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   Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Figure 1. Hay shelters suitable for storing large round bales or conventional square bales reduce weathering loss.

Last Update: March 2004

Various plans are available from the Canada Plan Service (CPS). To view or download any of the plans listed in this publication, follow the link to Farm Structures and Handling Systems

This factsheet provides information to help livestock producers select the most efficient beef cattle feeding system for their operation. However, not all systems are described. To obtain more specific information on handling and feeding systems, or to see and discuss systems, contact the Rural Service Centre in your region.

Table 1 summarizes the average loss expected for various forage systems under good management. If proper management is not followed, much higher losses may occur with any system.

Table 1. Feed Losses

Percentage Loss
Type of LossSilage
Round Bales
Square Bales
Respiration and Weathering 4612 910
Storage10-15[1] 5[2]6[3]10[3]3[4]
Total Dry Matter20-25%18%28%34%21%
[1]horizontal silo [2]oxygen-limiting silo [3]no shelter [4]sheltered

Construct feeding facilities on a well-drained site. A muddy feedlot can reduce feed intake up to 30 percent and daily gains up to 25 percent.

Protect the feeding area with a natural shelter or windbreak fence located 100 to 150 ft (30 to 45m) from the feeding area. Feed and bedding storage requirements are provided in Table 2.

Table 2. Feed and Bedding Storage Requirements

ImperialRequirementsUnitCows and
Bred Heifers
Calves to
500 lb
to 750 lb
to 1100 lb
Approximate Feed Requirements to Estimate Storage
- High Forage System
- hay (10% m.c.) orlb/head/day25[1]12[1]15-720-10
- silage (60% m.c.)lb/head/day56[1]27[1]34-1645-23
- grain and concentrate (10% m.c.)lb/head/day5[2]55-118-16
- High Grain System
- hay (10% m.c.) orlb/head/day--3-74-10
silage (60% m.c.)lb/head/day--7-169-23
- grain and concentrate (10% m.c.)lb/head/day--15-1122-16
Bedding Storagelb/head/day5345
SI (Metric)RequirementsUnitCows and
Bred Heifers
Calves to
225 kg
to 340 kg
to 500 kg
Approximate Feed Requirements to Estimate Storage
- High Forage System
- hay (10% m.c.) orkg/head/day11.3[1]5.4[1]6.8-3.29.1-4.5
- silage (60% m.c.)kg/head/day25.4[1]12.2[1]15.4-7.320.4-10.4
- grain and concentrate (10% m.c.)kg/head/day2.3[2]2.32.3-5.03.6-7.3
- High Grain System
- hay (10% m.c.) orkg/head/day--1.4-3.21.8-4.5
silage (60% m.c.)kg/head/day--3.2-7.34.1-10.4
- grain and concentrate (10% m.c.)kg/head/day--6.8-5.010.0-7.3
Bedding Storagekg/head/day2.
[1] Maintenance ration only
[2] Bred heifer ration; also cow ration for approximately 30 days prior to calving and after calving until cows go to pasture


Feeding Forage

There are two basic methods of feeding forage. The one method requires moving the feeding mechanism as feed is eaten; with the other method the feed is moved to the feeder.

Moving the Feeding Mechanism

Figure 2. Feed gates have been used like that shown here. However, electric wire feeding works just as well and is simpler to operate.Figure 3. Positive shock wire feeding system - plan 1640

This method allows cattle to eat into the roughage face. The feeding mechanism is moved such that adequate feed is available, but waste is minimized.

Place up to one year of roughage supply at the feeding site prior to feeding season. Store loose stacks or large round bales of roughage in a well-drained area sloping away from the feed face. This method works well for hay, straw or chaff but is not recommended for silage.

Feed handling, labour and equipment is reduced and manure is spread over a larger area.

Figure 4. Two bare wire feeding system - plan 1641

Two types of wire used for electric feeding fences are positive shock (single) wire (Figure 3) and two bare wires (Figure 4).

