hay quanity requirements for North Texas beef cattle

Asked July 14, 2013, 4:21 PM EDT

I will be feeding healthy cow-calf pairs newly rolled hay grazer this winter. What would be a reasonable number of round bales per adult cow to store for an average North Texas winter?

Grayson County Texas

1 Response

Sorry this question has sat unanswered for so long. This is one of the hardest questions that we get. In general, the the factors that determine the amount of hay required to feed a cow through the winter depend on the weather, the age of the calves or stage of pregnancy, the number of days of feeding, the hay quality, the hay storage system, the hay feeding method, and other factors.

The weather is a factor. Extreme cold and snow or ice cover increases the cow's appetite so that she will consume more. The energy to warm her body comes from the feeds and hays she eats, and that energy is increased when outdoor temperatures are extreme—even a wet coat makes a difference. Any hay that is stored outdoors is affected by the weather too, and not in a good way.

The calves' needs play a part in the total hay needed. Young calves get most or all of their nutrients from the cow, and the cow either gets it from a bale or the fat stores on her back. Older calves get nutrition from the cow but can supplement with hay.

The number of days of feed is largely dependent on the weather and when sufficient grass is available to allow grazing. We just have to guess on that and then add a bit to cover our bets.

The hay quality, storage, and feeding methods are lumped together because quality depends on what you start with, and the storage and feeding methods can only make it worse. If the bales are stored outside and exposed to a lot of weather, you can have as much as 20% to 25% spoilage and waste. Feeding methods can cause a lot of loss of the hay. Poor quality and weather-damaged hay is the worst. Feeding losses can be 50% or more. We do know that feeding round bales usually means that close to twice as much tonnage will be needed as when using small squares, comparing best situation to best situation.

A cow will eat 2% to 3% of her body weight, depending on hay quality (2% if it is low quality, up to 3% if really good quality). Sometimes we will have cows die with bellies full of low-quality hay. Big calves near weaning will have a similar consumption rate. Low-quality hay is why some feed companies market and sell huge quantities of supplemental feeds, or winter rations.

So if you want a middle-of-the-road guess on hay needs, here is the math:

  • A 1200-pound cow that eats 2.5% of her body weight will eat 30 pounds of hay per day. Putting a 300-pound calf at her side will add another 7.5 pounds of hay.
  • Feeding round bales doubles that, for a total of 75 pounds per day per cow. A 900-pound bale will last one cow (at above weight) 12 days or will feed 12 cows for one day.
Many producers will say, "My bales are much bigger than that." That might be true at baling time, but normal shrinkage, outdoor storage, and handling will take its toll. Many 1200-pound bales are only 900 pounds at feeding time. Ton hay bales don't really exist.

Depending on your pasturing system, you might have 100 to 150 days of feeding hay, which means 8 to 12 900-pound bales per cow for the winter. Cows will consume more high quality hay that has been stored indoors and will stay in better shape. The bottom line is that you will need 2 to 4 tons of round-bale hay per cow to keep her in the same shape all winter. Low-quality hay will require fewer bales, because cows just cannot eat as much. But you can expect them to lose a lot of weight.