When hay is in short supply and expensive, it’s more important than ever to reduce feeding losses, points out Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska Extension forage specialist.

Cattle waste as much as 45% of their hay when it’s fed without restrictions, says Anderson. One of the first steps in cutting that loss should be to limit how much hay is available. Research showed that cattle fed hay free access every four days needed about 25% more hay than cattle fed daily. Daily feeding reduces the amount of hay refused, trampled, fouled, overconsumed or used for bedding.

“A second step is to restrict access by using hay racks, bale rings, electric fences, feedbunks or anything else that will keep animals off the hay,” he says. “It’s especially important to limit the amount of hay accessible to trampling. So use racks or bale rings with solid barriers at the bottom to prevent livestock from pulling hay loose and dragging it out to be stepped on.”

If you feed hay on the ground, either as loose hay, unrolled round bales or ground hay, limit the amount fed to what animals will clean up in a single meal. If possible, use an electric wire or other barrier to restrict access to only one side of the feed on the ground.

“Much expense and many long hours go into harvesting and storing hay for winter feeding,” says Anderson. “So why waste it! With a little foresight and careful management, you can stretch your hay further.”