Positive shock wire provides a shock and ground through a double-wire insulated cable.

Alternate shock and ground barbs protrude every 1.25 inches (32mm). When an animal touches the adjacent protruding barbs it receives a shock.

Support the wire with an insulated rope hung from rod supports pushed into the forage. To prevent separation of the wire insulation during cold weather, the wire must sag sufficiently to allow for contraction.

With the two bare wire system, one wire is connected to a fence charger and the other wire is grounded. The ground wire is held 6 inches (150mm) below the shock wire (Figure 4). Plastic or insulated dividers keep the wires from touching. Tension must be maintained on both wires to ensure they remain separated. When the animal touches both wires, it receives a shock.

Insulated tighteners attach the wires to anchor supports at the fence rail. Tractor tubes that have contained calcium chloride are not recommended as the residual salt will ground the current, reducing effectiveness of the shock. If the feeding width is greater than 60 ft.(18 m), additional wire supports are required. Barbed and smooth wire both give adequate shock.

These wire feeding systems work equally well for loose stacks or large round bales placed side-by-side. Wires should be about 30 inches (750 mm) above the ground for stack feeding and 36 inches (900 mm) for large round bale feeding. Using a spring on one end of the wire to maintain tension will allow the wire to move without damage.

Electric wire feeding is not recommended where the feeding location is remote from the operator. A power failure could give cattle free access to feed, causing a great deal of waste. In the event of a power failure, remove the wire and feed cattle away from the stack.

One fence charger can provide sufficient shock for several feeding wires. The fence charger should be 115 V, solid state and CSA approved. In cold weather, place the charger in an insulated box with a 60 watt light bulb. The lighted bulb keeps the charger warm, resulting in a stronger shock.

Follow manufacturer's instructions for fence charger connections and ground. More information on fence charger performance is available from PAMI, Box 1150, Humboldt, SK, S0K 2A0. Their toll free number is 1-800-567-7264.

Proper wire positioning can limit available feed ensuring cattle clean up feed with minimum waste. Initially, set the feeding wire about 6 inches (150 mm) from the roughage. This allows cattle to eat free choice and to get accustomed to the electric wire.

The wire is moved only when cattle have cleaned up forage on the ground. Adjust the distance between the wire and the feeding face of the forage to control waste. Trim overhanging forage to keep the shock wire from shorting through the hay.

Table 3 gives recommended feeding space per animal

Table 3. Feedbunk Guidelines (Animals accustomed to bunk feeding)

ImperialRequirementsUnitCows and
Bred Heifers
Calves to
500 lb
to 750 lb
to 1100 lb
- Perimeter bunk
- limit feedingin. length/head26-3018-22--
- full feed - once/dayin. length/head--18-2424
- twice/dayin. length/head--9-129-12
- Self-feeding
- roughages onlyin. length/head8688
- complete rationin. length/head6566
- grain and concentrates onlyin. length/head3233
- Maximum height at throatin.22181822
- Maximum reach (top edge of throat board to far bottom cornerin.34243034
- Limit feeding roughages with electric wire or feed fencein. length/head20-2412-1616-2020-24
- Full or self-feeding roughages with electric wire or feed fencein. length/head106810
SI (Metric)RequirementsUnitCows and
Bred Heifers
Calves to
225 kg
to 340 kg
to 500 kg
- Perimeter bunk
- limit feedingmm length/head660-760460-560--
- full feed - once/daymm length/head--460-610610
- twice/daymm length/head--230-300230-300
- roughages onlymm length/head200150200200
- complete rationmm length/head150130150150
- grain and concentrates onlymm length/head75507575
- Maximum height at throatmm560460460560
- Maximum reach (top edge of throat board to far bottom cornermm860610760860
- Limit feeding roughages with electric wire or feed fencemm length/head510-610300-410410-510510-610
- Full or self-feeding roughages with electric wire or feed fencemm length/head250150200250
Maximum bunk width for mature cattle:
- 24 in. (610 mm) bottom width when fed from one side.
- 48 in. (1220 mm) bottom width when fed from both sides.
- 52 in. (1320 mm) bottom width when bunk divided, feeding from both sides.
Small bales moved to fenceline feeders

A common method is to stack small bales along the feeding fence adjacent to the cattle pen (Figure 1). Bales are moved from the stack to the feeder.

