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  • Writer's pictureDiana Reed

Which HAY to Feed your Dairy Goats

Goats can be Picky Eaters - So choosing the right Hay is Essential to their Health.

Long-term care for livestock requires you to have some knowledge about the nutrient density of the food you feed them.

Different kinds of Hay have differing amounts of minerals and protein, so knowing what kind you feed your Goats or Cows is essential in knowing if you will need to supplement their feed at any point to keep them healthy.

Goats are browsers (as opposed to grazers), they will eat a wide variety of plants from weeds to woody shrubs. Goats will Instinctively choose the most Nutritious Plants available. This means they stubbornly refuse to mow your lawn and instead will eat the weeds, bushes, leaves, and even barks of trees.

A homeowners lawn, no matter how lush, cannot sustain the dietary needs of a Goat, and they will only resort to nibbling the tips of the grass when they have nothing else to choose from and they are very hungry. Picked over pastures pose the same dietary problem, so supplemental Hay or other feed is required.

Goats need roughage in the form of about 2 to 4 pounds of hay per day (3% to 4% of body weight) for their rumens to function properly. This can be fed free-choice or twice a day.


FIRST -- Lets Understand HAY in General :


What Is Hay?

Hay is made from cutting grasses during different growth periods of the plant's life.

The cycles of plant life range from the leafing period, to budding, flowering and going to seed.

Most Hay is cut between the Bud and Bloom phase, which maximizes the Nutritional content of the Hay. Farmers then allow the cut Hay to dry in the field until it reaches the desired percentage of moisture, then curing it for baling and storage for future use. They then choose to either allow it to be sold or to store it in their own barns to be used as feed for their own livestock during the winter months.

The natural components that make up the Hay are:

  • Fiber

  • Fat

  • Carbohydrates

  • Protein or Nitrogen

Categories of Hay

Farmers divide hay into different categories, depending on what plants make it up. Categories of Hay are

  • Legume (such as Alfalfa, Clover, Soybean, Cowpea, Lucerne, Peanut Hay),

  • Grass (such as Timothy, Brome, Orchard Grass, Fescue, Bluegrass),

  • Cereal Grain (such as Oat Hay, Barley, cut before the seed heads mature),

  • Mixture (of both Legumes and Grass.)

Red Clover is one example of a Legume Hay, while Bermuda grass and Fescue are two kinds of Hay that come from Grasses.

A Mixed Hay would have both a Legume and a Grass like "O&A Hay" (orchard and alfalfa) An example of a Cereal Grain would be Oat Straw.

Hay also has Regional Variations. Timothy is common in Northern areas, whereas Brome, Orchard grass, and Bermuda grass are more common in the South.

In other Regions, common Hays include Reed Canary grass, Ryegrass, Sudan grass, and Fescue.

Nutritional Content of Hay

-- Grass Hays tend to have more Sugar if they grow in the Winter versus those,

like Coastal Bermuda Grass that grow in the Summer.

-- Legumes Hays tend to have more Minerals like Calcium and Phosphorous.

-- Hays that come from Grains contain a lot of Nitrates. Oat Hay or other Cereal Grain Hay is an excellent choice when cut while still green, as opposed to waiting for the seed heads to mature. Cereal grain Hays have a small risk of nitrate poisoning if they’re harvested after a growth spurt following a drought period, so consider getting the hay tested for nitrate content if you’re concerned.

NOTE ----Cereal grains should be tested for Nitrate content before giving them to livestock because too many Nitrates can poison an animal.

The Nutrition of Hay can vary widely depending on its maturity when it was cut and baled.

A Hay’s Protein content and Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF) should be below 35% for Goats. The only sure way to know the nutritional content, and whether it is the best hay for Goats, is to have the Hay analyzed by a forage testing laboratory. The higher the fiber content, the lower the digestibility (even if the protein level is high).

As a rule of thumb, leafy hays have higher nutritional value than stemmier hays. Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) must also be factored in, which is the sum of the digestible fiber, protein, lipid, and carbohydrate components of a feedstuff or diet. (TDN is directly related to digestible energy and is often calculated based on ADF.)

