Livestock Winter Hay Needs – Hay Calculator

by / Wednesday, 24 October 2018 / Published in Tractor Tools Direct

Livestock Winter Hay Needs

With winter coming on, it is time to make sure that you have enough hay in the barn to last until your pastures are growing again next spring. While there are many factors to consider when calculating winter hay needs, we are giving you some conversions to simplify the process—and even providing you with a handy “Hay Calculator” to make the process even simpler!

Before performing any calculations, take these factors into consideration:

  • Length of season. The number of months you will need to feed hay will vary by your location. Animals can forage much later in the fall and earlier in the spring in the southern half of the United States. Northern areas are much more dependent upon hay to keep animals in good condition through the winter months. Here in Indiana, we typically need to feed hay from October through March. Though it is sometimes tempting to allow animals to forage later or earlier in the year, it is best to remember that this can damage pastures and keep them from reaching peak production during the growing season—a topic for another blog.
  • Temperatures. Animals in areas with extreme winter temperatures will require a higher caloric intake to maintain condition. If your location is prone to long cold spells where low temperatures can regularly fall below zero, be sure to calculate your hay needs on the higher side.
  • Number of animals. This sounds extremely basic, but more animals, more hay. Be sure to calculate in any additional animals you may be purchasing/selling over the winter or births that may occur over that time.
  • Animal performance. Gestating or lactating females will need more and higher quality hay for milk and offspring production. Working animals will also require more calories than nonworking animals. Growing animals will require increasing amounts of hay as they develop.
  • Weight of animals. Again, very basic, but larger animals require larger amounts of hay to maintain condition than smaller animals. The table provided below gives you an estimate of your animals’ needs.

Now that you have considered these factors, use the following “Hay Calculator” to determine your livestock’s winter hay needs. Simply input your animal species, average animal weight, number of animals, number of days you will need to feed hay, and average bale weight. This will give you the total number of bales you will need to have in the barn to meet the needs of your animals until spring. Give it a try!


– print out and do your hay calculations by hand.

Rules of Thumb for Livestock Hay Consumption
Type of Livestock Percent of body weight eaten/day
Cow 3%
Sheep 2%
Alpaca 3%
Goat 2%
Horse 2%
Llama 3%
Beef Steer 1%
The percentages should be approximately doubled for pregnant, lactating or working animals.
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