How Much Hay Does a Beef Cow Eat Per Day? A Detailed Look at Beef Cattle Nutrition

As a cattle farmer, knowing how much hay to feed your beef cows is critical to keep them healthy and productive The amount of hay a beef cow consumes per day can vary quite a bit depending on the cow’s size, stage of production, and the quality of the hay. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at determining the daily hay needs of beef cattle

Factors That Influence Hay Consumption in Beef Cows

There are several key factors that affect how much hay a beef cow will eat each day:

  • Body Weight – Larger cows need more hay than smaller cows. The general rule of thumb is to feed 2-3% of a cow’s body weight in hay per day. So a 1,200 lb cow would eat 24-36 lbs of hay daily.

  • Stage of Production – Cows in late gestation or early lactation have greater nutrient needs and will eat more hay. Plan for 10-20% higher hay consumption during these high demand periods.

  • Hay Quality – Lower quality hay is less digestible so cows need to eat more of it. Higher quality hay provides more nutrients per pound, so cows don’t need as much by weight.

  • Environmental Conditions – Cold weather and winter conditions increase energy needs, so cows eat more hay to stay warm. Hot weather reduces appetite and hay intake.

  • Feeding System – Feeding hay free-choice results in higher intake than a controlled feeding system.

Now let’s look at some example hay feeding rates for beef cows in different stages.

Hay Feeding Recommendations for Beef Cows

Here are typical daily hay feeding recommendations for 1.200 lb beef cows at various stages of production

  • Dry Cows – Feed 28-32 lbs good quality hay per day. Increase by 2-4 lbs for lower quality hay.

  • Late Gestation – Feed 30-36 lbs per day, increasing to 36-42 lbs just prior to calving. Boost hay quality or add grain as calving nears.

  • Peak Milk Production – Feed 36-42 lbs high quality hay per day along with 6-10 lbs grain. Maximum intake occurs 60-90 days after calving.

  • Mid Lactation – Feed 34-40 lbs per day of good quality hay plus 3-6 lbs grain. Slowly decrease grain after peak lactation.

  • Late Lactation – Feed 30-36 lbs hay per day and phase out grain by weaning. Limit grain intake to 1-2% of body weight.

  • First Calf Heifers – Require 10-15% more hay pre-calving than a mature cow. Increase hay post-calving also.

These are general guidelines, adjust amounts based on your cows’ body condition and production level. Always provide free-choice salt and fresh water. Now let’s look at how to determine if your beef cows are getting adequate hay on a daily basis.

Assessing Adequacy of Hay Feeding Rates

To evaluate if your hay feeding rates meet your cattle’s needs, watch for these signs:

  • Consumption – Cows should finish most of their hay by the next feeding. Leftovers shouldn’t exceed 10% of amount fed. Increase if cows run out early.

  • Body Condition – Check body condition score regularly. Thin cows need more hay. Aim for score of 5-6 on 9 point scale.

  • Health Issues – Increased health problems like pneumonia or scours can indicate nutrient deficiencies. Have forage analyzed and adjust diet.

  • Milk Production – Peak milk yields and calf weaning weights reflect good nutrition. Low production flags issues.

  • Hay Waste – Trampled or sorted hay indicates refusal or inability to consume. Have hay tested for nitrate/mold issues.

  • Forage Analysis – Annual forage testing provides nutrient content details to formulate balanced rations.

Fine-tuning your hay feeding rates takes observation, data analysis, and making adjustments based on performance. Now let’s look at how to determine the amount of hay needed per cow over an entire season.

Estimating Total Hay Needs for Beef Cows

To determine total hay requirements for the feeding season, follow these steps:

  1. Establish average body weight of cows when thin
  2. Identify average number of days to be fed
  3. Determine average daily hay feeding rate (2-3% of body weight)
  4. Calculate tons of hay needed per cow (days x daily rate divided by 2000)
  5. Multiply by number of cows to get total tons of hay required

For example, for thirty 1,200 lb cows over 180 days:

  1. Average cow weight: 1,200 lbs
  2. Feeding period: 180 days
  3. Feeding rate: 36 lbs/day (3% of 1,200 lbs)
  4. Hay needed per cow: (180 x 36) / 2000 = 3.24 tons
  5. With 30 cows, total hay needed = 3.24 x 30 = 97 tons

This gives you a realistic estimate of the amount of hay to have on hand for the entire feeding season. Base projections on the highest feeding rates for your herd.

