Spaced-Bale Hay Feeding

In the past, i’ve been a proponent of and have often used a common practice of feeding livestock and distributing manure and organic matter in a chosen area. It is still popular and may still have purpose. If you need to feed hay, it can cut down on labor and the amount of time feeding out when it’s bad weather.

However, my experience is that it concentrates organic matter and nutrients (manure included) so much that it takes years for grass to grow back in those areas. The photos illustrate my point. Those spots are at each place a hay bale was set (truckload of 38 count 1350 lb bales) in the fall (be sure to remove netwrap in advance of setting on the ground) and now it is 3 years hence. Still no forage of significance.

Jim Gerrish has a fabulous six-part series of nutrient management with feeding hay and i highly recommend reading through it before making hay feeding decisions. Find video series on other topics on his website; American Grazing Lands.

I’ve also used, with better impact unrolling hay bales. This reduces intense trampling and distribute manure much better. However, a huge drawback is having to feed the hay in the winter, with special large equipment. Oftentimes it may be muddy which will make huge ruts in the pasture. Greg Judy sells a hay unroller which would help mitigate this, but the hay would have to already be stored near the pasture your stock is in and accessible with equipment able to grab the bale and unroll. Deep snow or ice would make this difficult. My farm is 35 minutes away and in some cases not accessible until ice and snow melts. Your situation may be different and require different decisions, but always put a sharp pencil to the situation and remember family and harmony.

So, after 30 plus years of managed grazing, what do i do now? Total Grazing! By utilizing the principles of total grazing outlined and taught by Jaime Elizondo, Real Wealth Ranching, there are few reasons to produce, haul, buy, feed hay. In fact, it really cuts profitability to do so. This has entirely eliminated feeding hay to cows for two years now and i see no reason to ever feed again unless there is a huge blizzard and 3 plus feet of snow. Which could happen, but rare in north Missouri. In which case, spaced bale feeding may be the only option since it’s already in the pasture or let the cows find their own tall stockpile. Adjust your livestock numbers to match your winter resource.

Sheep bale grazing near a small patch of timber back in 2015.

Kick the Hay Habit by Jim Gerrish is the book that really convinced me to explore and implement the move completely away from feeding hay. The only time i might consider feeding (purchased) hay is in the summer on exceptionally poor ground which has never produced forage. Unroll it and have the stock eat it so as to add microbes to the soil profile. Saliva, manure (having past through the gut will shed microbes), hoof trampling, may all stimulate and improve soil health without breaking the bank.

Create Something Beautiful Today!

In the foreground is clear indication of where a hay bale sat three years ago surrounded by tall stockpile forage.