Eliminating feeding losses is impossible; reducing them is not.

“The major objective for any feeding system should be to keep loses to a practical minimum level,” writes Vanessa Corriher-Olson, forage specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, in a recent Forage Fax.

Corriher-Olson notes that many farms have hay feeding losses as high as storage losses. She says feeding losses come in many forms, including trampling, leaf shatter, chemical and physical deterioration, fecal contamination, and refusal.

“Feeding in only one area can cause excessive sod destruction, usually creates muddy conditions, often results in heavy spring weed pressure, and can result in soil compaction and/or ruts in the field,” Corriher-Olson says.

She recommends frequently moving the feeding area, which allows manure to be spread more uniformly over the field. This helps improve soil fertility in bare or thin spots and reduces the severity of sod damage.

Corriher-Olson lists five key strategies for winter hay feeding to reduce feeding waste. They are:

1. Match hay quality to animal needs.

2. When animals are fed outside, select a well-drained site to reduce feeding losses.

3. Feed hay stored outside before hay that’s stored inside; all things being equal, feed high-value hay stored outside before low-value hay stored outside.

4. Put a barrier between animals and the hay to help reduce feeding losses. Hay racks and rings can be particularly effective.

5. Force clean up of hay by animals that have low nutrient requirements before feeding more hay.