Bale Feeding Options: Pros and Cons of Common Strategies

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Retrieved: May 24, 2022, 6:05 pm

Bale feeding is common across Canada for all classes of cattle especially during winter months. There are many different management strategies to deliver bales as feed. To help you determine the best option for you and your cattle, see below for pros and cons of three common bale feeding strategies:

  • Rolling out bales/using a bale processor and feeding on pasture
  • Bale grazing
  • Round feeder

When thinking about each strategy for your operation, consider the following: What are the nutritional requirements of your cattle? What is the nutritional quality of your forage? What equipment do you currently have? What equipment do you need? How much time do you have to dedicate to feed management?

Rolling out bales/bale processor fed on pasture



–             Cattle are required to travel more for feed, encouraging exercise which may result in less calving difficulties

–             Opportunity to move feeding location which allows manure to be deposited more evenly, reducing manure management costs, and targeting areas that would benefit from nutrient deposition

–             Flexibility with feeding sites

–             Reduced competition due to increased access to feed

–             Low input cost. Equipment required is likely equipment already on farm

–             Doesn’t require a lot of new knowledge or skills to implement

–             Opportunity to monitor cow health before/during/after feeding as you are amongst the herd almost daily


–             Extra work to roll out bales rather than having them free-standing or in a feeder

–             Cattle will eat some high-quality feed and use the rest as bedding. While this provides organic matter to the soil, in years when feed availability is low and cost is high, it is a significant loss. (This loss can be remedied by portable bunks)

–             Required to start equipment every feeding

–             Winter conditions can cause forage loss/weathering

–             Overprocessing (i.e. bale processor) can cause loss of nutrients if forage fines blow away

–             Managing netwrap/twine is time consuming and can be difficult on equipment and cattle

–             Site options are strictly limited to locations with proper shelter and stock water (or adequate snow cover)

–             Limited to mature cows in good condition

Bale grazing


–             Reduces or eliminates the need to remove/spread manure

–             Can target sites to increase organic matter in areas that would most benefit in increased forage production

–             Depending on size of grazing area, cattle may be required to travel more for feed, encouraging exercise which may result in less calving difficulties

–             Feed testing is used to improve feed management

–             More cattle can access feed at a time compared to rolling bales or using bale feeders

–             Only requires a tractor once to set up fields, daily/weekly chores consist of moving fences

–             Provides an opportunity to build a new skillset for feeding and managing cattle by extending the grazing season using bales


–             Cattle won’t fully clean up feed. While this provides organic matter to the soil, in years when feed availability is low and cost is high, you want to minimize this loss

–             Managing netwrap or twine needs to be a priority

–             There may be losses due to wildlife grazing

–             Sites strictly limited to areas with adequate shelter & water

–             May not be suitable for young or poor-conditioned cattle

–             Requires pre-planning to set up sites prior to winter feeding period

–             Temporary-fencing management is required

Round feeder


–             Cattle consume majority of the feed, leave less behind (“wasting” less)

–             Lower cost than bale processing or rolling bales out due to reduced waste

–             Less feed to maintain fat cover if hay has adequate nutrient density, as cattle are usually maximizing intake of what is fed

–             Suited to any cattle class

–             Easy access to cattle for monitoring or treating illnesses


–             Cattle have limited access to feed based on available bunk space which can increase competition among animals

–             Cost of bale feeders

–             Required to start a feed truck/tractor for every feeding

–             Increased time and financial cost to remove and spread manure if not moving feeding sites

–             Cattle exercise less to consume feed, which can contribute to calving difficulties

–             Snow removal may be necessary to support regular feeding activities


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9 thoughts on “Bale Feeding Options: Pros and Cons of Common Strategies

  1. We have found pugging to be a significant barrier to bale grazing. There is a real reduction in next years growth if the ground is too wet in the fall.

  2. There is research that indicates 19% feed waste when using a bale processor, 12% when unrolling bales on snow and 25% with chopped silage fed on snow. Protein and mineral losses are higher than physical losses.
    A portable bunk feeder reduces waste almost to zero. With feed in such short supply and expensive, one cannot afford to waste feed.

  3. We have been bale grazing for about a decade.
    Some key elements are:

    1. put out a minimum of 1 weeks hay supply at a time.
    Usually on the weekend if you have another job.
    Longer feeding periods of up to 3 weeks is also possible for those folks who work in Ft McMurray!

    2. Do NOT take off the bale netting. Especially in high wind areas.
    A high percentage of the protein is in the “fines” and these will blow away in the wind.
    Pick up strings or wrapping after cattle have moved on to a new feeding area.

    3. Do not feed again until all the hay is consumed. This is usually about 1 or 2 days after they start to look for new feed.

    4. If the hay quality is good, feed also up to abut 20% straw bales with each weekly feeding.Again do NOT take off the wrapping.

    5. Once calving starts reduce the straw.

    Happy and profitable wintering.
    Sure is great to start the tractor just once a week!

  4. Personally do a combo of bale grazing and round feeder. Have bales located where you want the OM and manure, fenced off, move fence and feeders as you progress. Less waste as well as less requirement for tractor/equipment each feeding. Unless the bale rings are froze down or you have big behemoth multi bale feeders. Generally easier for smaller herds.

  5. When using bale feeders or portable feed bunks, no one said that they have to be used in confined spaces. Feed out in the open areas, and move to a fresh spot, every time you feed. Personally I like to use the large double ring bale feeders or feed bunks. After making the effort to put up good feed, I prefer that the feed goes into the cattle first, before it becomes organic fertilizer. When the weather gets real cold, I do bed the cows, out in the pasture, on the hill tops and exposed areas. When the wind dies down in the evening, the cows will lay on the straw. I only bed on the same spot twice than move over. The if the bedding is not too thick, the grass will grow through the straw.

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