Monday, September 13, 2010

On buying hay

When I first started keeping goats, I found their feeding requirements a bit confusing. If you are new to feeding goats, Fias Co has a great page on  her site.

So I've got the basics down now but I still feel flustered when I go to buy hay, as there are so many kinds of hay. Everyone says that if you are milking your goats, top quality alfalfa is a must. But I find that Falcon's milk tastes horrible when I feed her alfalfa. So I've switched their hay to Eastern Oregon hay (here in the valley it rains so much that it leaches too much nitrogen from the soil, rendering too much protein from the grass).

And then there is the question of who to buy hay from. There are so many people around here that sell hay but I have no idea if I can trust their product. So I end up buying hay at the feed store for $12/bale, but I trust their product.

What have you learned about buying hay and where do you buy it from?

10 comments:

Mr. H. said...

Goats milk tastes bad off alfalfa hay, very interesting. I will keep that in mind as we hope to get goats in the future. When I was a kid my parents always fed our goats a good mixed grass hay as alfalfa was a bit to rich for them.

Amy Manning said...

I should mention that many people say that their goat milk tastes totally fine when fed alfalfa.

It could be that it is just my particular goat that has off flavors when she eats the hay.

I suspect that it may be tricky to identify off-flavor sources in goat's milk because the diet of the goat is so varied. Cows really only eat grass, and so it is probably easier to identify any off flavors. But I don't know that for sure as I've never had a cow!

Amy Manning said...

Bill from Oregon Dairy goats says: "I buy hay by the ton from a guy that hauls and resells hay as his only
business -- If I get some really nice hay, I try to get back and get
more of that same hay -- and I am talking about east of the Cascades
alfalfa, although I do know one local farmer that manages to put up some
very nice valley alfalfa on a regular basis, but right now, my hay
vendor has such nice alfalfa, at an I think reasonable price, that I
haven't been anywhere else for a bit.

Bill Strickland"

Amy Manning said...

When I asked Bill how to determine quality hay, fair price, etc., I got these fabulous answers:

True that most eastern Oregon hay is put up by professional farmers that are supposed to know what they are doing, but it is not the area that determines protein -- mostly it is when it is cut [note: I did NOT say which cutting] Alfalfa needs to be cut pre-bloom for maximum protein, meaning you should see only occasional purple flowers in the hay. It should be leafy, green, somewhat soft, but not damp (mildewed hay can cause health problems for goats). You can get this high quality in any cutting, 1st through 5th, depending on the care of the individual grower and the whims of the weather. It is that weather that makes producing good alfalfa hay west of the Cascades more difficult -- often times, due to weather, one simply can not cut the hay when it needs to be cut, and then that effects all subsequent cuttings from that field, whereas the summertime weather in eastern Oregon is less unpredictable, but then that means you have to irrigate it, and that can be another whole can of worms.

All that said about protein, the big advantage of eastern Oregon alfalfa is the natural selenium content -- Western Oregon simply does not have significant selenium in the soil for alfalfa to uptake to the point it is a good source of that mineral. But, that was Back When, and this is now when all sorts of grains and ration mixes and supplements have so much selenium available that if one isn't just a bit careful, selenium poisoning can become an issue, or at least blood levels of selenium at or above the normal maximum recommendation -- can't recall a case of it actually happening, confirmed by veterinary diagnostics. But I do know of folks who have tested their herds and had levels the vets thought were in the toxic range when they fed all the possible supplements AND good selenium rich hay.

Often, growers test their hay for protein content (all but required for selling to dairies and export) -- tell your supplier you would prefer to buy tested hay with such & such a protein level, and see what they can do for you -- generally, they just have to ask the grower.

And you sort of have to trust that the grower has not done anything stupid, like too much fertilizer too close to harvest, which can produce exotic levels of nitrogen in the hay, and unfortunately, that will and has killed goats in this area.


but other than that, how does a beginner know how to determine the quality of the hay,


buy small lots at first, and let the goats tell you -- if you feed moderate amounts, the goats eat every single crumb, and they remain in good condition, it is probably pretty good hay -- shop around and buy a few bales here and there and give it a try. Pay attention to what the goats tell you. Check with your local extension office and see if they have any literature or upcoming classes they can suggest. Try to go to the NWODGA Conference in late February in Oregon City -- often someone is speaking on feeding goats, and there are lots of folks to talk to one on one.


and what is a fair price?


