Everyone knows that livestock feed shouldn’t be moldy, old or otherwise low-quality hay. What everyone may not know, however, is that feeding livestock the highest quality hay at all times isn’t necessary. In fact, in many cases doing so doesn’t make sense.
Different livestock have different requirements. For instance, cows that are lactating have different protein needs than cows that are not. A pregnant cow generally does not need the highest quality hay, whereas cows that are lactating in order to feed their calves demand more nutrients. Feeding the same hay to every cow, regardless of whether they are pregnant, lactating or none of these things, could wind up costing more than is necessary. And cows with lower nutritional needs will only end up excreting excess nutrients that other cows need.
So how should you feed livestock with varying nutritional needs? To begin, limiting the amount of access livestock have to high-quality hay can decrease the overall rate of consumption across the board. This allows all livestock access to high-quality hay, but not so much that it will exceed any animal’s nutritional needs. From there, supplements can be added to the diet of any livestock whose nutritional needs are particularly high.
If the main concern is that livestock are wasting the nutrients in high-quality hay, then it can be beneficial to provide an assortment of high- and mid-quality hay where mid-quality hay outnumbers high-quality hay. This may seem counterintuitive, but the livestock will tend to eat the lower-quality hay after consuming the higher-quality hay, which will improve how well the livestock digest the mid-quality hay. Thus, they will not overeat high-quality hay and waste the nutrients found in it, and the mid-quality hay’s nutrients will be more efficiently digested. Ultimately, this is beneficial to livestock regardless of their nutritional demands.
Finally, it is possible to restrict access to hay in such a way, for example the use of a round bale feeder, that only after livestock finish a bale of hay will they be allowed access to another. The more voracious animals will end up with access to the most hay, and it is typically the livestock that eat the most hay that require the most nutrients. So while it may be true that feeding livestock is not as simple as giving all livestock equal access to the best hay, there are simple solutions to this problem.