase them away. Windrow-feeding helps to make sure that all your animals get enough to feed. 

At last but not least, windrow-feeding is an economical method.  The Chainless bale feeder is simply hydraulically driven (no PTO) and doesn’t have wearing parts to maintain, replace, or vibrate loose and hurt your cattle. The Low-speed rotors allow the tractor to be operated at not much more than an idle, which means huge fuel savings!

In a nutshell

Do

Don’t

Rethink how you feed your forages Waste your forages
Consider maintaining the nutritional leaf and particle size of the original plant Damage your pastures by feeding in hay rings or hay wagons
Reduce your time, fuel and maintenance costs by gentle windrowing Lose valuable nutrition absorption by processing/grinding your hay
Improve the productivity of you land and our herd Waste time and fuel with uneconomical methods

Reducing even a small portion of loss when storing or feeding hay will have direct and immediate impacts economically on a livestock operation, so plan carefully for methods on improved storage and feeding. If you want to learn more about windrow-feeding and its benefits, contact your local field consultant today!