Goats, cows, horses, and other farm animals need to eat hay in the winter months when no grazing is available or if you keep them in feed lots, stables, or grass free paddocks. Matching your animals with the right nutrients is vital for their health so we’re going to give you a basic overview of hay so you can choose the right type, know what’s a fair price (for the North East, at least), and how you can store it without any loss.
- What is hay? Hay is plant material that’s been cut, dried, and then turned into square or round bales. The best hay comes from plants grown from nutritious materials and harvested at the right time.
- What types of hay are there? Most of your hay will fall into two categories: Legume and grass. Legume hays include alfalfa and clover while grass hays typically are made up of orchard grass, timothy, and ryegrass, among others. Different hays will have different fiber contents so it’s important to know what you’re getting.
- How can I tell if my hay is good? Visually judging it for leafiness, amount of stalks, color, odor, mold, and maturity would be your first step. Never choose hay that is moldy, dusty, or rotting. Your hay provider may also have other data available for you to consider such as fiber and protein levels. You may want to purchase a sample bale and allow your herd to try it out, which is often times what we do, especially if it’s first cut hay. Don’t be afraid to break open a bale and check it out!
- When should I buy? While second cut hay is typically more favorable, you’ll want to buy as close to harvest as possible and definitely no older than the current year’s crop. As time goes on your hay will lose nutrient value including vitamins and protein.
In the North East (we are in the Hudson Valley, NY – about 2 hours north of Manhattan), we pay $4-6 per square bale of grass hay 2nd cut. Last month, I paid $30 per round bale (600-700lbs) of 1st cut grass and legume hays which was pretty cheap – other farmers are paying $50-60 for the same. Keep in mind that hay prices will change depending on the time of year, your relationship with the farmer (are you a consistent customer who pays prior to delivery or do you only buy 2 bales a year?), weather (this year we’ve had basically no rain so there is a high demand for quality hay with limited supply), and location (if you need it delivered and stacked, prices will increase which is why having your own trailer or transportation can be vital for large herds). We buy in advance for the winter, especially this year since hay is limited. For my herd of about 60 goats (which will AT LEAST double in January), I have already purchased 16 round bales. Determine how much hay you will need way ahead of time- note, WAYYYY ahead of time! Keep in mind that whatever your animals eat now, they’ll need double that amount in the freezing cold months. Right now, my herds will eat 1.5 round bales a week and that’ll at least double in the winter and around kidding season.
For many animals, Chaffhaye may be something you want to consider. While pricey (we’ve paid $15/bale), it’s easily digested, dust free, contains natural probiotics, and offers consistent nutrition. It’s also all grown on non-gmo verified farms so you can feel safe feeding it. Not all of my goats love it but we offer it when we can, often in the winter, during kidding season, or during times of stress or bad weather.
So, that leaves us with how to store your hay. The easiest and cheapest method is to stack it up and protect it from the elements. We do this by stacking it about 2 stories high, on top of wooden pallets, and tarping it off with one massive tarp. The pallets ensure that the hay won’t be sitting directly on the ground, rotting, and allows for some air flow. Water = mold and rot so a thick tarp that fully covers the hay is critical. You can also store hay in your barn, garage, or other dry, ventilated building.
Got a different way to store your hay? Sound off in the comments and share your expertise!