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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.

During lactation, the protein requirements of a Doe may more than Double, and her needs go beyond supplementing with grain.

Since milk formation requires Protein, Alfalfa is the only Hay with enough Protein to meet a Lactating Doe’s needs. However, this Protein intake must be increased gradually during pregnancy --not suddenly.

Some people avoid feeding bucks Alfalfa due to the possibility of Urinary Calculi. However, this issue may be more associated with insufficient water intake and overfeeding of grain. Goats won’t drink as much water if it’s foul, so make sure the animals have access to plenty of clean water.


Legume Hay is obtained from plants with taproots, that produce seeds in pods and have compound leaves, a product of leguminous fodder crops like Soybean, Cowpea, Lucerne Velvet Bean Hay, Peanut Hay, Alfalfa and Clover. Legumes are commonly used as a pasture crop and therefore increase the tastiness and protein content of livestock feed. Often, they have to be mixed with grasses to produce a mixed pasture with protein which Goats find much more palatable than grass alone.


Hay for Goats is important for keeping the rumen working especially in the Winter when its digestion provides a lot of warmth. Goats have thinner skin and they do not develop thick coats. The rumen produces heat as a by-product of bacterial fermentation therefore, the Legume type of Hay for Goats helps them to stay warm from the inside. ALFALFA Alfalfa is the legume most commonly used for Hay production. Legumes have higher calcium concentration and a bit higher energy content. Alfalfa or Lucerne is an extremely drought resistant Legume with a substantial taproot. This is an excellent source of protein and it is highly palatable with 15 -20% of crude protein, these high levels of protein work best for Lactating Goats.

Legumes in the feed mix of lactating animals can increase vitamin A and E and calcium intake of the animal and may also increase the fat content in milk and overall milk quality compared to grass only forages. Where Legumes are used, there is improved conception rates and growth.

Types of Hay for Goats depend on the Purpose of the Herd.

Meat producers do not require these large amounts of protein. In some instances, the protein is converted to energy but the conversions are expensive because they take a huge toll on the kidneys. When judging nutrient quality in Alfalfa plants that happen to be the main source of Legume hay, it is important to pay attention to the leaf stem ratio. The digestibility, palatability and nutrient values are highest when the plant is young with more leaves and less stems. Unless if you can get it locally, this type of hay can be very expensive.

NOTE ---- Since Alfalfa has more protein, vitamins, calcium, and minerals than grass hays, it seems like the obvious choice for feed. However, a diet of nothing but alfalfa diet is “too much of a good thing.” By itself, Alfalfa is too high in calcium and protein for healthy Goats and should be limited to sick, pregnant, lactating or debilitated animals. Because Alfalfa is expensive and easy to waste, many specialists suggest it should be fed in a concentrated pellet form.

GRASS HAY (Orchard, Timothy, Bermuda)

Orchard Hay for Goats has a higher percentage of fiber than Alfalfa but it has a reduced amount of protein. Orchard grass provides about 30% or crude fiber and this helps with reducing milk fat depression.

Grass Hays are often paired with Legumes to help increase the nutritional value of the feeds and this goes to show that the types of hay for Goats complement each other. It is easy to establish and maintain and it is well suited for wet natural soils. Most Grass Hays have adequate palatability and are a nutritious forage. Timothy Hay is time sensitive, so you must cut the grass at the exact right time. If you cut it cut before or after maturation, the nutritional value will deteriorate.

CEREAL/GRAIN HAY Can be harvested before the grain is produced or after the seed head is mature. Mature Goats can make use of grain as 10% of their feed. Products like Oats, Rye, Corn and Barley are the most common Cereals that provide the essential nutrients.

Choosing the QUALITY OF HAY When considering the types of Hay for Goats, the nutritional quality is more important than the actual type of hay.

It is important to consider what your Goats stand to gain from any type of Hay that is either available or of your choice. There are visual indicators that apply to all of the types of Hay for Goats that can help you to identify bad hay.

  • LEAF TO STEM RATIO Presence of excessive stems in Hay and seed heads in the bales indicates low nutritional value. More leaves mean higher quality digestibility, the nutrients to be gained are found in the leaves so they have to be healthy and not dry.

  • CLEANLINESS Even if the majority of the Hay is of good quality, Hay containing dirt, mold, unpalatable or poisonous weeds, trash and other foreign materials indicates a poor quality and may be unfit to feed Goats and this goes for all types of Hay for Goats

  • MOLD Can be as a result of poor harvesting or storage which results in poor quality Hay. The Hay can also be musty with an offsetting smell. All types of Hay for Goats require correct management if they are to maintain their quality and nutritional value.

  • COLOR The color of good quality Hay for Goats should be bright green with little fading. Yellow or brown and sometimes black indicates aged hay, molds and or poor storage conditions. The nutritional value of Hay is compromised with increased exposure to heat, sunlight and rain.

.Would you buy food without reading the label?

