We often talk about the magnitude of round bale hay losses without proper storage techniques, but feeding losses can be equal to or greater than storage losses if some precautions aren’t taken.

“The major objective for any feeding system should be to keep losses to a practical minimum level, thus permitting animals to consume the majority of hay offered at feeding,” says Vanessa Corriher-Olson, forage specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

Corriher-Olson notes that some hay losses can be expected regardless of the system used, but the volume of waste needs to be kept to a practical minimum, especially if hay supplies are short.

Hay feeding losses occur from trampling, leaf shatter, chemical and physical deterioration, fecal contamination, and refusal.

“When feeding hay outside, selecting a well-drained area will help reduce losses,” Corriher-Olson says in a recent Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Forage Fax. “By moving the location of the feeding area, manure nutrients are better distributed and muddy conditions, soil compaction, and future weed problems can be minimized.”

As hay is fed this winter, the extension specialist advises to match forage quality to animal needs. Forcing clean up of hay by animals that have low nutrient requirements before feeding more hay can help reduce hay waste.

“Feed hay that has been stored outside before feeding hay that was stored inside; this will prevent further losses from outside storage,” Corriher-Olson says. “All things being equal, high-value hay stored outside should be fed before low-value hay stored outside.”

Finally, Corriher-Olson recommends using a proven hay feeder that provides a barrier between the animals and their hay. At a minimum, use ring feeders that have an apron at their base.