One of the biggest goat myths I've heard is that goats will eat anything. I can only guess that this myth came about because they mouth everything in an attempt to check it out. Unlike my horse who use to eat every last speck of hay in her feeder and on the ground, the goats are quite picky and selective eaters. I've read that they waste about twenty percent of their hay and that sounds about right, more if you throw it on the ground. You would think that if we didn't feed them as much they would return to their picked through hay and eat more, they do, but it is never completely gone, just scattered. For the record, goats do not eat clothes or other unedibles either. Goats will not mow your lawn. They prefer not to eat off the ground. They love moss, bark, brush and the tip tops of most shrubs and grasses. The above picture is Zuri eating off this round bale pictured below as well. This is the last bale of hay up by the bucks, the does are excited because it is new to them. We bought three eight hundred pound round bales from a farmer in Delta for $120 a bale plus $45 dollars to deliver them, which is a pretty good deal considering that it would have cost us a whole day plus gas to drive down there and pick up the bales, plus we'd have to rent a trailer. This is about as cheap as I see decent brome hay in Interior Alaska.
We've never purchased large round bales before until this last summer. What I like most about them is how much less effort it takes to load and unload them. You don't have to buck up twenty some bales and unload and stack them. A machine loads them, then we just tie them to a tree and pull forward. I think I like stacking them flat instead of how this one is stacked, as it is easier to flake the hay off.
I have to say after eleven years of owning a horse and three years of keeping goats, I still know very little about hay. Brome hay is most common here with a small amount of other grass hay or Timothy grown here and there. I've never heard of anyone growing Alfalfa, as it does not survive the cold winters and usually isn't harvestable until it's second year of growth - at least here, or so I am told.
Fifty pound bales tend to range from seven dollars in the field to fourteen dollars delivered, much more if you buy it from a feed store. If you look hard enough or have a good source you might be able to find hay for less than that, but in my experience if the hay is cheaper than that it has dirt, sand, harmful weeds or mold in it. Or it is wet, brown, doesn't smell good etc. The farmer's here in the interior have a shorter hay season than most places and short windows between rain to get it in. There have been a couple years where we have had a lot of our hay mold because it was too damp when we got it, and opening bales, spreading them out and keeping a close eye out for rain is a pain, or even worse, realizing in the middle of winter when the snow is piled high, that all of your hay is completely molded.
I know to look for green hay. It should smell sweet. It should be mostly grass and not a lot of weeds. Now that I'm feeding goats, weeds might be good, but not horsetail. The goats do not like stemmy or brown hay. They will waste even more than twenty percent if they don't like it. Before buying hay sight unseen I have learned to tell people that I am feeding dairy goats that are extremely picky. They need green leafy hay, not stemmy. With this last batch of hay we got, after I told the farmer this he said he had some second cutting hay that was leafier and better quality that he would bring out instead. It is very nice hay and the goats think so too.
Here is our hay pile down by the does. We had six thousand pounds of this delivered for thirteen dollars and fifty cents a fifty pound bale.(If you are reading this post from elsewhere in the world, you are thinking we are crazy, I know.) It is pretty nice green leafy hay. The folks we bought it from have taken first place at the fair for their hay in years past. It was eleven dollars a bale if we came and picked it up about forty miles away. With gas prices, trailer renting and our time, it was worth it to us to have it delivered and stacked, at least this year. The bale on the left is a hundred pound of alfalfa from the feed store for forty some dollars. We try to feed a flake of alfalfa a day to the does, especially once they are bred. I'd feed more if it wasn't as expensive. Alfalfa is a high protein legume. The alfalfa we get here is pretty stemmy, I don't know if it always like that. The goats mostly pick through and eat the leaves, leaving behind lots of course green stems.
Above is a close up of our fifty pound bales. Below is the Alfalfa.
The picture above is a close up of the hay below, an eight hundred and fifty pound bale of brome hay that the goats are not fond of. We bought two bales from the same source earlier in the summer that was great; bright green and leafy. We got two more bales at the end of the summer and this is what it looks like. If I'd seen the first bale before Dustin left to get the other one, we probably would have just kept the one. Some of the hay is green, but there is a good bit of brown hay as well. It isn't really stemmy, nor does it have broad leaves, it is spindly. I'm hoping the bucks are not quite as picky as the does, otherwise this will just be bedding. By the way, a horse would gobble up every speck of this hay. It isn't weedy or moldy. Some would say that it is good hay.. Maybe we just aren't as picky because there isn't a lot to chose from and hay is in high demand around here.
I've heard that hay grown in Interior Alaska is low in certain vitamins and minerals. My vet was saying that some areas are low in selenium, but not everywhere. Most livestock owners I know feed a lot of supplements, (vitamin and mineral supplements, kelp, salt, selenium etc.) in an attempt to make up for our hay, which we generally assume must be poorer in quality than hay grown elsewhere.
As far as prices go, they've doubled and trippled since I my first hay bucking memories in 1996. I've had a few hay farmers who have all told me that the cost of fertilizer has gone up significantly over the last few years, because of fuel and shipping costs I'm guessing. I had two farmers tell me that they have manure spreaders for fertilizing their fields with manure. This year when they put the manure down, it didn't rain for a month and the manure just sat there hard as rocks resulting in hay that didn't grow until July, when it finally did rain.
So I've been doing some hay figurin. I actually kept track of all the hay we've bought since May last year. We puchased a total of thirteen thousand eight hundred pounds of brome hay. At a rough glance I'm guessing we've got a little over four thousand pounds left, which may barely just last us till first cutting. I took the amount of hay we've used and divided by ten months and we are feeding just under a thousand pounds a month to nine goats. Doing some online research most sources agree that about five pounds of hay per goat is a starting number, less for kids, more for milking and bred does. So with that in mind, I should be feeding about forty five pounds of hay daily. Looking over this past year I've been feeding closer to thirty five pounds of brome hay a day, but four of my goats are under a year. Also this number doesn't include the few pounds of alfalfa the does have been getting this winter. Over the course of the summer the goats get more browse and veggies from the garden.
So what do I make of all this. Well I'm looking forward to selling some milk and cheese shares sometime in the future so the goats can start paying for some of their feed. I feel like we've had a successful hay year; lots of variety of hay and not a single spot of mold. I would like to find some other types of hay, other grasses or timothy, just for variety. The most ideal situation which I hope I get to experience some day, is owning our own pasture. If we could grow our own hay and grains that would be fabulous. Keeping the goats on a piece of land that has lots of trees and brush with tall growing weeds and grasses would meet most of their nutritional needs. If we could harvest grains, root crops, legumes and dry hay for winter feeding, while keeping the goats in a wooded area where they can still eat bark, spruce boughs and moss (on enough land that they don't kill the trees), well that would just make for about as happy and healthy goats as we could have, with the exception of moving somewhere with milder and less snowy winters....which probably won't be happening.
Raising our own meat birds, milking goats and making cheese is all fine and dandy. I appreciate the experience and knowledge we are gaining in addition to knowing how our food was raised and handled. Yet at the end of the road with this many mouths to feed could be a tricky situation if push come to shove. In reality we depend on the trains and trucks that bring human and animal feed, fertilizer and gas to run machines. The only way we get beyond that is going old school, planting by hand, using animals to fertilize the ground, harvesting by hand and learning how to store everything we've grown, not just veggies, but piles of hay and bushels of grain.