Not all bales feed the same, and producers need to take that into consideration when feeding cattle, says a Purdue University expert in a university report.
The actual bale weight is not the amount that cattle will consume. Purdue Extension beef management specialist Ron Lemenager says it's important to not make assumptions based on bale weight alone.
"Producers need to weigh representative bales of each forage type and know the forage quality of each type to make sure they know what they have available to feed to their beef cattle," Lemenager says. "We don't need a surprise in January and February when we figure out that we are out of feed because we thought that these bales each contained 1,500 pounds of feed. Make sure you know the true feed weight of the bale."
Part of figuring out the true usable portion of each bale is to account for the waste factor of the feeds, too. Baled corn stalks are an example where a waste factor must be considered.
"Cows will eat the shucks and leaves, but they will leave the stalks," Lemenager says. "The stalks represent a fairly significant portion of that bale weight. Consider the consequences if farmers assume they have a 1,000-pound bale when, in fact, it really weighs 800 pounds.
"Then if the cows only eat 60% of that feed because they refuse to eat the stalk in the bale, all of a sudden that bale is now a 480-pound bale of usable feed when we assumed it was a 1,000-pound bale of actual feed."
However, there are management practices that can help producers get more out of their bales.
One method is to run the bale contents through a tub grinder, which would allow the livestock to eat more of it, Lemenager said. Grinding bale contents improves consumption and digestibility by the cows.
"If you don't have enough feed, you are going to have to consider alternative feeds," Lemenager says. "That could be byproducts and that could be limit feeding a high corn diet."