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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Large Round Bale Feeders Compared

Livestock Update, February 2003

Mark L. Wahlberg, Extension Animal Scientist, 4-H Livestock, VA Tech

In a just published article in Journal of Animal Science, Dr. Dan Buskirk and associates at Michigan State University evaluated 4 round bale feeder designs for the amount of hay that was wasted and differences in cow behavior.

Specifics of their experimental methods were:

Feeders evaluated in the trial were:

Results of hay waste and intake are in table 1.

Table 1. Type of Hay Feeder Used
Item Cone Ring Trailer Cradle
Daily Hay Disappearance, Lb 26.4 26.6 30.6 28.4
Daily Hay Waste, Pounds/Cow 0.9 1.5 3.5 4.2
Hay Waste, % of Disappearance 3.5 6.1 11.4 14.6
Daily Hay Intake, Lb/Cow 25.3 25.1 27.1 24.2
Intake per Cow, % of Body Wt 1.8 1.8 2.0 1.8

All values for hay waste were relatively low, and the authors identified some reasons. First, the hay was second cutting, and it was stored in a barn. Consequently, cows were less able to sort through the hay to select preferred parts, and all hay was kept in excellent condition. If it had been first cutting hay stored outside there would doubtless have been much more sorting and refusal, leading to much higher waste.

They observed that cows with slant bar feeding spaces were encouraged to keep their heads inside the feeder, thus less tendency to pull hay from the feeder. With feeders which had a top rail, such as the cone and ring feeders used here, cows are forced to eat in a head-down, natural grazing position. There is also less tendency for cows to throw their head and toss hay in the process with this feeder design.

Behavioral data showed that cows using the cradle feeder had more than twice as many displacements from the feeder and came to the feeder more than 3 times as often as with any other feeder. Feeder design did not provide individual feeding stations, and it was much easier for cows to come and go. This may have contributed to the higher waste of hay that occurred. The other 3 feeders used produced behavioral observations that were not different from each other.

Conclusions: Round bale feeders of all designs prevent cattle from walking on and lying in hay, thus reducing wastage when compared to allowing cattle free access to round bales. But among the various feeder designs, there are differences in wastage allowed. In the trial cited here, the difference in hay waste between the high and low feeder design was 3.3 pounds. Again, comparing the low and high values, this would have been enough hay saved from every 8 cows to have been able to feed 1 more cow. The only hay that does any good is the hay that gets inside the cow. All management practices which reduce wasted hay and encourage consumption will be beneficial to the cattle.

Reference: Buskirk, D.D., A.J. Zanella, T.M.Harrigan, J.L. Van Lente, L.M. Gnagey, and M.J. Kaercher. 2003. Large round bale feeder design affects hay utilization and beef cow behavior. J. Anim. Sci. 81:109-115.

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