Best Practices for Feeding Hay to Beef Cattle

To make the most efficient use of your hay supply, follow these feeding best practices:

  • Store hay properly to minimize waste, spoilage, and nutrient loss. Keep hay dry.

  • Test hay for nutrient content. Formulate rations to meet protein, energy, vitamin and mineral needs.

  • Feed higher quality hay to late gestation and lactating cows who need more nutrients.

  • Group cows by nutritional needs. Feed first calf heifers and thin cows separately.

  • Offer hay in well-designed feeders to reduce waste and sorting. Feed at regular times.

  • Make ration adjustments based on actual consumption and refusal rates. Weigh and sample hay regularly.

  • Avoid overfeeding. Scale back hay when pasture is available to reduce excess intake.

Following these guidelines will help ensure your beef cows’ nutritional needs are met in the most cost-effective manner using your hay supplies.

Determining and providing the right amount of hay each day is essential for properly nourishing your beef cattle herd. Hay feeding rates vary significantly depending on cow type, size, production stage, and hay quality. Monitor your cows’ body condition, health, production levels, and hay consumption and refusal to gauge if their needs are being met. Use forage analysis to balance rations. Store and feed hay properly to minimize waste. Record keeping, assessment, and adjustments are key to getting hay feeding rates right for your beef cows’ needs.

Talking Cattle! How Much do you Feed these Things???


How much hay does a 1200 lb cow eat per day?

As an example, if it were determined the daily dry matter intake of a group of 1,200 pound cow eating an average quality hay is 24 pounds per head and the hay that they are consuming is 88% dry matter, these cows would consume about 27 (24 pounds/. 88) pounds per head per day on an as-fed basis.

How much hay does a 500 pound calf eat?

When the calf starts on feed, first provide high-quality grass hay for free choice consumption (3% of body weight; 15 lbs per day for a 500 lb calf). Also make sure the calf has access to plenty of clean, fresh, cool water. Water is the most important nutrient for all animals.

How much hay do you feed beef cattle?

Cows will voluntarily consume 2.0% of body weight or 24 pounds per day. The 24 pounds is based on 100% dry matter. Grass hays will often be 7 to 10% moisture. If we assume that the hay is 92% dry matter or 8% moisture, then the cows will consume about 26 pounds per day on an “as-fed basis”.

How many round bales of hay per cow per day?

If cows are relying exclusively on hay as part of dry matter intake and on average they require 18 kgs of dry matter per day, then one round bale can feed between 15 – 19 cows daily. These figures are estimates and hay and silage makes up just one part of the dietary intake of cattle.

How much Hay does a cow need?

Animal rations are typically figured on a dry matter basis, which simply is the amount of nutrients in each feed with all the moisture removed. Dry hay is about 90 percent dry matter, so we can stick with our 3-pound rule for rough calculation purposes. So, a 1200-pound cow beef cow will need 36 pounds of forage dry matter.

How much hay do 18 cows eat a day?

So, let’s say we have a herd of 18 brood cows that average 1200 pounds. 18 cows X 12 hundreds body weight X 3 pounds per hundred = 648 pounds of dry hay. Well, how convenient for us! A typical 4 x 4 round bale of dry hay will weigh about 670 pounds, so presto! One round bale a day works out well for our 18-cow herd!

How much hay should a 250 pound calf eat a day?

The recommendation I have used is 3 pounds of hay for each 100 lbs of weight. So your 250-pound feeder calf needs 7 pounds of hay per day. A square bale isn’t going to last very long at that rate! And remember, as you are feeding, the cows are growing. The daily intake will continue to grow.

How much hay does a dog need to eat in a day?

Using a moderate DMI (Dry Matter Intake) of 2% of body weight, we can estimate that a dog needs 22 pounds of hay a day (as fed, including water weight). Multiplying this daily intake by the number of days in the feeding period, we get 4,404 pounds (2.2 tons) of hay needed for this one animal.

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