feed hay on the ground or in feeders?

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Feb 26, 2004
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North Dakota
I feed 100 cows over the winter and currently just roll out the round bales on the ground. I know this accounts for a fair amount of waste. I would like to use ring feeders but wouldn't I have to buy enough so all 100 head could eat at the same time? That would be a lot of $$ up front. Any sugestions?
arrowhunter":2gyyezsy said:
I feed 100 cows over the winter and currently just roll out the round bales on the ground. I know this accounts for a fair amount of waste. I would like to use ring feeders but wouldn't I have to buy enough so all 100 head could eat at the same time? That would be a lot of $$ up front. Any sugestions?

they don't ALL have to eat at the same time. 4-5 rings should work for 100 head. actually, you could get by with fewer than that but you'd have to feed more often.
you possibly could be wasting enough hay in one year to pay for a few rings. i build mine for about $65 a piece out of 3/4 pipe with flat bar as spacers. put a 45 degree bend about every 38-40 inches and weld it all up.

that many cows, depending on size, whether they have calves by their side, etc, will eat 3-4 rolls a day, give or take depending on your hay.

how many rings you need would depend to me on how often i wanted to put out hay. but you dont have to build/buy all of them in one year. get a few now and a few later. i think you would be glad you did.

just my thoughts, good luck.
i would have a minimum of 8 rings, more if possible. i would want to make sure those cows at the bottom of the pecking order, who seem to get pushed out until all others are finished, had ample opportunity to eat. if not they will loose condition.

also, i wouldnt want to have to put hay out every day.
I currently have just under 50 head - that includes about 5 small calves who are learning to eat. I have 7 hay rings and I have to feed every 7 days. Hope that helps.
Thanks for all your quick reply's. I have been feeding 3-4 round bales a day depending on the weather here,( we had a stretch in Jan. of well below zero temps!) I feed a combination of millet and alfalfa/grass hay. So, you guys are telling me I wouldn't have to start the tractor and feed every day? I could put out 8 or so bales in ring feeders and feed every other day or so? I'm just thinking they may eat more than they really need and I'll end up feeding even more hay in a year. Thanks for all your thoughts on this.
They will not eat more than they need. My suggestion, which is usually pretty worthless, would be to put out as much as you can for as many rings as you have. They will eat it as they need it, then you can spend more time just watching them.
I too unroll and am getting tired of the waste. I have looked up how much waste one gets by unrolling and only found one study that said 20%, but other have suggested it can be as much as 40%. Don't know? It's nice to say just put out what they eat, and I try to but then the calves lie in it, pea in it and before you know you have a layer of hay on the grass that they won't eat - go figure?

Recent study in MI, as I recall, showed that the least waste, 3.5%, comes with using cone feeders, next best just rings 6+%, then it goes downhill from there with wagons, etc. I bought the cadillac of cone feeder ($725 each) and I love it, not the price, but this thing will last forever. ONly way to move it, because it is so heavy, is with a front loader. Now if you look at the flimsey plane rings at Tractor Supply they run around $220, so the extra was worth it to me.

If you do the numbers, 3.5% waste compared with say 20% of a $35 roll, it doesn't take long to pay it off.

Go with or make a cone feeder.

if you ant useing hay rings your losing halfe your hay.for 100 head id put 10 rings min.hear there about 100$ a piece.you would pay for them the first year with the hay you save.youll have to fix and replace some every year but youll save 50% of your hay.4 to 5 rings is not enough for 100 head.to much pushing an shuving.younger cows an calves wont get to eat much.also calves can get hurt or tromp to death.~~~~~~~~~~~~Tc
arrowhunter":1d10db4w said:
I feed 100 cows over the winter and currently just roll out the round bales on the ground. I know this accounts for a fair amount of waste. I would like to use ring feeders but wouldn't I have to buy enough so all 100 head could eat at the same time? That would be a lot of $$ up front. Any sugestions?