Some advantages are:

  • Feed is easily controlled by limiting the number of bales fed daily;
  • The operator can observe cattle once or twice a day.

Some disadvantages are:

  • The labour required;
  • Feeding at one feeder location allows manure to buildup;
  • As the stack is fed out, distance between the stack and feed bunk becomes greater.
Figure 5. Twines are removed as bales are spread in the feederFigure 6. Cattle trampling large round
baled hay in lot without feed racks

Large round bales moved to feeders

Feeding tests have shown less than 5 percent of hay is wasted when well designed large round bale feeders are used (Figure 5). The same tests indicated over 30 percent wastage when a four-day supply was fed free choice without feed racks (Figure 6). This was reduced to 11 percent when a one day supply was fed.

When constructing or buying feed racks (Figure 7), the following design features should be considered:

Figure 7. Large round bale
feeders - plan 1642
  • The bottom 18 inches (450 mm) of the rack should be solid to minimize feed waste;
  • Slanted feed bars help keep calves out of the feeder;
  • With slanted feed bars, cattle must turn their head sideways before backing away from the feed. This reduces the amount of hay pulled out of the feed rack and wasted;
  • Rails and slanted bars should be 12 inches (300 mm) apart and strong enough to keep cattle from breaking the feeder;
  • The rack should be portable and moved regularly to avoid excessive manure buildup in one location.
  • An alternate arrangement is the tombstone feeder illustrated in Figure 8. These can be portable or fixed.
Figure 8. Tombstone feederFigure 9. Loose hay moved to feeding

Loose hay moved to feeders

Loose hay can be transported from stack to feeding area with a front end loader mounted grapple fork and dropped into bunks, self-feeders or onto the ground (see Figure 9).

The portable feeder in Figure 10 is designed for free choice supplementary hay feeding in a field, feedlot or loose housing barn. Loose hay can be placed in this feeder or bales may be broken into it. Also, grain can be placed in the trough. If the feeder is overfilled, cattle will remove hay without reaching through the spacer planks.

Figure 10. Portable hay feeder - plan 1646
Figure 11. Removing silage with a front end loader

Silage moved to feeders

If silage is to be removed with a front end loader (Figure 11) and put into a feed bunk, the silo should be as close as possible to the feeding area. If silage is fed in fenceline bunks with a self-unloading wagon or truck, the silo location is not as critical, but it should still be near the bunks to reduce travel time.

Spoilage of silage at the face of the pile is reduced if the silage is removed from one end of the silo only. Removing silage only one end is also often more convenient. Silage must be removed in an uphill direction to provide drainage away from the silage pile. Enough space should be left at the open end of the silo to allow easy access for an unloading wagon or truck.

A tined fork or a bucket mounted on a front end loader may be used to loosen and carry silage. For finely cut silage, a bucket works well. A tined fork disturbs the silage face more than a bucket. Therefore, a tined fork increases the probability of spoilage.

The safest method of moving large round bales is on a tractor-drawn wagon. The next safest is a rear-mounted tractor carrier for a single bale or in conjunction with a front end loader. A large, round bale, carried by a front end loader, can cause the tractor to be unstable. Spreading the wheels and adding ballast to the rear tires will help stabilize the tractor and reduce the possibility of overturning. Always slow down for corners, slopes and irregular ground. Carry the load as low as possible.

When using a front end loader, the bucket/forks should have a guard to prevent a large round bale from rolling back on the operator.

A large round bale can crush a person or animal if not handled properly.

