General Hay Waste

 Knowledge Nuggets | Fact Sheets | Research Papers

Knowledge Nuggets

  • Hay waste from crop to cow is one of our greatest costs. Waste during harvest, storage, feeding and in overfeeding cows are four areas of waste to avoid. Harvest losses are highly dependent on moisture conditions of the feed being bales and the type of baler being used.
  • By the time hay is fed, losses can be substantial and can essentially increase the amount of production needed from the original standing crop by 35 percent. By effectively controlling the amount of hay lost and wasted during harvest, storage, and feeding, production costs can be reduced and haymaking made more profitable.
  • It is well documented that feeding waste increases as storage waste increases. Feeding waste can be reduced substantially by having well designed feeding systems.
  • Even the best shed or covered storage allows about 5 percent of the hay's dry matter to be lost after one year. Most nutrients maintain nearly constant concentrations when hay is properly stored, although carotene (provitamin A) concentration declines rapidly.
  • Losses of dry matter and quality during storage can be considerable when hay is stored too wet. These losses are caused by heating, if hay is baled above 20 percent moisture. Grass hay can be baled at a slightly higher moisture content than hay containing legumes. On the other hand, extremely dry hay can also have considerable dry matter loss particularly when the nutrient rich leaf portions are lost in the field at harvest and during transport.
  • Hay stored outdoors is subject to losses from weathering. Weathering reduces the dry weight of hay and changes its composition. Weathering lowers the feeding value of hay 15 to 25 percent, in addition to any dry matter losses. Remember that the outer four inch thick layer of a 6 ft. diameter round bale contains about 25 percent of the total bale volume.
  • Weathering occurs not only on the tops and sides of bales stored outside, but also where hay contacts moist ground. Storing bales on crushed rock versus the ground reduces the weathered portion from 23 to 11 percent of the original bale weight. Outdoor storage losses can be low if good bales are made and they are stored on a well-drained site.
  • Weathering losses are greatly influenced by the climate. The higher rainfall of the northern parts of Western Canada cause more loss from hay stored outdoors than the drier climate of the southern parts.
  • To reduce storage losses, be sure the bale is dense and evenly formed. This allows rainfall to run off rather than settle in depressions and soak into the bale. Store bales on a well-drained site with air spaces between bales to allow drying after rain. Do not stack round bales unless they are covered with plastic.
  • Excessive hay consumption can be a major waste of up to 25-45% when hay is fed without restriction. A dry, pregnant cow will eat 20 to 30 percent more hay than she needs when allowed free access to hay. This can amount to over 700 pounds per cow over a winter feeding period for spring calving cows.
Fact Sheets

Effect of Bale Processing on Particle Size and Potential Feeding Losses in Four Hay Types

Effect of Feeding on the Ground on Feed Waste under Typical Winter Feeding Conditions

Feed Waste Management

Management to Minimize Hay Waste - available in PDF format only

Netwrap or Twine?

Research Papers

Let us know of good research papers for this topic.
  For more information about the content of this document, contact Grant Lastiwka.
This document is maintained by Mary Ann Nelson.
This information published to the web on March 20, 2003.
Last Reviewed/Revised on January 23, 2017.

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