Hard to tell these days -- by the bale is almost always way more than by ton lots, but one does not want a ton of hay the goats don't eat -- in our immediate area, a lot of grass hay is grown on "sludged" fields -- a great fertilizer at generally a great price (free), but we have found our goats really don't like hay that has been grown on a sludged field.

We've been paying about $200 a ton for some excellent alfalfa at the hay barn -- delivered is more. But, I am sure I could find some poorer hay for more money if I looked around ;-) And, it depends on what the export market is doing at any given moment. Like growing good hay, when buying good hay, you have to have a bit of luck on your side. Check around and see what others near you are doing for hay.

Bill Strickland
Oregon City, OR

Amy Manning said...

When I asked Bill how to determine quality hay, fair price, etc., I got these fabulous answers:

True that most eastern Oregon hay is put up by professional farmers that are supposed to know what they are doing, but it is not the area that determines protein -- mostly it is when it is cut [note: I did NOT say which cutting] Alfalfa needs to be cut pre-bloom for maximum protein, meaning you should see only occasional purple flowers in the hay. It should be leafy, green, somewhat soft, but not damp (mildewed hay can cause health problems for goats). You can get this high quality in any cutting, 1st through 5th, depending on the care of the individual grower and the whims of the weather. It is that weather that makes producing good alfalfa hay west of the Cascades more difficult -- often times, due to weather, one simply can not cut the hay when it needs to be cut, and then that effects all subsequent cuttings from that field, whereas the summertime weather in eastern Oregon is less unpredictable, but then that means you have to irrigate it, and that can be another whole can of worms.

All that said about protein, the big advantage of eastern Oregon alfalfa is the natural selenium content -- Western Oregon simply does not have significant selenium in the soil for alfalfa to uptake to the point it is a good source of that mineral. But, that was Back When, and this is now when all sorts of grains and ration mixes and supplements have so much selenium available that if one isn't just a bit careful, selenium poisoning can become an issue, or at least blood levels of selenium at or above the normal maximum recommendation -- can't recall a case of it actually happening, confirmed by veterinary diagnostics. But I do know of folks who have tested their herds and had levels the vets thought were in the toxic range when they fed all the possible supplements AND good selenium rich hay.

Often, growers test their hay for protein content (all but required for selling to dairies and export) -- tell your supplier you would prefer to buy tested hay with such & such a protein level, and see what they can do for you -- generally, they just have to ask the grower.

Amy Manning said...

When I asked Bill how about Eastern Oregon hay, he had this to say:

"True that most eastern Oregon hay is put up by professional farmers that are supposed to know what they are doing, but it is not the area that determines protein -- mostly it is when it is cut [note: I did NOT say which cutting] Alfalfa needs to be cut pre-bloom for maximum protein, meaning you should see only occasional purple flowers in the hay. It should be leafy, green, somewhat soft, but not damp (mildewed hay can cause health problems for goats). You can get this high quality in any cutting, 1st through 5th, depending on the care of the individual grower and the whims of the weather. It is that weather that makes producing good alfalfa hay west of the Cascades more difficult -- often times, due to weather, one simply can not cut the hay when it needs to be cut, and then that effects all subsequent cuttings from that field, whereas the summertime weather in eastern Oregon is less unpredictable, but then that means you have to irrigate it, and that can be another whole can of worms.

All that said about protein, the big advantage of eastern Oregon alfalfa is the natural selenium content -- Western Oregon simply does not have significant selenium in the soil for alfalfa to uptake to the point it is a good source of that mineral. But, that was Back When, and this is now when all sorts of grains and ration mixes and supplements have so much selenium available that if one isn't just a bit careful, selenium poisoning can become an issue, or at least blood levels of selenium at or above the normal maximum recommendation -- can't recall a case of it actually happening, confirmed by veterinary diagnostics. But I do know of folks who have tested their herds and had levels the vets thought were in the toxic range when they fed all the possible supplements AND good selenium rich hay."

