Bale Feeder Design

Reduce hay waste with proven feeder design.

Feeding hay is the most popular winter feeding strategy in the Midwest. In most cases, hay is packaged into large round bales and fed in some type of feeder. Although many different designs claim to reduce hay waste, research has helped identify designs work best.

When supplies are low, many producers need to stretch the hay they have. Those looking to buy more hay this winter may find themselves paying steep premiums. Reducing hay waste can be a worthwhile investment in any year, but when hay prices are elevated it pays quickly.

Hay feeder design trials

Trial 1: Buskirk et al. (2003) evaluated large round bale feeder design and the subsequent effect of hay utilization and hay waste. The study compared four different hay feeder designs:

  • cone
  • ring
  • trailer
  • cradle.

All feeder designs resulted in similar cow intakes;  however, the amount of hay wasted was different between designs. The least wasteful were cone feeders, followed by ring, trailer, and finally, cradle which had the largest amount of waste. The type of hay offered in this trial was second cutting alfalfa and orchard grass. The hay tested approximately 13% CP, 53% NDF, 35% ADF on a dry matter basis.


This trial shows that feeder design does impact hay waste. This trial is illustrated in Table. 1 and the feeder design is shown in Figure 1. (green feeders).

  Feeder Type
Item Cone Ring Trailer Cradle SEM
Initial cow weight, lb. 1383 1389 1390 1385 9.5
Hay disappearance, lb DM/hd/d 26.4x 26.6x 30.5y 28.3xy 0.9
Hay waste, lb DM/hd/d 0.9x 1.5y 3.5y 4.2z 0.22
Hay waste, %a 3.5x 6.1x 11.4y 14.6y 0.8
Hay intake, lb DM/hd/d 25.3 25.1 27.0 24.2 0.9
Intake/cow BW, % 1.8 1.8 2.0 1.8 0.1

a Hay waste as a percentage of hay disappearance
xyz Within a row, least square means without a common superscript letter differ (P< .05)


Trial 2: Researchers at Oklahoma State University (Lalman) also looked at hay feeder design and associated wastes. Four different feeder designs were evaluated and the hay waste listed following each type:

  • cone: 5.3%
  • sheet: 13.0%
  • ring: 20.5%
  • poly: 21.0%

Costs were analyzed as well. They assumed a hay price of $116/ton or $70/bale.

  • Assuming a producer with 30 cows will feed 180 bales in a season, the costs associated with hay waste were $667 (cone), $1,638 (sheet), $2,583 (ring), and $2,646 (poly) per season.
  Feeder Type
Item Cone Sheet Ring Poly
Waste, % bale wt. 5.3x 13.0y 20.5z 21.0z
Total waste, lb/bale 63.6x 156y 246z 252z
Cost of waste/bale, $* 3.71x 9.10x 14.35y 14.70y
Cost of wasted hay/month, $* 111,39 273.00 430.50 441.00
Cost of wasted hay/season, $* 66.7.80 1638.00 2583.0 2646.00

xyz Within a row, least square means without a common superscript letter differ (P< .05)
*Assuming $70 per 1,200 bale, feeding 180 bales per season

It is easy to see that improved feeder designs like the cone-shaped hay feeder can save producers money by reducing hay waste.



In summary, bale feeder design can impact hay waste. Reducing loss from hay waste can not only be a good way to stretch short hay supplies, but it can also contribute as a cost-saver to the cow/calf enterprise. Reducing waste is a component of lowering feed costs. Profitable cow/calf producers will always be focused on reducing feed costs.