Again, The only sure way to know the nutritional content is to have the hay analyzed by a forage testing laboratory.

Hay Quality

Hay Quality is measured in terms of Energy, Fiber, Protein and Digestibility.

Young, fast-growing plants contain more Energy and Protein and are more Digestible than old, slow-growing plants that have gone to seed. Animals get more nutrients from the young plants still in that vegetative state than from older plants in a mature or reproductive state.

This means that Early-Cut Hay is more Nutritious than Late-Cut Hay.

Most Hay should be cut between the late boot stage and full seed-head expression, well before flowers begin releasing pollen.

Protein Content of Hay

Comparing different kinds of hay, like Alfalfa to Timothy grass, shows you how different the Protein content of Hays can be.

  • Protein in an Alfalfa plant is between 15 to 20 % of the plant.

  • Protein in Timothy grass hay is about 7 to 11 % crude protein.

  • Protein in Tall Fescue grass is between 5 to 9 %

  • Protein in Orchard Grass Hay is between 7 to 11 %

  • Protein in Red Clover Hay is between 13 to 16 %

Legume Hays Are Rich Legume Hays, such as Alfalfa, Clover, and Soybean Hays, are generally Nutrient-Rich.

They may have higher Calorie, Protein and Calcium content than other Hays.

Legume Hay may also offer Nutrients that are more Digestible than other Hays and may be too rich for other livestock. For this reason, Legume Hays are often Mixed with Grass Hays, like "O&A" (orchard and alfalfa)

Legume Hays harvested before the plant begins to blossom have the best taste and are the most nutrient dense.

Grass Hays Lack Nutrients

Grass Hays, such as Tall Fescue, Timothy, or Orchard Grass, only offer a low to medium amount of Protein to your Goats. These Hays also fail to provide a sufficient amount of Calcium if they are fed by themselves. Ideally, you should feed these Hays in combination with a Legume Hay. Grass Hays are highly Palatable and are High in Fiber, despite not being high in Nutrients. .

What STAGE the Hay was Cut determines Nutrient Content

Alfalfa Hay that is cut during the bud stage has a much higher crude Protein and TDN content than Alfalfa Hay cut during full-bloom.

The same is true for Grass Hay. Cut during the early stage, the hay has a higher nutrient content than hay cut from mature plants.

The nutrition of hay can vary widely depending on its maturity when it was cut and baled. The only sure way to know the nutritional content is to have the hay analyzed by a forage testing laboratory.

Consider Alfalfa Hay if a higher level of Protein and Energy is required.

For Example --

  • Typical mid-bloom Alfalfa Hay contains about

16 percent crude protein and 56 percent TDN.

  • Grass Hay contains about

8.4 percent crude protein and 53 percent TDN.

Mix two types of Hay to more closely meet your animals Nutritional Requirements.

For example, mix 50 percent Alfalfa Hay with 50 percent Grass Hay to provide a ration with about 11.7 percent crude protein and 54 percent TDN.


Choosing Hay for GOATS


Each Goat needs about 2 – 4 pounds of Hay per Day

Also Goats require an additional Hay/Forage type, (which is Roughage),

in order for their rumen to function properly.

What Goats NEED The bare minimum protein requirement for maintaining mature, healthy animals is 7% crude protein, although 8% is better. Anything below 6% reflects reduced feed intake and dietary digestibility. Dietary crude protein requirements are higher during growth, gestation, and lactation.

A Pregnant Doe (late gestation) requires 12% crude protein (66% TDN), then between 9% and 11% as she lactates (60-65% TDN).

A Weanling requires 14% crude protein (70% TDN),

a yearling 12% crude protein (65% TDN).

Bucks can get by with 8% crude protein (60% TDN).

A Pregnant Goat needs an “ascending plane of nutrition.”

A Doe’s nutritional level should be increased about six weeks ahead of kidding, by which point she will have sufficient nutrients for lactation.