If low on hay for feeding your livestock, try substitutes like corn stalk bales or another source of long-stem fiber.
Sometimes nature gets the better of us and impedes our ability to stock up on hay to feed our livestock during the winter. Whether it be a very wet season or a drought that limits your hay harvest, it’s a good idea to have a backup plan for winter animal feed.
Hay is a substitute for forage rooted in a pasture. Younger animals have higher nutrient demand relative to total intake, so the highest-quality hay available should be fed to them. Mature sheep and goats can sustain weight on hay that is 7 to 9 percent crude protein and 52 to 55 percent total digestible nutrients. Depending your animals’ ages and your normal hay type, you may be able to substitute corn stalk bales.
The corn stalk will likely be deficient in protein and energy. Sheep and goats will not eat much (if any) of the large stalks. Sheep and goats, by nature, prefer green over dead and leaf over stem. Nutrients in the plant are concentrated in green leaves, and the leaves are generally more palatable and digestible than the stems.
If you are low on hay, try looking for another source of long-stem fiber. Hay availability differs according to region of the country. Timothy hay is popular in the east and a grass hay is good for small ruminants. In the south, Bermuda grass hays are popular. If put up correctly (harvested with less than 20 days of growth), the Bermuda hays can be a good source of fiber for small ruminants. Peanut and soybean hays can be very good hays for small ruminants. Vetches or pea hays, if available in your area, are legumes high in crude protein, too. Alfalfa is the gold standard. Small grain hays (wheat, oats) can be good if harvested before the plant begins to make a seedhead. Wheat or oat straw (after the grain is harvested) makes very poor quality hay for small ruminants, and the awns can injure the animal’s mouth.
If there is a way to grind the bales and add some energy (corn), protein (soybean or cottonseed meal), a mineral packet, and molasses to cut the dust, you could make a decent feed. Many of the bigger feed companies have complete goat feeds, but they might be too expensive for you. An alternative could be to feed the corn stalk bales and supplement with about 1 to 1½ pounds of alfalfa per head per day.
—Frank Craddock, PhD, Extension Sheep and Goat Specialist, Texas A & M University, and Rick Machen, PhD, professor and Animal & Natural Resource Management Specialist, Texas A & M University, Texas AgriLife Extension Service
About the Author: Sharon Biggs Waller is an award-winning writer and author of Advanced English Riding (BowTie Press, 2007) and the upcoming The Complete Horse Bible (BowTie Press). She lives on a 10-acre hobby farm in northwest Indiana with her husband, Mark, 75 chickens, two Lamancha goats, two horses, and an assortment of cats and dogs.