Tractors used for carrying large round bales should have cabs with roll-over protective structures (ROPS) to reduce chances of serious injury or fatality if the tractor overturns (Figure 13).

Processed Feeds

Forage Processing

Chopped forages include silage, low-moisture silage (haylage) and dry hay or straw. Silage and haylage are chopped prior to storage. Normally, further processing is not required. A major incentive to using ground forages is the ability to feed a complete balanced ration.

Dry hay or straw in large round bales or stacks is generally moved from the field for storage near the feeding site. The feed is chopped into 3 to 6 inch (75 to 150 mm) lengths on a daily basis or stockpiled to be fed later.

From the standpoint of animal performance, grinding hay or straw results in greater consumption, faster rate of gain and improved feed-to-gain ratio as compared to feeding long hay. However, digestive concerns with the animals and the costs to grinding should be discussed with an animal nutritionist or livestock agrologist before grinding forages begins.

When self feeders are used, waste is usually less with ground forage.

Figure 12. Portable grinder-mixerFigure 13. Tub grinder

Conventional square hay or straw bales can be ground in a grinder-mixer (Figure 12) or tub grinder (Figure 13). Large round bales and loose hay or straw are ground in a tub grinder.

Grinding forage with a grinder-mixer has some advantages compared to a tub grinder. Grinder-mixers are usually equipped with a dust collector, reducing feed losses. Augering processed feed to a self-feeder results in relatively little feed loss or dust.

With tub grinders, feed can be thrown into the air above the tub and lost between the tub base and conveyor or blown off the conveyor during unloading.

Complete rations can be prepared using a grinder-mixer. Tub grinders are suitable only where forage is ground and self-fed or where it is transferred to a mixer for proper blending with grain and supplements.

Some tub grinders can process good quality, dry hay at a rate of 4 to 8 tonnes or more per hour, depending on tractor power and tub grinder capacity. This grinding rate requires a 100 to 140 hp (75 105 kW) power unit. When bales are tough or wet, grinding is much slower. In one test, a tub grinder powered by a 140 hp (104 kW) pto rated tractor required 12 minutes to process one 750 lb (340 kg) damp bale (1.8 tonnes/hour).

Ground, damp hay, particularly in large piles, is subject to feed value losses from heating. Spontaneous combustion makes fire a concern as well.

Dust problems vary depending on grinding equipment used and location of equipment in relation to the wind.

More information on tub grinder and vertical grinder-mixer performance, is available from PAMI, Box 1150, Humboldt, SK, S0K 2A0. The toll free number is 1-800-567-7264.

Grain Processing and Feed Mixing

Grain processing and feed mixing can be accomplished using a batch system for processing measured amounts in a mixture. The process can be combined in units that both break down the material and mix it either simultaneously or in sequence.

Mills should be equipped with magnets to trap metal before it enters the processor. Rollers are especially susceptible to damage from foreign metal.

Tractor driven mills have higher capacities than electric mills. The lower capacity of the electric mill can be compensated with well designed automatic controls. Tractor driven mills offer greater versatility; electric mills are more economical to own and operate.

Figure 14. Hammer mill

Hammer Mills

A hammer mill has rotating hammers inside a partially or totally screened housing (Figure 14). Hammers strike the material until it is small enough to pass through the screen openings.

Fineness of the processed feed depends on the screen size and moisture content of the grain. As screen size decreases, mill capacity decreases and power requirement increases.

Figure 15. Burr mill

Burr Mills

Burr mills or crushers have two roughened cast iron plates (Figure 15). One plate is stationary and the other one rotates. Grain fed between the plates is crushed and sheared. Type and spacing of plates determines fineness of the feed. Initial cost of the unit is low, but maintenance cost is high due to regular replacement of plates. These mills are better adapted to grinding coarse grains than hammer mills. However, they will not handle high moisture grain satisfactorily because of low capacity.

