We have used large rectangular and round hay bale feeders for several years to feed replacement heifers and bull calves We prefer the flex feeders because they will accommodate a large rectangular bale or round bale, and, if not allowed to freeze to the ground, permit the calves to push and collapse the feeders to the centre of the bale. This reduces waste and labour as no one has to climb into the feeder and fork the hay from the centre out to where the calves can reach it.
The calves fed free-choice hay have outperformed calves we have fed through the winter with other methods of feeding. Previous methods did not allow some of the less-aggressive calves to meet their needs, and therefore they did not grow to their potential. The downside to these feeders is that they are designed for larger cattle and the stanchion slots are about eight to 10 inches too tall for these calves, until they grow big enough to prevent them from climbing into the feeders. When the calves get into the feeders very few get out on their own, and often they get stuck part way in or out. There is risk of injury to the calf and the people attempting to free it from the feeder.
My parents have the best facility for wintering our replacements, easy access to fresh water and good shelter, so we have consolidated our replacements on their place for several years.
Calf gave us a reminder
Recently a heifer got stuck part way into a feeder. Freeing the heifer was more than my parents could do by themselves so they called for help. Fortunately my wife and sister were near their phones and came to assist. This was a wake-up call for all of us. We realized that it was time to find a remedy. Sooner or later this would happen and no one would be close enough to help the folks get the heifer out of the feeder. By the time I got home from the project I was working on that day my wife and sister had removed the feeders from the replacement lot. We hand-fed the heifers for several days to eliminate the chance of a heifer getting stuck in a feeder.
It did not take long to remember why we had gone to free-choice feeding. After looking through past year’s performance records, discovering how much better the calves grew through the winter and bred up in the spring when allowed free-choice access to good feed, we were unwilling to give up on the flex bale feeders and were determined to find a solution to the problem.
After a bit of trial and error we discovered a simple and inexpensive way to modify these feeders to prevent the heifers from climbing in. Our initial efforts were ineffective in attaching something to temporarily reduce the size of the stanchion that could be removed later for use with larger cattle. One afternoon we arrived at the decision to forget about whether or not the feeders could be used for larger cattle and simply designate these feeder to the replacement heifers and bull calves.
A few telephone calls later — to price potential materials to weld in place to reduce the height of the feeder stanchions — we located 3/8″ x 20′ sticks of construction rebar. We decided to weld two bars horizontally at 4″ and 8″ from the top rail of the feeder on the outside of the vertical bars of the feeder stanchions. We wanted to make certain a calf would never get its head between the rebar and the top rail of the feeder to prevent them from hanging themselves.
It took about $15 and an hour of welding with a wire-feed welder to successfully modify the first feeder for the replacement heifers. We returned the modified feeders to the replacement lot and placed bales in them. To everyone’s relief the heifers went back to work on the hay. The reduced height of the stanchion had no negative impact on their access to the hay.