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Hay Substitutes for Livestock

Low on hay this year? Try feeding your livestock these forage materials in its place.

By Sharon Biggs Waller


Hay bale
Courtesy Stock.XCHNG
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.

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Hay Substitutes for Livestock

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Reader Comments
What an interesting article. I'm new to my micro-mini farm - only a handfull of sheep and one miniature jersey heifer. We don't have a lot of land (only 4 acres) and I hate the idea of living on a dirt ball because everything gets grazed down to dust, even with supplemental feeding of baled hay and feed. So I did a lot of research and found the idea of sprouting fodder. In everything I've read, the "wet" fodder is more digestible, more nutritious, less expensive by over half, available year round and requires significantly less long fiber daily for my baby cud chewers.

I was just wondering, why no one ever talks about fodder as an alternative to the huge stock piling of dry hay. If I can grow 45lbs of fodder a day for about a nickel a pound in front of my double sliding glass door out of my kitchen and can feed 1lb of fodder per 100lbs of body weight for my critters during normal times, with them needing 1/2 to 2/3 less long fiber - there by not only reducing the over grazing on my small acreage but reducing the amount of hay I have to buy, store and feed, wouldn't that seem to also be a reasonable alternative to just different types of dry hay feeding?

Again, I'm the novice and certainly not trying to sound like I have any idea of the perfect way to do any of this :) I just wondered if it sounds reasonable or if I need to have my head examined?
Kelly, Commerce, TX
Posted: 3/15/2013 5:37:22 PM
If you are short of hay, you can make your existing hay go a lot further buy grinding it with a little grain. Granted, a lot of people do not have a hammer mill or other such equipment, but a used one can be found which will help a lot. Oat straw, barley straw, clover, rye straw, and even corn stalks can be run through a hammer mill with oats to make a great feed for animals. Pond hay works well too but its harder to grind. Keep the pond hay as a hay source. Grind it about 30% oats and the rest being the other ingredient above. This will help cut back on hay needs drastically.
Many people use wild pond or slough (Slew) hay as a hay. It is almost as good as any alfalfa or other food for your animals.
Like the author was saying, small grain straw like oats and barley can be harvested as a greenfeed and baled before the grain matures. Wheat straw really has little value, about 5% can be added to the hammermill mix as a filler, but wheat straw is mainly used as an outdoor bedding and insulator for animals where I came from. A farm can cut back on hay if they are short, but the farm MUST have an increase in grain to make up for the energy loss of less hay. For an average 200 day winter where I am located, I require 100 square bales and 25 bushels of grain to feed one cow. If I had to make a hay bale last 3 days, I would increase the grain by 10 more bushels. Grinding this grain into a meal, or "Chop" as its known, I would give 1.5 gallons instead of 1 gallon if I had to cut back on hay.
I have seen a number of small farms grow corn and then not harvest it. They leave it standing and place a portable fence infront of it. As the animals eat the corn, the fence is moved closer and closer until the corn is all eaten across the field. You just have to monitor your animals and supplement their diet with grain if necessary.
Allen, Saskatchewan, SK
Posted: 11/26/2012 8:47:42 PM
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