Manager Mike Moon will get triple duty out of the 2,300 tons of large, round bales he'll stack this summer at the John E. Rouse Beef Improvement Center near Saratoga, WY.
* The hay will serve as winter feed for the Colorado State University (CSU) facility's 350 commercial Angus cows and 70 yearlings.
* Meanwhile, a new stacking method should help stabilize the cattle's nutritional requirements by sheltering them from chilly winter winds.
* Plus, the new stacking method - a V shape - makes snowed-in hay stacks a thing of the past. Folks around this south central area of Wyoming are used to seeing innovative ideas put into practice on this progressive operation gifted by philanthropist John Rouse to CSU about 13 years ago. The two hay structures the Moons built for use last winter are an example.
They're giant, V-shaped walls of large round bales set in winter grazing areas. The bales are stacked two high to a height of about 12 ft. with the bottom row standing vertically and the top row laying horizontally atop them.
The two, 125-ft.-long wings (50 bales each side) come together to form a 90 degrees angle. The point is oriented directly into the prevailing winter winds blowing off the Sierra Madres 15-20 miles to the southwest.
The hay compacts to form a solid surface that's impervious to wind. When the wind encounters the V shape of the bale stack, it spills to the sides, channeling wind and snow along the sides of the V rather than over the top.
This diversion greatly reduces the wind velocity in the area behind the stacks for as much as 300-400 ft. downwind. It also virtually eliminates the accumulation of blowing snow in the protected area.
Building More This Year Moon built two of the structures he calls "wedges" for use last winter and plans to build three, possibly even four, this fall for use this coming winter.
"It's worked well and we intend to keep using them," he says. "We're very happy with them. It's much more comfortable for the cattle and the design prevents snow buildup around the hay stacks."
The hay wedges are the brainchild of Bob Jairell, a hydrologic technician with the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Laramie, WY. They're born out of research he and a team of world-renowned experts on blowing snow have developed over the past 30 years. Their methods and designs are in extensive use throughout the world.
Two of them - capturing blowing snow to augment livestock water supplies and livestock wind shelter techniques - have been chronicled in past issues of BEEF (see "H2O On The Blow," May 1990, page 12; and "Wind Wedges," February 1992, page 10).
The wedge design grew out of a producer request for a method to stack hay that would prevent snow drifting and guarantee its accessibility in winter. Jairell went to work with models, constructing miniature replicas of round hay bales in traditional single rows, as a long pyramid of three rows, a solid triangle shape and the V. He then placed them on a frozen lake bed and recorded the performance.
No matter the variation in stacking, single rows collected snow. The solid triangle was totally inaccessible due to drifting. The V shape was theclear winner.
Jairell then went looking for a real-life test. Moon, whose family has managed the Saratoga facility for 40 years, volunteered to participate.
"We have some open meadows that tend to be a problem because the cattle don't have anywhere to go on cold, windy days," Moon says. "We decided to build two of the wedges. We put one up on a windswept bench with little cover and the other in the bottomlands along the river with good, natural cover."
The wedges, he says, worked beyond their expectations. "It looks like wedges are a good idea. The trick is to make sure they're oriented directly into the traditional prevailing winds," Moon says. "Ours were off by about 20 degrees, but we were still surprised how well they worked, even in the area we thought had good, natural protection."
Old-style stack yards tend to drift in, Moon says. It isn't unusual at times to use a crawler tractor to cut a path into a stack yard and dig out the bales, he says. The V design, however, kept every bale accessible as the wind scours snow from along the front of the structure and deposits it downwind outside the shelter area.
Moon feeds from the ends, working toward the middle as the winter progresses and the need for shelter dwindles. On the coldest of days (those 0 degrees F. and below), he feeds behind the shelter. On most days, he spreads hay out away from the shelter to draw cattle out from the protected zone to spread out the manure buildup.
Group Feeding By Age Cattle are grouped in meadows by age - yearlings in one area; coming two-year-olds in another; threes and fours and thin cows in another; and five-year-olds and older in another.
The Moons supplement feed from Nov. 15 to May 15. Two to 3 lbs. of alfalfa hay per head per day is fed as a protein source, along with a custom organic mineral mix high in copper. The grass hay is fed at the rate of 23 lbs./head/day in early winter, building to 40-50 lbs./head/day by calving.
"When it gets below 10 degrees F., we begin to increase the feed by 1 lb./degree. But, we feel the shelters help to lessen the requirement," Moon says.
The Moons feed their cattle to keep them in a condition score 5. While they admit that might seem a little high, winters can turn so severe in this high country that the extra condition is needed as an insurance policy. "It's tough to get the condition back by calving time, if you lose it," Moon says.
As part of the wedge project, Moon also worked with Doug Hixon, a beef cattle Extension specialist at the University of Wyoming. They wanted to determine if nutritive value of the hay would be affected by the stacking method.
Moon took core samples in October, December, February and April on both the V stacks and old-style stacks. The nutrient analysis completed this summer found that "the stacking arrangement did not appear to have any negative effects on nutrient retention."
Energy and protein values appeared similar between the wedge samples and controls, Hixon reported. Nor were there any obvious differences between samples in terms of acid detergent insoluble nitrogen, which gives an estimation of any heat damage loss to protein. The sampling project will be continued this winter at the CSU facility, Hixon says.
Moon is still tweaking the design on his hay wedges. He plans to build them with double rows of bales in order to prolong the life of the shelter through the winter. He'll feed the inside row first.
"We're just as happy as can be with the wedges," he says.