How Much Hay to Feed Your Cows in the Winter? This Much!

As winter kicks in through the US, cows need extra nutrition! An extra feeding boost helps to you’re your cows warm and fight off the health problems associated with the inclement weather and drop in temperature. 

In most parts of the northern hemisphere, there’s little grazing available at this time of year, which means buying adequate forage to help your cows maintain their body condition.

How Much Hay Does a Cow Eat?

Cows consume 2% of their body weight in forage every day. That means that a 1,200-pound cow needs 24 pounds of hay per day! Factors that may alter this ratio include the cow’s weight, stage of production, and the quality and moisture content of the forage.

How Do You Calculate Hay for Cattle?

herd of cows hay grazing in winter snow
In the cold New England states, farmers face over five months of cold weather! Your cows can’t graze during this time – and you must rely on stored forage and hay. Plan accordingly, so your cows have plenty of foodstuffs to eat!

Consider several factors when calculating your winter hay requirements, including the following variables.

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Weight and Stage of Production

It stands to reason that a 1,600-pound lactating Limousin will need more food than a Highland heifer that only weighs 900 pounds. Not only have they got more bodyweight, but they also need extra nutrients to pump into their milk production.

A milking beef cow needs, on average, around 50% more energy, or total digestible nutrients (TDN), than one that’s not lactating. 

While a 500-pound calf requires just 10 pounds of hay per day, a lactating cow that weighs 1,200 pounds will need closer to 50.

Read More – Here’s How to Build an Epic Off Grid Cabin on a Budget!

Type and Quality of Forage

cow with frosty nose eating hay
Look at this frost-nosed beauty! It’s not hard to imagine that cows might work up a hefty appetite when grappling with the chilly conditions during winter.

The type and quality of the forage you’re feeding also affect how much hay your cows need. Hay cut at an advanced stage of maturity contains less protein than younger hay and therefore is less beneficial to your cows. 

I read a study from the Beef Cattle Research Council. The study cites how cows will not voluntarily consume more low-quality forage – even when they need more to meet their energy demands!

Here’s another part of their research that caught my attention – Higher fiber content in low-quality forage decreases voluntary intake. (From the Beef Cattle Research Council.)

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07/07/2022 01:41 am GMT


Some methods of feeding lead to high levels of hay wastage. Roll a large round bale out in the field, and you could lose as much as 30% of your investment. That also means your cows will get only 70% of the nutrition they need.

Invest in a circular bale feeder, and you could reduce your wastage to just 6%, meaning a financial saving for you and more nutrition for your cows.  

Read More – Here’s How to Keep Your Farm Animals Warm In Winter!

Feeding Cows in the Winter FAQs

hungry winter cows eating hay in barn
Rise and shine. It’s time for breakfast! Who else wants hay? These hungry cows sure do – and they appreciate every bite!

Feeding your cows in the winter is a ton of work – especially in our insane economy!

That’s why we put together some of the most frequent FAQs homesteaders will encounter when calculating the cost of feeding cows.

We hope these winter cow questions help you!

Read More – How to Keep Chickens Warm in Winter – Even Without Electricity!

One Final Tip for Feeding Your Cows Over Winter!

black and white cows waiting for lunch
I love these black and white cows lining up in front of their barn. I think they’re waiting for lunch! Help me prepare their next batch of hay!

Cows eat only 2% of their body weight in hay (wow!) – per day! But, when calculating how much hay (or forage) you need over the winter – there are a few other variables to consider.

Buying large bales is more cost-effective. But, only if you can get good-quality forage and can minimize wastage. 

If only poor-quality forage is available, you may need to consider adding a high-quality supplement to your winter-feeding program. 

Diversifying your cow’s diet will help ensure your cows get the nutrition they need and is especially important if you have pregnant or lactating cows within the herd. 

Also – let us know about the cows on your homestead!

How many cows do you have – and about how much hay do they eat per day?

We’ve noticed that some cows are hungrier than others. We’d love to hear about your experience!

Thanks again for reading – have a great day!

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