A Hay Analysis is a Nutrient Label for your Hay, the food your Goats eats the most! Goats eat the same thing everyday, which is another reason a balanced diet is crucial. Even with the most expensive supplement, without a Hay Analysis, you're grasping at straws. A Hay Analysis will show you how much protein, fiber, sugar, and minerals are in the Hay you are feeding . Why not know what to give, in the correct quantities?

Sample Hay Analyses On average, different types of common Hays have the following Nutritional Analyses:


  • Crude protein: 19%

  • Crude fiber: 26%

  • TDN: 61%

  • Calcium 1.19 - 1.41%

Timothy Hay

  • Crude protein: 7%-11%

  • Crude fiber: 34%

  • TDN: 57%

  • Calcium 0.38 - 0.51%

Meadow Grass

  • Crude protein: 7%

  • Crude fiber: 33%

  • TDN: 50%


  • Crude protein: 11%

  • Crude fiber: 30%

  • TDN: 52%


  • Crude protein: 15%

  • Crude fiber: 30%

  • TDN: 55%


  • Crude protein: 10%

  • Crude fiber: 35%

  • TDN: 55%

Orchard Grass

  • Crude protein: 10%

  • Crude fiber: 34%

  • TDN: 59%


  • Crude protein: 6%

  • Crude fiber: 40%

  • TDN: 45%

Oat Hay

  • Crude protein: 10%

  • Crude fiber: 31%

  • TDN: 54%

Bermuda grass

  • Crude protein: 10%

  • Crude fiber: 29%

  • TDN: 53%

Mixed Hays and Balanced Nutrition

Hay from Grass and Hay from Legumes tend to complement each other as livestock feed because they provide a balanced diet. Grasses tend to have half or less the amount of protein than Hay from Legumes while Grass has a higher amount of fiber and has a more appealing flavor.

Since grass-eating livestock have sensitive stomachs, you should keep their diet consistent, or change from one kind of hay to another gradually so as not to upset their digestion.

Don’t Forget the Minerals Fortunately, Hays and Forages provide a partial supply of the necessary minerals. Alfalfa, for example, contains an impressive list of nutrients. Goat owners may view their animals as severely deficient in many critical minerals, when in fact they may lack only a few core elements.

Their daily feed will determine how much you’ll need to supplement them with free choice minerals. Knowing where your hay comes from could assist you in knowing the grounds minerals that may / may not be present in the soil of the Hay you purchased. When choosing a mineral supplement, be sure to choose something specifically formulated for Goats. (not sheep, cattle, horses, etc.).

Balance is Key, Even with the Best Hay for Goats As with all things, balance is key when it comes to your Goats Nutrition. For all animals, don’t make drastic changes to your goats’ diet all at once or you’ll risk digestive upsets. Give the bacteria in their rumen time to adjust by changing their diets gradually and slowly.

Alfalfa should not be fed free-choice. Instead, portion it out in flakes. A combination of Alfalfa and Grass Hays, as well as a proper grain mix, will provide your Goats with the necessary protein and roughage to stimulate the digestive action of the rumen.

In late Pregnancy, make sure a Doe has ample Hay or Forage along with her higher grain levels, to prevent such issues as pregnancy toxemia or acidosis (carbohydrate fermentation disorder of the rumen).

Pellets are convenient if you have a limited space for hay storage or if you want to mix it with grain. Pellets have about the same protein as hay, but less fiber.

Repeating the obvious, goats need constant access to fresh (not dirty) water at all times for proper digestion to take place.

What About Concentrates - like Alf Alfa Pellets ? Hay can come in concentrate form, i.e. pellets. Alfalfa pellets are commonly available, as are Timothy pellets, Orchard Grass pellets, etc. Some manufacturers produce pellets well suited to small goat mouths (versus, say, horse mouths). Pellets are convenient if you have limited space for hay storage or if you want to mix it with grain.

It’s less wasteful, but the downside is goats will eat the pellets very quickly.

If fed dry, the pellets will add volume in the rumen as soon as they get in contact with the stomach fluids.

Pellets have about the same protein as hay, but less fiber.

Goats still need enough fiber for their rumens to operate smoothly, and large amounts of pellets that sit in the rumen without being brought up as cud may cause long-term health issues.

Again, Balance is Key. A diet of nothing but hay pellets is no healthier than a diet of pure Alfalfa Hay.

Bales of Hay

The weight of a bale of Hay will vary depending on the quality of Hay and the settings on the baling machine that is being used to bale the Hay. The average square hay bale weighs approximately 50 pounds.

Some Final Resources

The best way to evaluate your Hay is to submit samples for laboratory analysis.

The cost is about $25 to $35. For information on how to test your hay and a list of labs that analyze feed samples, contact your local Extension office.

You can also request protein and energy values on the hay you purchase. One very good quality grass-legume hay contained 13.8% CP and 62% TDN. Another hay of lower quality contains 8.4% CP and 58% TDN. The large variation in quality among hays in Oregon makes it important for you to have an accurate estimate of your hay quality.

If you are unable to get a chemical analysis, record the cutting date or maturity and the amount of contamination by undesirable plants, which could decrease quality. You can use this information to help you feed out the hay later.

For more information on goat nutrition, see:


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