Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 3

Jim Gerrish further explaining benefits and detriments to feeding hay.   American Grazinglands Services.

Find Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

Reprinted from On Pasture.

By   /  March 11, 2019  /  2 Comments

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If you missed them, catch up by reading Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

Having a systematic approach to hay feeding is a critical part of maximizing the nutrient benefits you get when feeding hay is a big piece of your pasture fertility program.

We have already seen in the previous post the amount of urinary N that is returned to the soil with each ton of hay fed. We know the amount applied depends on the protein content of the hay. Now let’s look at how you manage the feeding rate.

Let’s Do the Math on Hay Feeding for a Targeted N Application Rate

Remember urinary N is readily available for plant use and is also the form of N that is most likely to be lost to the atmosphere as ammonia or leaching after conversion to nitrate in the soil.

In this example we have 250 cows in the herd and are feeding them about 30 lbs of hay per head per day for a total feed requirement of 7500 lbs/day. We know there will be some feeding waste, so let’s round it up to 4 tons of hay fed per day.

Referring to the table in Part 2 of this series, we know hay at 8% CP will return about 11 lbs of urinary N and 11 lbs of fecal N for each ton of hay fed.

If our target rate of N application is 120 lbs/acre, we could feed on one acre of three days.

What if we have a hay that has protein well above the requirement of the animal?

Dry, pregnant beef cow only needs 7-8% CP. Now we are feeding a 14% CP hay so all the excess N is going to come out in the urine.

Now our urinary N rate per ton of feed is about 31 lbs, so we can only feed one day per acre to apply our target rate of 120 lbs/acre.

Now, Spread the Manure and Urine Across Your Pasture

While we would like to think that if we feed hay on our pastures, the cowsill s run all over and poop all across the field, they do not.

When we have measured manure distribution when feeding hay on snow covered ground, we find typically 80% of the manure falls within 15-20 feet of the feed line. Most of the rest is dropped between today’s feeding strip and the stock water. Very little is returned to the pasture at large unless there is residual grass the cattle are picking at.

Based on the premise that most manure falls within 15-20 ft of the feeding line, we can plan our hay distribution accordingly.


Using the 14% CP hay example and needing to cover one acre every day, we plan our daily feeding to cover a strip one half mile long. In this example, we would feed for 80 days on an 80 acre field to fully fertilize that pasture at 120 lbs N/acre.

It will take a few tries to figure out how fast to drive your pickup to unroll hay or how thick to make your flakes off the big square bales or the windrow width coming out of the bale processor.

The point is you can get a lot more fertility value out of the hay you are feeding if you approach that daily chore with a firm objective in mind.

Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 4

More great information from Jim Gerrish, owner of American Grazinglands Services.

Reprinted from On Pasture.

Review Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3Part 5 and Part 6

By   /  March 18, 2019  /  5 Comments

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Did you miss the start of this series? Here is Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.

Bale grazing has been increasing in popularity for several years now. This method of feeding minimizes or eliminates the need for running any feeding equipment in the winter months, but is it really all sunshine and roses?

Let’s take a look at potential for excess nitrogen loading soils under bale grazing.

Spaced Bale Feeding

As part of our early efforts in the 1980s to reduce the cost of feeding hay, we developed what we called ‘Spaced-bale feeding’. This was an early version of bale grazing.

Bales were placed in a feeding block as shown on the right side of the picture. We only handled bales once as they were picked up from the field and put in a feeding block, usually in the same field. Spacing was generally 25-30 ft on centers. The bales were protected with an electric fence and then when it was time to feed, a line of bales was exposed and ring feeders placed on those bales. We manually flipped the feeders each time we fed hay.

We quickly noticed that while we were enriching the pasture fertility in the feeding area, we were having no effect on increasing P levels away from the feeding block. In fact, they were going down.

Yes, the spaced-bale feeding system allowed us to reduce cost of feeding in the winter but it was mining nutrients from the pasture as a whole and concentrating them around the feeding block. We did relocate the block every year, but they were always placed close to the permanent fence and not scattered all across the pastures.

Bale Grazing

Bale grazing was being done more commonly in Canada by the early 2000s. Ring feeders were done away with because of the difficulty using them in deep snow situations.

An electric fence is moved and a set number of bales were exposed to the cattle. Very often the bales were just left where the baler had dropped them in the summer, so equipment cost was reduced even further.

As more producers bought their needed hay rather than baling it themselves, bale grazing started to trend back towards feeding blocks rather than widely scattered bales across the field where they had been harvested.

Now we can look at the N being returned to the field in those feeding areas using the information shown earlier in this series of posts.

That is a lot of N!

You might ask, “But who would feed 20 tons/acre?”

Here is an aerial photo showing where bale grazing took place on a farm the previous winter. We easily see the increased growth where the bales had been fed. The area outlined is one acre.

With 36 bales weighing 1300 lbs fed on that one acre, the urinary N returned is over 400 lbs/acre!

Even if the cows did wander off and urinate in different parts of the pasture, there is likely still at least 300 lbs/acre raining down on the feeding block.

This is where we can end up when we don’t have a feeding plan that balances the feeding rate with the capacity of the soil to absorb and hold N.

In some parts of the US such as the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes watersheds, N overload is a serious issue and regulations are in place to regulate manure application and animal concentration.

It is in everyone’s best interest that we on the land understand the consequences of our decisions. We all need to have nutrient management plans for our farms and ranches – not because the government is going to eventually make all of us do it, but because it makes economic and environmental sense to do so.

Nitrogen is only part of the fertility story. Next week, we’ll look at Phosphorous. If you have questions for Jim, please share them in the comment section below.