Figure 16. Roller mill

Roller Mills

Roller mills crush grain between two corrugated rollers turning in opposite directions (Figure 16). The processed feed is quite uniform and contains few fines and little dust. Crushed grain makes excellent cattle feed.

Roller mill capacity is reduced with high moisture grain. These mills have lower power requirements than the same capacity hammer or burr mills.

A uniform diameter roller mill is not suitable for simultaneously processing different sized grains. This requires either an adjustable split roll in a one roller mill or a dual roller mill. White iron rollers are harder than mild steel, thus wear longer. Good quality rollers can be regrooved when worn.

(Note: Electric mills may not be able to start under load when grain is left on the rollers, To accommodate this possibility, and for removing foreign objects jammed in the rollers, a quick release to separate the rollers should be considered).

Consider the product to be rolled when selecting the number of grooves per inch, depth of grooves and differential surface speed between mating rollers. Following are suggested roller sections for two types of barley:

High moisture barley:

  • 6 to 8 shallow grooves per inch with a large, flat surface;

Dry barley:

  • 12 to 13 one-third inch deep grooves per inch;
  • 16 grooves per inch for flaking grain;
  • 8 deeper grooves per inch to roll grain faster but coarser.

Mated rollers with different surface speeds tend to self clean. This is advisable for high moisture grain.

Proportioning augers meter grain and supplements into a hammer or roller mill. Mixing occurs in the mill and gathering auger. These units are adequate for preparing a grain and supplement cattle ration, but they will not handle forage.
Figure 18. Mobile mixer- feeder

Figure 19. Hay self feeder

Portable grinder-mixers

Commonly used feed processing units are portable grinder-mixers. These units can deliver a complete forage, grain and supplement ration directly to perimeter feed bunks (Figure 18) or hay self-feeders (Figure 19).

Even when the best operating procedure is used, vertical grinder-mixers produce only a marginally acceptable feed mix.

Proper operating recommendations are:

  • Add supplements after at least 5 per cent of mixer volume is filled with grain;
  • After all ingredients are added, run mixer for 5 minutes; grain and hay separates if a full mixer runs 10 minutes or longer;
  • If a potentially harmful ingredient, such as urea, is used in the mixture, do not unload the first 15 seconds of discharge into an empty trough; toxic mineral concentrations can occur. This problem is more likely to occur in mixers with large diameter flighting at the bottom of the mixing auger;
  • A 100 per cent grain ration mixes more uniformly than a mixture of grain and forage.

Figure 20

Horizontal mobile mixer feeders

Horizontal mixers produce a more uniform mix than vertical mixers or electric proportioning grinder-mixers. Optimum mixing time is 5 minutes after all ingredients are added. However, little separation occurs if mixing continues longer that the 5 minute optimum.

Mobile horizontal mixer-feeders distribute feed to fenceline feed bunks. They can be tractor drawn (Figure 18) or truck mounted (Figure 20). Most mobile mixer-feeders can mix, transport and unload feed.

A typical wagon has three main components: floor conveyor, mixing system and unloading conveyor. The floor conveyor is usually a chain and slat conveyor running lengthwise in the wagon. Layers of grain and supplement are proportioned over roughage on the conveyor and mixed by paddles, cylinders or augers located before or above the unloading-conveyor. An auger, belt, chain or slat conveyor delivers feed to the bunk. Unloading-conveyor discharge location and height is important when choosing a feed wagon to match a feed bunk.

Some forage wagons can be used to fill feed bunks, but they have limited mixing capability.

Prepared and processed feed should not be fed on the ground. Use feed bunks or self-feeders to reduce waste. Suggested dimensions for feed bunks and self-feeders are given in Table 3.

Figure 17. Feed bunk and pad - plan S-165

Feed Bunks

With bunk feeding, a complete ration can be fed. A disadvantage, especially in winter, is that a tractor usually has to be used once or twice a day. Limited feeding requires about three times the feed space per animal as does having feed before them at all times. Two types of bunk feeders are shown in Figures 21 and 22.

