Keep Sheep? Here Are Ways To Reduce Hay Loss

If you have sheep, you no doubt feel the pain of wasted hay too often. That stuff isn't cheap! Here are some tips for minimizing hay loss in your flock.

by Jana Wilson
PHOTO: Federico Magonio/Adobe Stock

As a sheep farmer, one of the most important goals is to minimize hay waste. Nothing irritates me more than to see a pile of wet, dirty or discarded hay trampled down around the hay feeder. That stuff isn’t cheap 

Still, hay is one of the primary sources of nutrition for sheep, and reducing waste can save you money, improve herd health, and protect the environment. Here are some tips on how to minimize hay waste with your sheep flock. 

Use the Right Hay Feeder 

One of the simplest ways to reduce hay waste is to use a hay feeder that is designed to reduce wastage. There are several types of hay feeders available, including round bale feeders, square bale feeders and racks.

However, I have found the best type of feeder for minimizing waste is a feeder with a solid bottom, such as a cradle feeder or a bunk feeder. These feeders prevent sheep from trampling on hay and keep the hay off the ground. 

Read more: Loose hay? Here’s 4 things you can do with it.

Feed Only What Your Sheep Need 

Feeding too much hay can lead to waste, as sheep may not eat all of it. Additionally, overfeeding can lead to health problems, such as obesity and digestive issues.

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To avoid these issues, it is important to calculate the correct amount of hay needed for your sheep flock based on their weight, age and activity level. Consult with a veterinarian or a livestock nutritionist to determine the proper amount of hay to feed your sheep. 

Use High-Quality Hay 

Another way to reduce hay waste is to use high-quality hay. Good quality hay is more palatable, which means that sheep are more likely to eat it. Additionally, good quality hay is less likely to fall apart and create waste.

To ensure that you are using high-quality hay, inspect each bale before feeding it to your sheep. Look for bales that are dry, free of mold and dust, and have a consistent color and texture. 

Store Hay Properly 

Proper hay storage is critical to reducing waste. Hay should be stored in a dry, well-ventilated area to prevent mold and moisture damage. Additionally, hay should be stored off the ground to prevent moisture damage and contamination from pests.

Consider using a hay barn or a covered hay feeder to protect your hay from the elements and pests. 

Feed Hay Frequently 

Feeding hay frequently can also help reduce waste. When sheep have access to hay throughout the day, they are less likely to gorge themselves and waste hay. Additionally, frequent feeding can help prevent digestive issues and maintain herd health.

Consider feeding hay multiple times per day. Or use an automatic hay feeder to provide access to hay throughout the day. 

Read more: Make your own hay (without mortgaging the farm)!

Use Hay Nets 

In addition to my feeders, I use hay nets to help reduce waste.The nets keep hay off the ground and prevent sheep from trampling on it.

Additionally, hay nets can slow down the rate of hay consumption, which can prevent overfeeding and definitely reduces waste! However, it’s  important to monitor your hay nets to ensure that sheep don’t get their heads caught in them. 

Clean Up Spilled Hay 

Cleaning up spilled hay is an important step in reducing waste. Spilled hay can attract pests, such as rodents and insects, and create a mess in your sheep pen. Consider using a pitchfork or a hay rake to clean up spilled hay, and dispose of it in a compost pile or use it as mulch in your garden. It’s great for both! 

Use Leftover Hay 

Leftover hay can be used in a variety of ways, rather than simply being thrown away. For example, leftover hay can be used as bedding for your sheep, or as mulch in your garden. I also use it to cover grass seed when I am trying to fix bare patches in the pastures.

The topping of hay will keep moisture underneath.  Additionally, leftover hay can be fed to other livestock, such as cattle.  

Be creative and find ways to reduce waste, use leftover hay,  and save money. I guarantee you will feel much happier when you fork out that money for your wonderful bales of hay! 

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