No matter where you live, there’s a really good chance that you will need to feed your goats hay to get them through winter. If you live in the south, you probably won’t need a ton. But if you have an actual winter, you probably want to make sure you have enough. To figure out how much hay you need, we’ll need to ask some questions first.
Questions to ask yourself
How many goats do you have? How long do you need to hay your goat? Are you breeding your goats? What kind of storage do you have for hay?
I wish it was a simple equation but the reality is you don’t want to find out you were wrong in the middle of a snow storm. But I am going to give you the high points and what we do with our goats. By the end of this post, you can go into fall and winter with a rough idea of how much hay you’ll need.
Before we get started I want to address something. Yes, I am writing this post in March. Why am I writing a post about how much hay you need for winter in the spring? Because being prepared is key for getting your livestock through winter. It doesn’t matter if you are in a mild winter climate like Georgia, or being buried in feet of snow every winter like Alaska. Knowing how much hay your goats need will get your goats through winter without losing body condition or worst case, a goat.
How Many Goats Do You Have? And Are You Breeding?
The key to successfully getting your animals through winter is know how many mouths you are feeding and how much they should eat. While this may seem like a no brainer, you must also consider how many additional animals may be coming to your homestead. We ended up picking up two more goats in January, had we not planned for extra hay, we would have been short because we now have two more mouths to feed.
You also need to consider if any of your does are pregnant, or could become pregnant. If you only get the minimum needed for each goat, and now your doe needs more hay because she is pregnant, you will be short. Or worse case, you don’t have enough for when the babies are ready to eat.
How Long Is Your Winter? Where Are You Storing Your Hay?
In Georgia, we have an extremely mild winter. Sure it gets cold and wet, but it doesn’t snow a lot and we usually have some sort of greenery for goats to eat. It is certainly not enough for them to eat throughout winter, but we do have some grasses that will grow year round here. When we start figuring up how much hay we need, we look at how much we got last year, and how long that lasted us. We also figure up how many months we will use hay.
For us, we want the ability to start giving them hay by mid to end October and have enough to carry them to the end of April. Now, we don’t start getting cold enough for our pastures to start hibernating until probably November. Our grass also usually starts growing in March, but having that extra cushion allows us to not worry if we get a freak snow storm in March, which has happened.
Jared also built a hay barn that is about fifty feet from our goat barn. While that is certainly a pain some days, especially when it is raining. It adds a layer of security that if the hay catches fire, which it’s prone to doing, our goats are safe. We tweaked his original design so that it’s easier to load. He’s also going to make an opening so that the goats can still get hay if they run out.
So How Much Hay Do You Need?
The general rule of thumb is 2-4 pounds of hay per day per goat. Or if you know their weight, 2-4% of their weight per day. Before we start looking at how much hay you need, I have a hay calculator in our general store that will make all this math a LOT easier. All you have to do is put the weight of your animal (estimating is fine), the percentage you want to feed per day and the amount of days you want to feed for. On the second page, there is a hay tracker that allows you to see where you bought your hay previously, how much you bought, how much you spent and so on.
So let’s crunch some numbers. When we ordered our hay this year we got fescue/ Bermuda mix and we got two strand square bales. We had four goats, but our Texas died before we actually started using the hay. But we figured that each goat weighed 50# and we wanted to make sure that we had plenty of hay. So our equation looked like this
50# x .04= 2#/ day
2#x4 goats= 8#/ day
30 days in a month x 8 months= 240 days
8#x 240 days=1920# of hay
I know two tons of hay sounds like a lot, and it is. But if we had minimized what we needed:
30# x .02= .6#/ day
.6#x4 goats= 2.4#/ day
30 days in a month x 8 months= 240 days
2.4#x 240 days=576# of hay
We would have run out of hay in December. Let’s not mention that we wouldn’t have had enough to feed the two new goats we got in January. So knowing these figures allowed us to figure out how much hay we needed and we actually rounded down to about 1600# of hay.
Now the second question of where to put the hay comes into question. Because we didn’t have a place to put a round bale of hay, nor anyway to move it into the pens, we opted for 2 strand square bales. Not only did we not have space, but putting all our eggs in that basket seemed like a bad idea. If any portion of that round bale molded and we fed it to the goats, they could all die. So we went with square bales.
Jared built our hay barn so that we could house the hay without it getting wet but still had plenty of ventilation, which decreases the chances of it molding, composting, or any other nasty that would make it unusable. When we ordered our hay we ordered 28 bales of hay to get everyone though winter. That’s about 1600# and we only paid $200 for it.
This year we will have twelve goats to get through winter and we have been seeding our pasture to make sure they had plenty of options, especially in winter. To give you a break down of how much hay we are planning for and the corresponding math.
Our seven girls total weight= approximately 525#
Our five bucks/wether= approximately 600#
1125# goat x .04 & .02= 45# of hay/ day or 22# of hay/day
30 days x 45 (and 22)= 1350# or 660#
Long feed (September to April) X High Weight= 10,800#
Long Feed X Low Weight=5280#
Short Feed (November to March) X High Weight=6750#
Short Feed X Low Weight=3330#
If all of that is just a lot of information and hard to keep up with? Just head over to our hay calculator and you can purchase the much easier version.
Now we average the highest number and the lowest number: 10,800# and 3,300#= 7,050# of hay.
Why do we average it? Because they aren’t only going to eat hay. They get alfalfa pellets and grain as well. Plus they will eat branches, dead leaves, etc. So they won’t need the full 45# of hay per day. But they might. And as I said before, I would rather have too much than not enough. And let’s face it, they are going to waste a fair amount of it.
Is there an easier way to do this? Absolutely. I could just multiply by .03 instead but I like having the high and low numbers. If I am aiming for 10k # of feed and only hit 5k #, then I know I will have to buy extra grain, alfalfa pellets, or beet pulp.
So how much hay do you need to get through winter? Use the formula above to figure it out and remember, it is better to have too much than not enough.
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