Preventing Livestock Feed Waste on the Homestead

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When raising livestock, feed is the highest ongoing expense homesteaders typically experience. Any time is therefore a great time to assess your feed system - but given the fact that commercial feed costs are currently skyrocketing, now is an especially ideal time to revamp and avoid feed waste wherever possible. 

No matter what animals you raise, one excellent place to begin this process is by focusing on just how much food your livestock truly needs. That means doing a little research, either by calling your local Extension Office or by consulting a reliable husbandry guide, such as the Storey's Guides for various livestock. You'll want to know exactly what the nutritional requirements are for each of your animals, as well as how much of that food they need each day. 

For example, according to Storey's Guide to Raising Rabbits, per day an adult male rabbit needs 2 or 3 oz. of a feed with 12 - 15% protein, 2 - 3.5% fat, and 20 - 27% fiber. Therefore, instead of free-feeding your bucks, you will likely save on feed by measuring out pellets for each rabbit. As a bonus, you'll avoid having overweight and consequently unhealthy animals. The same principle applies to all livestock. (Bear in mind that pregnant, nursing, or juvenile animals have different nutritional requirements from livestock not in those categories.) 

Another important step to take, no matter the animals you raise, is to access whether you are storing feed in a way that minimizes waste. Once opened, bagged feed should be transferred to an air-tight metal or plastic container (like this); this keeps it fresh and prevents wild animals from consuming it. While it's a good idea to keep extra bagged feed on hand, also bear in mind that over time it will lose nutritional value - and eventually will spoil. 

Hay should also be stored to carefully prevent mold. Bring it indoors, to a place with good ventilation and no water leaks. (Ideally, it should be stored in a building away from the barn, so that if the hay does mold internally, building up enough heat to spark a fire, it won't kill your livestock. That said, it's okay to have a bale or two kept in the barn, as long as it will be used right away.) Place bales on wooden pallets so they don't wick up moisture from the ground and so there is good airflow around the bales. If you're stacking bales, alternate the orientation of each row; for example, the first row might have the long end of each bale facing you, while the next row will have the short end facing you. This helps increase airflow. If you have round bales, line them up end to end and keep rows a minimum of three feet apart. 

If the hay is stored anywhere that's open (such as a carport with three sides or a shed with only a roof), cover the hay with a tarp to prevent sunlight from decreasing the nutrients in the hay, as well as to help keep the hay dry. Just be sure to tarp loosely, or airflow will be reduced, leading to moldy hay. 

In addition, it's important to keep barns or any area where you feed livestock routinely clean. Dropped feed attracts rodents, which can harm your livestock while also encouraging rodents to chew into other areas where feed is stored. 


If your rabbits dig in their pellets, first make sure you're using J feeders (not bowls) placed at your rabbits' face level; this height makes it difficult for rabbits to dig in their food. Digging in pellets can also be a sign that a doe is pregnant and wants to nest; in such cases, placing a nesting box and hay or straw in her cage will put an end to the digging. 

In addition, if you put treats - things like black oil sunflower seeds and oats - in the pellet feeder, rabbits may dig hoping to find more goodies. Instead, use a separate bowl to feed treats or supplements. 

Finally, some rabbits dig out of boredom. Giving toys like fir cones, sticks, pumice stones, and empty toilet paper rolls stuffed tightly with hay can make a big difference in undesirable behavior. And if you have a doe who hasn't been bred recently, her boredom will likely disappear once she becomes pregnant. 

Help prevent hay waste among rabbits by feeding from hay bales, rather than from bagged hay that is chopped (and therefore easily falls through the floors of cages). Utilizing hay feeders, attached to the side of the cage, can also greatly reduce hay waste in the rabbitry. 


Coturnix quail are notorious wasters of feed. They love to stick their faces into their pellets or crumbles, then toss around their food. To help prevent this problem, make homemade no waste feeders; they won't truly eliminate all waste, but they will help a lot. You can find many ideas for no waste quail feeders online; typically, they require quail to stick their heads inside a small piece of plastic pipe (or something similar) in order to reach the feed. The quail will still shake feed around, but the feed will land back inside the feeder, instead of on the ground. 

