The Ups and Downs of Hay Feeders

We ran out of grass about six weeks ago so they cattle have been eating hay and lots of it. We feed hay two different ways. For the cows and steers we put the bales right on the pasture. The calves’ bales go in hay feeders.

The nice thing about hay feeders is that they reduce waste. When cattle are hungry they eat, but once they are full they tend to play with their food. Especially when it is cold and snowy. The leftover hay makes a nice, warm, dry bed. There are piles of hay spread throughout the steer and cow pastures that will never be eaten because of this. At $60-70/bale, waste is something you want to minimize.

Here’s what a hay feeder looks like. Steve is running the skid steer. He’s shaking the bale up and down so it falls apart and is easier for the calves to eat:

Hay feeders prevent the cattle from turning the hay into bedding. They can get their heads through the bars to eat, but the hay is safely out of the reaches of their hooves. The bars are narrowly spaced to keep the cattle from climbing in and getting stuck. This doesn’t always work.

Both yesterday and today we found a stuck calf. I didn’t see the one yesterday, but the little guy today had wedged his head under the one of the bars and then somehow climbed his two front feet into the feeder. He couldn’t get his head low enough to pull it out without getting his feet out first, but his head was too far in – he couldn’t pull back enough to get his feet free.

Steve and I tried to free him, but once they get stuck like that, they tend to panic and pushing them back out rarely works. We called Ryan to come up with the saw. Just like he did yesterday, he sawed the bar off to free the calf and hopefully prevent others from getting stuck. The fun part is you have to practically sit on the calf’s head to keep it from flailing. Obviously you don’t want him moving around while you are sawing so close to his neck. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. So Ryan straddled his head to keep him still. The little guy sure didn’t appreciate it, but there was no other way. As soon as Ryan freed him, the calf began leaping around the feeder in celebration. All’s well that ends well.

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