Cattle ranchers in harsh winter climates have typically fed cattle inside confined enclosures away from the snow and ice on the outside. The confined space allows ranchers to feed the cattle hay rations in a closed setting away from the elements and it helps them to capture the manure the cattle produces and set it aside for later use when the weather warms up. However, this process can be time-consuming and labor-intensive. Many ranchers are now turning to various feeding methods to lower the time and energy needed to feed the cattle and prepare the pastures and fields for the growing season. Many are now feeding cattle out in the field year-round in harsh climates.
Feeding the cattle in the field during the winter offers a number of benefits:
- You won’t have to store, haul, and strategically place the manure on the field.
- You can reduce the amount of machinery and labor needed to feed the cattle.
The biggest issue a rancher faces when deciding to feed cattle outside year-round is controlling the amount of hay waste that can result from using some of the feeding methods. Controlling hay waste is essential to controlling your operating costs. The cost of hay can fluctuate greatly from one year to the next as well as the price you receive for your cattle. There are some years a rancher may have to dip into their savings to keep an operation going. If you can control your hay waste as well as possible, you will save money and help secure the future of your ranch.
The best way to control the waste is to understand which feeding method produces the least waste while achieving your goals. A study by Michigan State University Beef Specialist, Dan Buskirk, showed that the method of feeding can result in feed loss ranges of 3.5 to 14.6 percent when using different style feed balers. He found that:
- Cattle feeders showed the greatest amount of loss at 14.6 percent.
- Trailer feeders had the second greatest amount of waste at 11.4 percent.
- Ring feeders had a loss rate of 6.1 percent.
- Cone feeders had the least amount of loss at 3.5 percent.
The main difference between these types of feeders is the amount of protection they provide from the elements such as rain, snow, and ice. In the cattle, trailer, and ring feeders, the hay is more exposed to the elements than it is in a cone feeder. A cone feeder has walls that protect the side of the bales when the hay is loaded into the feeder and a top so you can cover the feeder so rain and moisture cannot fall down into the cone and get the hay wet.
There are other methods ranchers have commonly used to feed cattle in the fields like rolling the bales out and letting the cattle feed at will, but this type of method also increases hay loss because it does not have any protection from the elements and the cattle can stomp down the hay into the ground. It’s best to use a cone feeder if your primary concern is to reduce waste while feeding your cattle.