December 27, 2010

Goat eating hay
Photo by Sue Weaver
Store hay on pallets and under cover where animals, like Jadzia, can’t reach them.

Here in the Ozarks, hay is expensive, so Mom and Dad buy most of our hay in big bales. It’s cheaper that way, but you have to know how to handle it or it gets wasted. Here are some things you should know:

  • Buy fresh-smelling, mold- and dust-free hay appropriate to the species that will eat it. Heather Smith Thomas wrote a great article about choosing hay. Also download Carol Ekarius’ hay chart, then you’ll know all about good hay!
  • Buy bales that have been stored under cover; otherwise, the outer layers of hay might be rained on and ruined. The outer 4-inch layer of a 5-foot diameter bale contains more than 25 percent of its total volume—you don’t want to throw that much away!
  • Choose tightly wrapped bales that don’t sag. Sagging puts more hay in contact with the earth and that causes spoilage. Bales tied with plastic twine or net wrap sag less than bales tied with natural string, and net wrap helps preserve hay quality, too. Mom reuses plastic twine from big bales to braid ties for gates and such. You could, too!
  • Try to buy big bales stored until you need them. Mom and Dad bring ours home two at a time in the bed of the truck. They also store four bales under cover for emergency purposes. (You never know when we might have another ice storm).
  • Put the bales where animals like us goats can’t climb on them. One time Mom’s sweet Pygmy goat fell down between big bales she was climbing on. They were stored too close together, and she got caught and suffocated.
  • When you bring the bales home, set them off the ground on wooden pallets or old tires to prevent spoilage. Put them under cover if you can. If you can’t, set each bale on its own pallet and cover it with a tarp; use strong tie-downs so it doesn’t blow off. Allow at least 1 foot of air space between bales.
  • To feed a bale, push it over, twine-side up, and strip hay off in layers. (It will come apart easier than you think.) Mom rolls the hay and stacks the rolls in her big-wheel feed cart.

Our fine-stem, premium Bermuda grass hay costs half the cost of the same hay in small, rectangular bales. It’s a little more work to feed this way, but Mom and Dad say it’s worth it!

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