Feeding hay to sheep and goats (Shepherd’s Notebook)
(Editor’s note: Susan Schoenian is a sheep and goat specialist with the University of Maryland.)
Hay is the traditional diet for sheep/goats during the winter months or in confinement.
It is also commonly offered to grazing animals and/or fed during periods of drought or other inclement weather.
Many sheep/goat farms on Delmarva are small and must purchase some of their feed inputs.
One of the challenges of buying hay is that you are usually buying a completely unknown commodity.
Seldom do you know the nutritive quality of a load of hay before you buy it. To make matters worse, the hay is often sold by the bale, so you can only guess at its actual cost.
When you are buying hay by the bale, it is important to weigh the bales. All hay prices need to be converted to a price per ton (or pound), so you know the actual cost of the hay and how much of it to feed.
The University of Minnesota has developed a simple app for calculating the price of hay, based on different bale sizes. It can be downloaded from the iTunes app store for 99 cents.
Not knowing the cost of hay can greatly increase your feed costs and limit your ability to turn a profit.
Poor storage increases the cost of feeding hay to sheep/goats. Hay that is stored outside rapidly deteriorates in quality, especially if it is uncovered and stacked on bare ground. There are also right and wrong ways to store hay in a barn.
Temperature extremes need to be avoided, and proper ventilation is important. Hay is an expensive input; protect it.
Animal feeding wastage can substantially increase the cost of feeding hay. Hay wastage can be minimized by using good feeders. Hay should never be fed on the ground.
Large round bales should be fed in rings or feeders.
Premier 1 (premier1supplies.com) has a design for an economical hay feeder using wire panels. Hay racks can work well if there is a trough to catch the leaves.
Avoid feeders that allow the animals to pull the hay out. Even the best feeders will result in some loss.
Feeding smaller amounts of hay can reduce wastage.
While free choice hay feeding saves labor, it costs in other ways. Sheep/goats will almost always eat more than they need, if they are given the opportunity. They will certainly waste more, especially if the hay is low quality. Chopping hay can reduce waste. It is a good idea to test hay for nutritive value.
A good supplementation program is only possible, if it is known how much nutrients the hay is supplying to the diet. Overfeeding and underfeeding are both expensive practices. For some, it may be more economical to feed diets that contain less hay.
If fed properly, grain, soyhulls, or other feedstuffs can substitute for some or all of the hay in the diet.
However, a minimal amount (at least one pound) of forage (long-stemmed) should almost always be fed.
If you want assistance developing an alternative diet for your sheep/goats, feel free to contact me at email@example.com or 301-432-2767, ext. 343.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925