I get so much joy just looking out the window at the winter stash of oat hay. We are so thankful to be able to have round bales this year of nice quality roughage, it has made life so much easier.
So while I am loading pictures of our boys, girls, and Rosie having some hay fun, I thought I'd chime in here about our winter feeding, especially to heavy bred does.
We don't feed alfalfa hay in winter. The girls get 17% alfalfa pellets or this year it is chaffhay, decision based mostly on logistics of finding, hauling and storing hay. I have given up on the hay game quite early in our goat raising. Considering that we cannot buy a full winter supply - up front cost, lack of storage and transport options, we were left with chasing hay from different suppliers and different cuttings through winter and early spring .... few bales at a time and it got old very fast.
I am a huge believer in suppling plenty of calcium to our does in milk and does that are expecting, as well as growing kids. I question hay that was cut at its prime and high in nutrients at the time but then sitting in our humidity for 5 months or more, just how much nutrition is left by then. 5 months into storage is where our does are heavy bred and require plenty of calcium to finish growing out their litters and getting ready for labor. The minimum ratio of calcium to phosporus is 2:1, we feed 3:1 or 4:1 and very happy with the results, no hypocalcemia in our fresh does and we rarely see sluggish labor as long as kids are correctly presented.
I will say that my dream would be a farm up north filled up to the roof with gorgeous alfalfa but that is a completely different climate zone and it's not our reality, so in our reality and in our humidity, pellets made more sense. Not all pellets are created equal though - we look for nice, green, firm pellets with minimum of dust that are at least 16% protein. We fed 14% alfalfa pellets from a local supplier and I was less than impressed with the results, the does were nutritionally stressed. We are super happy with the condition, health and size of litters with 17% pellets.
In winter , in addition to alfalfa, I also like to have grass hay in front of the does free choice. We don't have brutal winters but our animals are not as acclimated as the girls up north. Long stemmed roughage means full bellies that can help regulate body temperatures and keep them warm, as well as aiding digestive system.
We are absolutely in love with the oat hay as supplement to their chaffhay this year (chaffhay versus 17% pellets was a financial decision this year, feed prices are sky rocketing in the south - perhaps nationwide - so as much as we love our pellets, chaffhay is the calcium source this year and I do like how the animals look). I noticed that without the hay they were frantically seeking fiber while browsing, going for dry leaves and twigs, so we paired the rich chaffhay with roughage/fiber (as in the oat hay) and could not be happier. The girls look fantastic, going into breeding season with slick shinny coats, flesh over their ribs (even in late lactations), stools are great and we have minimum fighting at feeding time.
In the barn with senior does (and yearlings who are bred), we roll them a bale into the barn to munch on. This takes away labor from flaking and carrying to feeders, girls are less vocal in the morning and less eager to run to their throughs for their breakfast and dinner of chaffhay, they are more content even in bad weather when they cannot be out browsing.
We could not have done this (I don't own a gooseneck or a flatbed trailer) without the help of our friends who generously offered their trailer, tractor, time and help to get our oat hay supply.
With all that said on winter feeding, we do feed alfalfa hay in spring and summer, when the supply abounds and I can only buy a few bales at a time from the same supplier and the same cutting until they run out. I still feed pellets but the hay is extra and kids are fed free choice alfalfa hay in their first 6 months of life before we transition them to pellets. Our growth rate in kids is always more than the 10lbs per month minimum so we are sticking with what works for us, giving them plenty of calcium/roughage to grow their bones, frames and rumens.