I think you could pay for the rings in hay savings. We also separate the cows from the hay at night. They come into a small pasture to be fed cubes at night and we shut the gate. Then we turn them out in the morning. Oklahoma State did a study several years ago and came up with how that was a more efficient use of hay but I don't remember the numbers. When we went to pay the rent for one of our leases, the owner told us his grandson was going to be using it. So we have more cows to feed hay than we had planned and this stretches our supply. We have enough rings that all can eat at one time, but they don't. The "boss" cows eat first and while they are laying down and ruminating, the smaller cows and calves go to the hay and take their turn. They had to make some adjustments in their eating and watering scheule when we started shutting them up, but they're adapatable animals.
And regardless of whether you have real substantial rings or the flimsy TSC stuff, they 'll last a lot longer if you will clean them up right after feeding season and then store them under cover so they stay dry and without ground contact until next feeding season. They are well worth it in terms of saving on wasted, trampled, etc. hay. Arnold Z.
We live in Iowa and know about the cold weather you are talking about. We have 150 head and we feed our cows on the ground everyday. Our cows get the same kind of hay that your feeding and we don't have an ounce of waste. You need to feed them not as much hay as you have been. We feed our cows about 25-30 pounds a day. We use different spots each day, this is the best way to feed them, they don't pull hay out and step on it around the ring. If you see them laying on it in the field, try giving them less hay the next day. We adjust our hay feeding amounts daily, depending on how hungry they are, and the weather. We do this because we get by as cheap as possible, and we are running on limited supply of hay. Our cows look just as good as the neighbor who feeds twice as much hay a day.
I made my rings here at the shop, we took 1 1/4" round tubing and rolled it and welded it up. 4 rings per feeder. I was still getting quite a bit of waste though, as the hay would fall out of the bottom, so I welded a piece of a cattle panel, 16" tall,to the bottom of it. I have less than 40 bucks in each of these rings. See if you can find a machne shop or a sheet metal shop to make them for you.
WOW! thanks for all your reply's, this has been great! It nice to get so many opinions on this. It seems most of you prefer the rings. I do have a couple that we use to feed our weaned calves and such but I have to agree with Tagger, you still get waste when they pull hay out and step on it. We are up to that 40-45lb of hay per head range. The County ext. agent say's 35-40lbs is about right for our area. Again thanks for all your input, I think for now we'll keep feeding like we are, rolling it out in different areas, it' just so easy to roll them out and all the cows (and my one buffalo :lol: ) can eat at the same time.
First day dining room, second bedroom, third day bathroom. You either need to adjust the amount of hay fed each day if unrolling or go to feed rings. If the hay is very good, they will sometimes just stand with their heads in the feeder and eat continually. We had that problem when we fed Alfalfa/Orchard Grass hay. They didn't waste a mouthfull from trampling but the wasted a lot just squirting it out behind them. If you put out several days worth at a time it certainly saves on tractor wear and tear.
Unrolling does minimize the manure load and chrning that happens around feeders, but unless you can really balance the intake you will waste a lot. It also depends on how much your hay costs and how many hay days you have each winter. You need to do the math and see how long it would take for a hay ring to pay for itself then balance that against the depreciation value.

I saw an ad in a farm magazine a couple of weeks ago for a thing that sits on top of any 8' round bale feeder. I can't remember the name of it but its a cone type thing that the bale sits in and supposedly cuts down on waste. Has anybody tried these, and if so whats your thoughs ?
Determining how much to feed is a never ending balancing act with several variables. Formulas for feed per head might serve as guidelines but the main thing to watch is the condition of the cattle. It will tell the whole story. If they look good and there is much waste at all, you're over-feeding. If they look good and there is not any waste, you're doing it right. Assuming you don't have snow on the ground they should be out grazing between feedings. If all they're doing between feedings is laying around chewing their cuds and they're too proud to eat the dead grass and winter weeds, they're getting too much hay. Some cake or cubes will make them work down the last of the grass that they would otherwise have nothing to do with. Monitoring their condition is the key.

It sounds like most of you feel that I'm most likely overfeeding if I have waste. I would agree 100%. I can't see rolling out 2 1/2 bales tho, so I just feed three at a time. I'm not really seeing a lot of waste tho, the cows look real good and always have free choice loose salt/mineral. Our cows are free to graze the pasture if they want and now that a lot of snow has melted they do. Thanks again!

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