The bunk in Figure 21 is designed for perimeter pen feeding with feed distribution by a self unloading mixing wagon/truck.

The bunk in Figure 22 is located inside the pen and gates must be opened and closed every time it is filled.

Figure 21Figure 22

Locate bunks for the best lot drainage. When compatible with drainage, north-south orientation of the bunks is usually preferred because the sun can melt ice and dry concrete or pavement on both sides of the bunk.

Continuous shadows along a feed bunk result in increased snow and frozen manure to build up. To facilitate cleaning, concrete aprons under the cattle at all feed bunks are preferred. A concrete step on the apron, adjacent to the bunk, discourages cattle from fouling the bunk with manure. The step also helps calves reach the feed.

Use of mechanical feeders may be practical for some operations, but are not commonly used. Capital and operating costs, labour saving, location, topography and estimated expansion should be considered prior to purchasing this type of feeding system. There are many mechanical systems to choose from:

Chain and slat feeders

This system can feed processed grain, haylage, silage and conventional baled forage, straw or chaff.

Auger-type feeders

Auger-type bunk feeders require four to five times more power for the same bunk length as chain or belt feeders. Auger diameter, length, speed, type and moisture content of feed handled (silage,roughage or grain) all affect power requirements. Auger-type feeders are usually limited to about 150 ft (45 m) in length.


Figure 23. Feed bunk and cart

Feed bunk and cart

Figure 23 illustrates a feed cart. These carts are usually moved manually although a few have been automated. Most carts are homemade but commercial units are available.

Feed quantity can be evenly distributed in the bunk by adjusting the delivery system on the cart or travel speed.

Cattle feed from both sides of the bunk. Slope the bunk 6 inches per 100 ft (150 mm per 30 m) away from the feed source. The empty cart can easily be pulled or pushed back up the slope. Bunks can extend in any direction from the feed supply. The cart can then deliver a different ration to each bunk.

Figure 24. Grain self-feeder - plan 1649Figure 25. Chopped hay feeder - plan 1651
Figure 26. Portable calf creep feeder - plan 1611Figure 27. Mineral feeding box


One advantage of self-feeding grain is that a tractor may only be needed once a week to process feed and refill the self-feeder.

Portable self-feeders eliminate the problem of manure buildup that occurs around stationary self-feeders, but they are difficult to move in a muddy pen. These feeders must be strong enough to withstand tractor-towing and rough use by cattle. A portable grain self-feeder and a portable chopped hay self-feeder, designed to prevent bridging, are shown in Figures 24 and 25.

Creep Feeders

Many producers creep feed calves on range as a means of introducing weaned calves to solid feed and to supplement pasture.

Figure 26 shows a portable calf creep feeder. Only calves can enter it. Locate this type of feeder on a well drained site near water supplies, mineral feeders and herd resting areas.

Figure 28. Weathervane mineral feeder - plan 1647

Mineral Feeders

The value of mineral feeding cannot be over estimated, particularly for cows.

Most salt and minerals fed in open troughs or on the ground are wasted due to moisture, manure contamination and trampling. The roofed mineral or salt box in Figure 27 keeps minerals dry and is easy to construct. Face the opening downwind for additional rain protection. Covered inside corners reinforce the joints and allow cattle to lick the box clean. To prevent overturning the feeder, anchor the base skids to four stakes driven into the ground, or extend the legs into post holes and backfill.

The mineral feeder in Figure 28 is constructed from a 45 gallon drum and used car parts. Wind rotates the drum by means of the weather-vane so rain is not driven into the opening. The drum pivots on a concrete base which must be heavy enough to prevent overturning by cattle or wind.

Investigate the many varieties of commercial units that are available.

In this Factsheet, Imperial units are used as the primary units of measurement. The SI (metric) units in brackets are not necessarily exact conversions, but are equivalent practical conversions.

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