Amy Manning said...

On determining quality hay, Bill says: "buy small lots at first, and let the goats tell you -- if you feed moderate amounts, the goats eat every single crumb, and they remain in good condition, it is probably pretty good hay -- shop around and buy a few bales here and there and give it a try. Pay attention to what the goats tell you. Check with your local extension office and see if they have any literature or upcoming classes they can suggest. Try to go to the NWODGA Conference in late February in Oregon City -- often someone is speaking on feeding goats, and there are lots of folks to talk to one on one."

Amy Manning said...

Regarding prices, Bill says: "Hard to tell these days -- by the bale is almost always way more than by ton lots, but one does not want a ton of hay the goats don't eat -- in our immediate area, a lot of grass hay is grown on "sludged" fields -- a great fertilizer at generally a great price (free), but we have found our goats really don't like hay that has been grown on a sludged field.

We've been paying about $200 a ton for some excellent alfalfa at the hay barn -- delivered is more. But, I am sure I could find some poorer hay for more money if I looked around ;-) And, it depends on what the export market is doing at any given moment. Like growing good hay, when buying good hay, you have to have a bit of luck on your side. Check around and see what others near you are doing for hay."

Amy Manning said...

Yvonne, on the goat forum says: "I took us several years of buying from people after we moved here to find our "hay man". He does grow it locally, even though most people buy hay from Klamath Falls here. He is VERY careful about his hay and has the best hay around, in my opinion. When he gewts a batch of hay in that isn'ty good her won'ty sell it to me because "it won't milk, I won't like it!". He always saves the best quality for the two goat herds he sells to and tells other no, he has no alflafa to sell as he saves it all for us. His alflafa hay is always better than what my fellow goat breeders are using. Most of the winter we have had fourth cutting hay on quite a few years. When we moved we now are an hour away from him, instead of 15 minutes. We drive the hour there and hour back to get the hay from him, a ton every two weeks, as I know he'll keep me in the best hay possible. One year when draught caused him to not have enough hay for us he found some top quality hay in Klamath and bought a truckload of it and kept it at his barn for us to buy...again, he held it for his two goat breeders and didn't sell it to anyone lese.
Keep looking around and buying hay from different people. When you find one that has good hay all year and cares about you as a customer stick with him! Being supplied with good quality of alfalfa is VERY imporatant. I've heard several people who calls for their hay and were told (they don't have any, they'll have it next week". That happened to me once and that was the last time I used that hay guy(it was bedore I found my good one). When you buy hay on a regular basis your hay guy should make sure he has it when you need it.
I have been feeding good quality alfalfa hay for over 20 years. My goat's milk tastes GREAT. I just wonder if it was the hay or something else that just happen when you fed the alfalfa. You might give it one more try, and be sure it's good hay, not full of weeds."

Amy Manning said...

Yvonne says: "..took us several years of buying.. He does grow it locally, even though most people buy hay from Klamath Falls here. He is VERY careful about his hay and has the best hay around, in my opinion. When he gewts a batch of hay in that isn'ty good her won'ty sell it to me because "it won't milk, I won't like it!". He always saves the best quality for the two goat herds he sells to and tells other no, he has no alflafa to sell as he saves it all for us. His alflafa hay is always better than what my fellow goat breeders are using. Most of the winter we have had fourth cutting hay on quite a few years. When we moved we now are an hour away from him, instead of 15 minutes. We drive the hour there and hour back to get the hay from him, a ton every two weeks, as I know he'll keep me in the best hay possible. One year when draught caused him to not have enough hay for us he found some top quality hay in Klamath and bought a truckload of it and kept it at his barn for us to buy...again, he held it for his two goat breeders and didn't sell it to anyone lese.
Keep looking around and buying hay from different people. When you find one that has good hay all year and cares about you as a customer stick with him! Being supplied with good quality of alfalfa is VERY imporatant... When you buy hay on a regular basis your hay guy should make sure he has it when you need it.
I have been feeding good quality alfalfa hay for over 20 years. My goat's milk tastes GREAT. I just wonder if it was the hay or something else that just happen when you fed the alfalfa.