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We have passed the holiday season, and for most livestock owners they are in the heart of hay-feeding season.

Most producers have been feeding hay for a little over a month and have a good idea of how much hay they have left. But will that be enough for this winter? That is a very important question for many livestock owners.

As winter progresses and hay supplies are used up, the cost to purchase additional hay can be very expensive. It would be wise for farmers to purchase any additional hay as soon as possible to get through the remainder of winter.

How can you as a producer determine if you have enough hay for the winter? Depending on the species of livestock, we know their dry matter forage intake per day as a percentage of the animal’s body weight. Beef cattle and horses consume about 2% of their body weight per day on average, while sheep and goats average about 4%.

So, how do we take this information and convert it into hay needs? Well, you have to know the animal’s weight. Most producers have an idea of the average animal’s weight from marketing animals in the past. For an example, I am going to use a

1,200-pound cow. That cow will consume 2% of her body weight in dry matter per day, or roughly 24 pounds.

You now know that a 1,200-pound cow will eat 24 pounds of dry matter, but hay is not 100% dry matter but will average 85 to 90%. So for that cow to get 24 pounds of dry matter, she will need to consume 28 pounds of hay. Since this is early January, we expect to feed hay for another 90 days or until about the end of March. So for the rest of the winter, that cow will eat 2,520 pounds of hay. An average roll of hay will weigh anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 pounds. So that one cow will eat another two to 2.5 rolls of hay this winter.

So do you have enough hay this winter? Don’t forget about those calves, bulls and other livestock that might be eating hay this winter as well.

We also have to consider feeding and storage losses when determining our hay needs for the winter.

Storage losses can be up to 30% on hay stored outside on the ground and as little as 5% when stored inside a barn. Most of the losses occur from ground contact and moisture from rainfall. Feeding method also can account for considerable losses when feeding hay. Feeding hay-free choice with no ring contributes up to a 30% loss in hay. Feeding hay in a traditional ring can reduce those losses to 10 to 15%, and if using a skirted ring and cone-type feeder those losses are less than 10%.

Unrolling hay is another popular method of feeding, but losses can be as high as 40% if too much is fed at one time. When unrolling, only roll out what the cattle can consume in one day.

There are many factors to consider when determining if you have enough hay this winter. For more information on hay feeding, hay storage, or calculating forage needs. Contact the local UT Extension office at 615-374-2421 or by email at jevitts@utk.edu.

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