Goats are ruminant animals who eat plants and digest them through a four-compartment stomach. Goats are herbivores which means they only eat vegetation and they forage on anything from fresh grass to woody shrubs which makes it easier for farmers to select the types of hay for goats.

Hay

This is the grass, legumes or other herbaceous plants that have been cut and dried to be stored for use as animal fodder when or where there is not enough pasture or rangeland where they can find their own food. Hay is helpful during the seasons where browsing is not feasible due to weather or when lush pasture itself would be too rich for the animals.

There are three main types of hay which are

  • Grass – timothy, orchard, brome, bluegrass
  • Legume – Alfalfa, clover, vetch, soybean
  • Cereal grain – oat and barley.

There are significant differences in the variety, quality and availability of hay and the preferences of animals.

Legume Hay for Goats

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 and velvet beans.

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 and 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 legumetype of hay for goats helps them to stay warm from the inside.

Each goat needs about 2 – 4 ponds of hay per day and goats require additional hay, which is roughage, for their rumen to function properly.

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 bethe 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.

Grass Hay

Fescue

This is a high yielding broad leafed perennial bunchgrass. It is often paired with legumes to help increase the nutritional value of the feeds and this goes to sow 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. Fescue has adequate palatability and is a nutritious forage. The quality of fescue is not altered after stockpiling. The endophyte that affords fescue this resilience can cause fescue toxicosis which interferes with blood flow and heat regulation.

Orchard grass

This type of hay for goats has a higher percentage of fibre than Alfalfa but it has a reduced amount of protein. Orchard grass provides about 30% or crude fibre and this helps with reducing milk fat depression.

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.

Quality of Hay

When considering the types of hay for goats, the nutritional quality is more important than the actual type of hay. The quality of hay goes beyond the age of the plant at harvest. 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, mould, 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

Mould

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.

Colour

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

Second Cut Hay

Second cut hay is recommended for especially for dairy goats because it has a higher nutritional content. More legumes, less weeds and better overall digestibility. First cut tends to have a lot more over twined weeds and grasses, the second cut receives the benefit of fertilization and the best part of the growing season clear of stem weeds and competition for nutrition.

None of these discussed types of hay for goats should exclusively comprise the hay intake of the herd. They complement each other as exemplified by how cereal grain lacks the nutrients boasted by legume or grass hay and how it will not fulfil all of the nutritional needs of goats.