Another useful trick, whether using a no-waste feeder or not, is to place a metal pie plate beneath each feeder to help catch any wasted food. Each day, remove any stray manure in these plates and reuse the feed. 

Chickens & Other Poultry 

In general, most poultry waste less feed if you give them pellets, rather than crumbles. Like rabbits, chickens and some other poultry will push aside pellets in favor of goodies like sunflower seeds, mealworms, and kitchen scraps - so when you do feed treats, do so in a different, designated feeder or bowl. In addition, placing feeders higher - on bricks or hanging so they are not easy for chickens to scratch in - can help prevent waste. 

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Chickens and other poultry also sometimes "make trouble" when they are bored, so if you have animals knocking over or digging around in feeders, it's a good idea to give them something else to occupy their time. For example, you could hang vegetables (cabbage is a great choice for chickens) for them to peck at and play with. If your birds are in a run, you might also consider extending it so the poultry have more room to explore. 


For feed or supplements offered in a bucket or tub, invest in a feeder meant to hang from a fence. (Horses often like to paw the ground when feeding and you don't want their legs getting caught in fencing; this is why a bucket meant just for this purpose is better than most homemade contraptions.) Hanging feeders will keep horses from knocking over buckets with their feet, or from nosing around a bowl and knocking it over. 

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Alternatively, you could put a feed bucket inside a car tire. (The bucket needs to fit snugly.) You can also place a horse feeder inside a larger container; for example, a feed bucket inside an empty water trough. The trough should catch most of the feed that otherwise would fall to the ground.

If your horses tend to waste hay, implementing a hay net will help prevent hay from falling on the ground and being trampled. Slow hay nets also help horses take their time eating, which is a great health benefit for them. 

Some horses will also drag around hay because they are walking back and forth between their hay and their water source. Moving their water closer to the hay will help limit hay waste. 

Another trick is to wet the hay before you feed it to your horses. (This has the added health benefit of helping the hay move steadily through the horses' digestive system.) The easiest way to do this is to put the hay in a tub, then fill the tub with water. Of course, you'll have to dump the entire tub at the end of the day and use fresh water for each feeding. 

Goats & Sheep 

Don't feed goats hay piled on the ground; most goats will refuse to eat any hay that is close to the soil or is even a little dirty. Instead, use a hay feeder that requires goats or sheep to stick their heads through a hole in the feeder in order to reach the hay. (If your animals have horns, the holes in the feeder should only be large enough for them to get their snout inside; you don't want their horns getting stuck in the feeder). You can also use a hay net, usually designed for horses, to feed hornless goats and sheep. 

Some homesteaders prefer to feed their goats pellets (which are made of compressed hay) because this results in much less waste.


According to the Ohio State University Extension Office, ranchers can expect to see 25 - 45% of the hay they feed their cattle go to waste because it falls on the ground and gets trampled. When trying to reduce these percentages, the type of hay bale you choose matters. Large round bales are the most wasteful; expect 45% of the hay to go to waste. Put a round bale in a hay rack, however, and you'll lose considerably less: about 9%. Square bales are the least wasteful; if you put them in a hay rack, you can expect to lose just 7%. 

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Also consider changing the surroundings of your feeding area. If the location is well-draining and covered with crushed gravel or concrete, most hay that gets dropped will still get eaten. 

If you leave bales in the pasture, you can limit hay waste by only giving cattle access to enough bales for a day or two. Protect the rest with electric fencing. 

Another possibility is to grind or chop hay before feeding it to cattle. Try feeding chopped hay in tires so that it does not blow around in the wind. 


Like horses, pigs will spill feed when they wander off to take a drink. To help prevent waste, keep their water near their feed. 

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You could also consider buying an on-demand pig feeder, or making your own low waste pig feeder. For the latter, there are innumerable ideas online (here's just one) but all the best ones involve keeping the pigs heads well inside the feeder and have barriers that prevent pigs from pushing feed outside the trough.

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