There are several strategies for cattlemen to consider in order to decrease their input costs in these challenging times in the beef industry. One of those strategies is to try to prolong your feed sources and “stretch out the roll”, the hay roll that is.

For the first few months after heavy calves are weaned, spring calving cows’ nutritional needs are at their lowest, thus providing a great opportunity to conserve your feed sources.

Researchers at Purdue University investigated restricting cows’ access to hay—allowing cows access to the hay source 4, 8, 12 and 24 hours in a day. Research showed that for 8- 12- and 24-hour access to hay, bodyweight did not fluctuate while hay waste and consumption decreased; however, with only 4-hour access, cows had decreased weight gain.

Additional research can be found with similar results from studies conducted at the University of Illinois. These trials indicate that when forage supplies are tight and producers are looking to reduce annual cow costs associated with stored feeds, restricting the time that cows have access to hay can reduce hay disappearance by approximately 15% with little impact on animal performance.

Jeff Lehmhuhler, University of Kentucky Beef Extension specialist, recommends that producers keep in mind that the degree of restriction will be influence by the quality of hay. If you are considering this hay saving strategy, it is advised to test your forages. Contact your local Extension agent for more information.