For Joe Burt of Flora, IL, hay feeding, barn cleaning and manure handling is a full-circle proposition that's both labor and land friendly.

Burt's operation includes 700 acres in southern Illinois where he raises corn, soybeans, wheat, red clover and red top. His herd consists of 116 brood cows, 75 calves and 125 feeder calves. All calves are fed out and replacement heifers are selected out of his calves.

Burt's cows are confined from Thanksgiving until mid-April, with all calving done in the barn.

He used to feed hay in mangers. Then, he hit on a better way: He'd clean his barn every day and feed hay on the floor, windrow fashion as he would feed outside. He figured that any hay feeding benefits lost would be more than offset by getting all the manure onto his cropland. Besides that, he was sure the system would reduce labor.

Always looking for ways to cut labor, Burt decided 4- x 4- x 8-ft. bales would work best. Much of Burt's resulting efforts have gone toward figuring how to best to feed the 4- x 4-ft. slices from that big baler.

First, he built a wagon with a high bed that he drove through the feeding barn, sliding the slices off into a line of feeders that had a high profile. With a confinement system, Burt bedded the concrete floor with wheat straw. He equipped himself for rapid clean-out by building a scoop blade 8-ft. wide with a four-tine, hydraulically controlled grab fork.

He knew there would always be waste, but would it be a good tradeoff? He's been on the system for five years now and he likes the performance.

Less Labor The 25- x 200-ft. feeding area can be cleaned in 15 minutes. That's less time than it takes to scatter a windrow of bale slices. As for spreading the manure, it can go directly to the spreader or to a stockpile if field conditions do not permit spreading.

Feeding hay as Burt does requires care to prevent trampling of small calves by cows eager to get at the fresh hay. So, first thing in the morning, Burt and his crew separate the cows from the calves and make sure all calves are locked in their creep. In that creep the calves have access to a grain ration along with ground hay (the hay to prevent bloat).

The cows have access to an adjacent loafing barn where hay also is fed on the floor, but where manure and bedding are allowed to accumulate.

When they are allowed back in the feeding barn they pounce on the newly fed hay.