10 Hay Stretching Tips for Livestock Owners

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGetting hay stored up for winter is better than money in the bank. When hay supplies are tight, it can be tough.

Many areas with drought or flood are having hay shortages this year. Making your hay stretch helps assure your animals will be fit and healthy all winter long. With owners of horses, goats, sheep, cattle and other animals competing for hay often what is available is expensive. Maximize your hay use. Depending on what part of the country you’re in some have more options than others.

1. Plant winter grass. With enough time to get established before cold weather this may be an option for some in warmer climates. Having some grass turnout can reduce the amount of hay needed.

2. Increase fertility of pastures. Fertilize, mow and increase the quality of forages. If $100 in seed will increase this do so. If you need to run a soil test do so. Make the maximum use of what you have.

3. Rotate pastures. Don’t let horses or sheep overgraze what you have. Rotate to other pastures or dry lot them part of the day. Taking care of your pastures is vitally important when there’s little hay – that forage can make a difference!

4. Improve hay storage. Get it up off the ground so the bottom layer doesn’t get moldy. Cover it up securely and watch roof or tarp problems where a leak can mean loss of hay. If it’s 3 bales in some years that isn’t much – but for the person with a few goats that might be a weeks worth of hay! Keep hay dry and stored for maximum effectiveness.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA5. Use hay containers to reduce waste. Have feeders, tubs or some means to keep hay off the ground and reduce loss. Hay that is wasted isn’t feeding the animals it’s intended for. Some have gone to chopping hay and mixing with the grain.

6. Some horse owners are checking in to “complete” rations. Many caution to not eliminate hay totally even with these rations – without roughage horses are more prone to colic. One horse owner had the unfortunate issue of a major colic right before a big event – his horse was out of the action as was he. He’d not fed hay for 7 months and thought the “complete” feed was enough.

7. Check into hay cubes. These can be soaked for better digestibility – by soaking small amounts and breaking them up even small fainting goats can eat these without a problem. For horses, the recommended amount is three pounds a day depending on size of the horse – but much less than people think they need to feed! A 50 pound bag will last one horse several days.

8. Stretch some hay with beet pulp. Soak it before feeding or use it for no more than 10% of the ration. It’s highly recommended to soak it – beet pulp swells up when moisture is added to it and if this is in the belly after eating it can cause some digestive upset if too much is eaten. Simply use a tub, colander, bucket (depending on how much you’re making) and add water until it starts to pool then let it sit 15-20 minutes. Stir up to insure all gets wet. Do not store it wet – it will go bad. Key thing – keep it dry and stored in clean tubs, wet thoroughly and feed it fresh.

9. Use pellets for part of the ration – although alfalfa pellets are most common many areas have feed stores that offer an oat/brome pellet or something similar. These can stretch hay supplies.

10. Feed by weight and pay attention to what the animal eats. Tossing a flake into the stall is easy – but is that flake 8 pounds or 20 pounds? This makes a big difference in the ration! If you are using beet pulp, hay cubes, pellets and/or pasture you’ll want to adjust they hay down and might feed just five pounds of hay per horse.

Many have had to already begin selling animals, knowing their hay supplies wouldn’t last through the winter or being unable to find hay. Other people in other areas have long since laid in their winter supply and are good for the season. Of course watch what your animal’s condition is and adjust accordingly – common sense says when it’s freezing they’ll need more than they will when it’s 70 degrees; and if they start looking ribby up their feed a bit. But with the shortages in some areas and the difficulty in finding and storing hay stretching what you do have becomes more important!


– © Don De Beyer

Hay is quite often an important part of the ration fed to herbivores such as sheep, goats, horses and cattle. Hay is simply a dehydrated version of green forage. It is easily stored and allows the farmer to feed forage to their animals whenever they wish.

The use of hay has become a common practice on modern farms. However, the practice of collecting, drying and storing forage for periods has been going on in one version or another for hundreds of years. The current methods of harvesting hay build on past methods and enable the farmer to produce hay economically.

The first step in making hay is selecting the right plants to grow. The choices are usually a legume (mix), legume – grass mix or a grass (mix). There are many environmental factors such as soil, fertility, moisture content weather etc which that can affect the quality of the finished product. Careful selection is important.