- Agronomic: barley, canola, corn, oats, rapeseed, soybeans, sunflower, grass (misc. perennial), hay
- Animals: bovine
- Animal Production: feed/forage
- Education and Training: farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
Round bale hay for feeding beef cattle is the method of choice for most farmers; primarily because of the speed in making that hay and the ability to do the entire operation with one person. The problem, when choosing the horned cattle breeds for other positive reasons, is that these breeds have wasted hay. Research has shown that feeding hay on the ground can result in up to 40% waste. On my own farm, I could be wasting as much as 15 tons annually, which is approximately equal to the amount of crop from rented land along with the time spent cleaning it up, composting, and spreading it. Also, daily feeding of round bales, to try to cut down on waste, is not very time efficient. The problem has been minimized for the dehorned cattle breeds by using various feeders and wagons with slanted sides that allow the cattle to access the hay, but keep them from walking and defecating in the hay, until it is eaten. There are a number of stationary round bale feeders with open hump style tops, but horned cattle still, at times, get stuck in these and end up breaking the feeders. Also, calves have some difficulty accessing the hay once the outsides of the bale are eaten away. From observing my cattle, I find they are experts at putting their heads between the fence wires to grab food just outside their pastures. This gave me the idea to use two horizontal, parallel bars on each side of the wagon that could be pushed in by the cows as they ate, while still allowing the calves to eat below the bars. My Wife and I have a cow/calf operation in DeKalb NY. We raise Scotch Highland cattle because of their calm disposition, superior grazing ability, cold climate tolerance, calving ease, and low cholesterol meat. Over 25,000 registered animals of just this breed alone exist today and the numbers are growing. They also happen to have horns that are valuable for predator protection and clearing overgrown pastures but present problems supplemental hay feeding- which bring us to this grant. We make and feed round bales because of their efficiency in solo person haymaking labor time, and storage. But we have experienced problems with excess waste from hay defecated on and trampled by the cattle. We have tried round bale feeders with open tops with no success. The cattle either get stuck in them and or break them. Plus the calves can’t get to the hay once the edges are eaten away. For cattle without horns there are round bale feed wagons with slanted sides or slots for the cattle to put their heads into, but for horned cattle no such commercial made wagons exist. After watching my cows get their heads between fence wires to eat at adjacent pastures. I got the idea to build a prototype feed wagon with sliding sides that slide in as the cows eat the bales, and are also have two vertically adjustable horizontal sides (like a fence) so I could observe and determine what would allow the most efficient feeding and cow comfort for the cows and calves at the same time. This would benefit many farmers like my self in becoming more efficient, instead of time and energy making and dealing with wasted hay. It would also allow us to feed hay weekly instead of daily to try and minimize this waste as many of us beef farmers here in the northeast must work out in order to keep our farms going. The free sharing of my results and wagon specs with farmers that keep horned cattle exclusively or even those with a few crossbreeds may be just the help many need to keep their farms and enjoy this satisfying way of life.
Project objectives from proposal:
My first step will be to take my sketches to a local fabricator and construct a basic, open bottomed, round bale carrier wagon utilizing a used wagon running gear’s front and rear axles. Then sides, with the ability to slide together from 81/2 feet to 4 feet wide using two sizes of square tubing that each slide into each other, will be attached. This will allow the cattle to push in the sides as they consume the bales. Each side rail will be adjustable for horizontal spacing height. The rear ends of the back of each side will be hinged to open for bale loading.
I intend to feed the cattle and observe/record observations of whether the bales are being fully eaten or if there is a lesser percent remaining. I will monitor to determine how well all ages of cattle utilize the bales and interact with the feeder. I plan to make adjustments to the side rail spacing and various heights to best suit cattle needs. After some time, I should be able to determine what exact spacing and height will provide the optimum feeding and should anticipate reduced stress to the cattle from the previous dilemma of having their horns getting stuck in the rails of past feeders.
Outreach involves sharing of the written description of results, final sketches including any modifications needed after observations, plus photos to websites of horned cattle breeds. These can be submitted with a short article to “Farm Show Magazine”, and “Northeast Farming” which includes my contact e-mail for further information. It will allow other farmers to use my results to construct their own similar bale wagons.