Over the winter months when livestock cannot eat fresh pasture, their diet must be supplemented. Hays is the feed source of choice for your livestock including horses, goats, sheep, and cattle. Hay can be made from different grasses, legumes, mixed (grass & legume), or cereal grains. Legume hay can be made from a variety of plants, often alfalfa, clover varieties, and birdsfoot trefoil. Grass hays are typically made from timothy, orchard, brome, oat, ryegrass, bluegrass, and fescue. Cereal grain hay is the least common and typically made from rye, wheat, or Triticale (wheat and rye hybrid). The process of making hay remains the same in that these plants are cut down at maturity, dried in the sun, raked, and gathered into the form of square bales, round bales, or loose hay.
The type of hay you use depends on the dietary needs of the animals that you are feeding. Horses are not ruminant animals, so they have unique nutritional needs compared to sheep, goats, and cattle. However, each species is going to have different nutrient requirements. No matter the type of hay used, hay quality needs to be assessed. When checking for quality hay, open the bales to check for any mold, dust, discoloration, heat that occurs when wet hay has fermented, or foreign material that might have been baled up. The outside of the bale is often subject to discoloration from the sun. Hay should not smell musty, sour, or moldy. Make sure it is not full of weeds as this will reduce the nutritional value, introduce weeds to your land, and could potentially be harmful to your animals. Keep an eye out for any rotten hay as this can also make livestock sick.
Hay can be bought at most farm and feed supply stores in Alaska. There are hay producers found throughout different parts of the state, mostly the Mat-Su, Kenai, and Delta Junction areas. Some farmers find it easier to order a large shipment from Washington, especially if they are seeking a certain type of hay or a very large quantity. Hay shouldn’t be confused with straw. Straw has no nutritional value and is commonly used as livestock bedding. Be sure to check out our next post on hay as it will go over what kind to feed to certain livestock and how much an average animal should be fed.
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