Drought conditions in certain regions of North America have placed a great deal of pressure on cattle producers, particularly in regard to the cost and availability of hay this winter. Many areas are faced with a choice of stretching existing hay supplies or buying additional hay on the open market at today's inflated prices.
Fortunately, new and improved hay feeder and bunk designs can be a big help in maximizing on-hand stocks of hay so they can last through the winter. This includes the recent availability of square-bale feeders designed to conserve up to 33% of fed hay, heavy steel feed bunks that are an economical alternative to plastic and concrete, and even new shipping techniques designed to drive down freight costs, which are passed on to the farmer.
Saving on feed spillage
Using conventional hay feeding rings, cattle ranchers can lose thousands of dollars per year in avoidable feed loss. With traditional feeding rings, cattle stand outside the feeder, tear the hay out, and let the excess fall from their mouths. That excess falls to the ground, gets trampled and wasted.
"Conserver" hay feeders, on the other hand, force cattle to place their heads through metal bars to get at the hay. Thus, any feed the cows drop falls right back into the feeder where it can be eaten later.
The success of the hay-conserving bale feeder has led to the recent development and release of new options that accommodate the large square bales popular in certain parts of the U.S.
"Until recently, there were no hay conserver feeders available on the market that accommodated large square bales," says Bob Studebaker, president of GoBob Pipe and Steel (gobobpipe.com), maker of Hay Conserver® feeders. "The square feeders are based on the same principles, so a farmer can save roughly a third of his existing hay resources as well as the time, trouble and cost of locating and transporting additional hay."
The other option for feeding cattle is feedbunks. Like the hay feeder, there are important considerations that go into the selection of a bunk, its construction and how to avoid unnecessary feed waste.
A typical feedbunk is 8- to 10-ft. long, has a light tubular frame and a plastic trough. Plastic bunks are relatively inexpensive at $110-$150.
Unfortunately, because they weigh about 50 lbs., cattle can push plastic bunks around the yard. If livestock inadvertently step into the trough, they can punch right through the plastic. The cost of replacing damaged bunks over time eliminates much of the savings from the initial purchase price.
The alternative to plastic is concrete, but they require substantial and regular maintenance. Concrete is porous and must be sealed on a periodic basis; otherwise it will spall or chip. Concrete bunks have another disadvantage in weight, which makes them difficult to move when necessary.
"Concrete bunks usually weigh a couple of tons and require a tractor to move them," Studebaker explains. "Plus, if you move them in the winter they can crack, which will allow moisture to get in and freeze. If the bunk ruptures, then it requires repair or replacement."
A highly efficient and practical alternative to plastic and concrete pasture bunks is a half-pipe metal feeding bunk. Constructed of a 20-ft. metal pipe split in half, these feed bunks are plated to seal the ends, with metal legs welded underneath to provide highly durable legs. The product is also available by the foot for constructing long, fenceline bunk systems.
These metal bunks feature a trough that is 5/16-3/8-in. thick. At a little over 1,000 lbs., they're too heavy for cattle to move but easy enough for the farmer. Heavy steel bunks cost about 30% more than plastic, but never have to be replaced.
In addition to standard metal bunks, there are high-volume "super bunk" models designed for those that feed cattle ground hay, silage or other high-volume forage.
Constructed of steel plate, instead of a half-pipe, the trough is 34 in. wide and 12 in. deep. To ensure that feed and supplements won't get trapped in square edges or corners and wasted, the sides of the trough are sloped inward toward the bottom. The high-volume bunk also features skids and a tow bar, making it easily transported around the pasture.