Feeding Through Winter Part I: Purchased Feed
While working the land and raising livestock can bring you peace of mind, there is no doubt that farming introduces its share of stress. Raising livestock from birth is a fulfilling process that you can take pride in, but ensuring that your livestock are sheltered, protected from predators and properly fed takes time and plenty of consideration. This time of year especially, the thought of providing feed during the winter can dominate your mind’s landscape, and planning and preparing to have enough for the winter months can take up a large part of your work. Let us help you this winter. We have a few basic tips and solutions, as well as a wonderful alternative that will drastically reduce the amount of feed that you’ll have to store. Let’s cover the basics first though.
Whether you produce or purchase your winter feed, you’re going to have to make sure that you have enough to make it through the winter. There are few things worse than running out of feed during the winter. You’ll be left scrambling to replenish your supply, and once you do find feed, you’ll be paying exorbitant prices for feed of lesser quality. Be sure to stock up. It is often recommended to keep as much as 25 percent more feed than you expect to use.
Some determining factors for the amount of feed that you’ll need include:
- Number of livestock
- Days that feed will be needed
- Expected Wastage
- Body condition score
- Stage of production
For those that depend on machinery to feed, keeping feed in two different places should be considered, especially if you’re in a region that experiences a lot of snow or rain. Snow, ice and mud can hinder the ability to access feed with a tractor, so ensure feed can always be distributed, no matter the weather. Some choose to store a few bales in pasture behind an electric fence, so that livestock can get to it on their own during poor weather.
If you plan on purchasing feed, you’ll definitely want to analyze it to make sure you’re getting feed of a high quality. Quality is especially important during the winter when livestock depend on nutrition for the dietary energy to stay warm, and since feed is among the largest costs on a farm, you’ll also want to make sure that you’re getting your money’s worth. Do not depend on visual analysis. Color is not always an indicator, and often times quality amounts of protein, minerals and macronutrients can be found in hay that may fail a visual test. For more information on hay selection, read our selecting hay for livestock blog.
Baling, storing & feeding
A proper bale also plays a role in the overall quality of your feed, and the key is to get bales that have as little moisture as possible. Dry bales are relatively hard to the touch, while a bale that is retaining moisture will have some give when you push on it. If a bale can be pushed in a 1/2 inch, losses should be expected.
The type of bale should also be taken into account. Round bales tend to have greater losses – although it should also be noted that they are more commonly stored outside. Square bales generally have less wastage and are easier to store inside, because they can be pieced together to fit conveniently in a number of spaces. Since square bales tend to get stacked before they are completely dry, they should be stored in an area that gets plenty of ventilation, which can limit the proliferation of mold and reduce the risk of fire.
The importance of storing hay inside cannot be stressed enough. Detail certainly isn’t needed to make this point, so we’ll just let the stats speak for themselves. Uncovered bales should be expected to lose as much as 25 percent, while the losses of feed stored indoors can be capped at approximately 5 percent. If hay can’t be stored indoors, a tarp can help to limit loses to about 10 percent. We have a number of storage solutions, found here, that can work for any farm.
When storing feed, you’ll want to ensure that the bales aren’t too damp. Moisture causes chemical reactions within hay, and since hay insulates, heat builds up, potentially creating a fire hazard. Using a temperature probe is an easy and accurate way to monitor the temperature of your bales. Once bales reach the 150°F mark they start to become more dangerous, and should be monitored daily. At 160°F they need to be monitored every few hours, and at 175°F the fire department should be called and the hay should be removed from storage.
When storing, you’ll also want to:
- Make sure the storage space is as dry as possible
- Check for pests and rodents
- Stack bales so that you can access older bales first
- Store away from livestock due to the risk of fire.
Your feeding practices can also help you to maximize your feed. Livestock can waste as much as 50 percent of a bale, so they should only be given what they are expected to eat. You’ll also have to work to save potentially wasted hay, and feed that is stored outside should be fed first, due to the fact that it will spoil faster. Using a body condition score can help to maximize feed efficiency. Each animal should be rated on a scale from one to nine. A one would be considered weak and emaciated, while a nine is extremely overweight. This can be done based on appearance; an actual scale isn’t necessary. You’ll want most of your livestock between a five and a seven, and an animal that is a five will have a moderate body condition. Perhaps it has a couple of ribs visible and a little fat around the chest. A seven would trend towards the heavier side, and the chest will have evident fat deposits. Livestock under a five will need to have their feed increased and should receive higher-quality feed.
Cattle farmers should also feed heifers separately. Just like animals in the wild, cattle compete for food, and this can have negative consequences. Heifers need to gain weight in order to prepare for breeding and calving. This means they will need plenty of food and nutrition, and eliminating their competition can keep them healthy and profitable.
There are a number of factors to account for when storing feed for the winter, and without the proper planning and storage, the winter can hamper your business. But maybe not…
Check back next week. We’ll tell you how to avoid storing massive amounts of winter feed.