Regardless of what kind of goat you own, your animal needs nutrients every day to stay alive; most goat owners provide these nutrients in the form of fresh grass, hay and grain. Trying to predict how much hay your goat will need over the winter may seem overwhelming, perhaps even impossible. However, if you familiarize yourself with the factors that affect how much hay your goat eats, you should be able to estimate your goat’s winter hay needs without much trouble.
Assessing Your Herd and Equipment
In order to figure out how many bales of hay a goat needs for winter, you should first assess your goat herd, considering each animal’s size, growth rate and pregnancy status. Determine how many goats you plan on feeding over the winter and what condition each animal will be in during the winter. For instance, you may have three adult pregnant does (gestating), two yearling doelings (young females who haven’t kidded) and one buck for breeding purposes. The gestating does will require more hay each day, since they’re gaining weight and providing nutrients for their babies, whereas the yearling doelings and buck should only need enough hay to maintain adequate body conditioning (healthy weight). Cull (sell) any goats that you do not want to feed over the winter in order to reduce your overall feed costs and maximize the quality of feed available to the goats you will keep.
Evaluating your hay feeding system before winter begins will help minimize your hay wastage, thus reducing the number of bales of hay your goats will need for winter. Do not feed your goats hay on the ground since this can lead to excessive hay wastage and parasite problems. Look for a hay feeder that contains openings large enough for your goats to shove their mouths and noses in (to grab mouthfuls of hay) but small enough that they can’t fit their entire heads. Mount your feeder high enough that your goats will not urinate accidentally on the hay. Goats can be very picky when deciding what to eat, so know that you will have some hay wastage; your ultimate goal, though, is to minimize this wastage as much as possible with a well-constructed feeding system. Jackie Nix, a nutritionist with Sweetlix Minerals, estimates that an efficient feed system will typically result in 10 to 20 percent of hay wastage.
Estimating Your Hay Needs
The most accurate method of determining your winter hay needs for your goats is by calculating the percentage of body weight that your goat will consume as hay each day. According to Bruce Pinkerton, Ph.D., extension forage specialist at Clemson University in South Carolina, a goat’s average feed intake is approximately 4.5 percent of its body weight. In order to use this method of calculating winter hay needs, estimate the number of days you’ll need to feed your goats hay, then weigh each goat and one of your bales of hay.
It is fairly simple to apply this method to estimate how many bales of hay a goat needs. The average square bale of hay weighs about 50 pounds. If you’re feeding one doe that weighs 125 pounds and a buck that weighs 200 pounds, then you need to provide about 18 pounds of hay per day (including about 20 percent wastage). If your winters last about 150 days, then you will need to provide approximately 2,700 pounds of hay, which results in 54 square bales for the entire winter for your two goats.
Your goat’s winter hay needs will vary slightly depending upon what other feed options you provide, including grass and grain. Pregnant or lactating does must have a regular source of protein and energy in order to sustain their health and milking production, so supplementing your hay supply with a medium-to-high protein feed (16 to 20 percent) is very important. Depending upon where you live, you may also be able to give daily access to winter grass, which provides an important alternate source of forages for your goats. Providing these alternate feed sources may reduce the amount of hay that your goat needs over the winter. But you should still calculate your hay requirements as if you're feeding hay alone to ensure that you have enough hay available to last through the winter.