Well, I’m still on “light duty” from my appendectomy. I’m not supposed to do anything real strenuous yet and since all the things I had planned for this winter were “heavy duty” moving or building I decided to make providing for our goats a little easier on us and a lot less wasteful of hay. Winter feeding of hay is the number one operating expense in most livestock operations, so we want to minimize the amount of hay we have to feed and utilize the hay we feed as efficiently as possible through good management and decision making.
In the future we hope to be able to graze our ruminants year round without supplemental hay except in the worst years but we have to get our pastures into much better shape before that can happen. So this year we will have to feed hay to supplement the browsing and grazing of the goats. I thought we were going to be able to make it until January before we had to feed any hay, but we’ve had such a cold snap here lately that the grass is fading fast. The temps here have been in the teens this week – no higher than 28°F on any day – and have been in the single digits at night. So basically we had to start feeding some hay.
Since we’re new at all this we started by placing a hay bale on top of a dog house thinking that LGD Maggie Mae could get some shelter and the hay would stay up off the ground. That strategy worked for somewhere between three and five minutes. After that time, the goats had knocked over the doghouse, spread the hay all over the ground, and they and Maggie had made little nests in the hay in which to sleep. Seeing all of the goats and Maggie sleeping in their nests was very cut, but hay is expensive, and that was going to waste a lot of it.
From the couple of days I spent carrying hay out to the goats I could tell doing that every morning was going to get really old really quickly, so I started thinking about making a portable hay rack. Lots of companies make hay racks, but I was unable to find one that was designed to be moved around pastures with the animals. Most people either bring large round bales to central feeding points for non-rotationally-grazed animals or they bring their animals into a hayshed in the winter and feed them there. We’ll probably opt for the latter strategy eventually, but we need to build a hayshed and small stockyard first. That way we can store the manure in one place through the winter when the pastures can’t absorb the fertilizer and spread it in the spring when it can be utilized. But for now we have no hayshed and no stockyard, so we needed another solution.
As I said, I couldn’t find any portable hay racks to model one after, so I tried to think of the solution that would be easiest for us.
I decided that attaching a hay rack to the goats’ portable shelter would be the easiest thing for us to do since doing it that way would create no extra work in moving it. We already move the shelter with the goats anyway – a task that has gotten much easier thanks to my dad, who put wheels on the goat shelter while I was in the hospital. Now that thing pulls so easily! That used to be the worst part of moving the goats, but no more!
Anyway, I attached a remnant 4′ x 4′ piece of plywood to one side of the shelter and then angled two old garden trellises that I found into the bottom of the plywood and through the bottom frame of the goat shelter. Then I attached a wire to the top frame of the goat shelter, wove it through the trellis for added support, and attached the wire to the top frame of the shelter on the other side of the plywood. See the video below for a visual.
As you can see, this is a perfectly functional poor-man’s hay rack that moves right along with the goat shelter from paddock to paddock. I used stuff we had lying around, but if you want to copy this it would only cost you about $22. A full piece of plywood runs about $8 at Lowe’s and I saw similar trellises at Wal-Mart for $6.97 each. You’d even have a half sheet of plywood left over at that price.
Hopefully the goats will be kind to it and not break it to pieces, but I think the worst they could do it bend the wire on the trellises. That shouldn’t be too hard to fix if it becomes necessary.
After 24 hours, the hayrack has seemed very successful at keeping the hay off of the ground and at giving the goats access to the hay.