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silage for goats

 
Wesley Kraemer
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HI,
I hope someone can share experience with feeding goats silage versus hay. I'm in southern Wisconsin where the winters get pretty cold and snowy. My question is could I replace hay with hi quality silage made from good grass, alfalfa, and red clover? I would use this seed mix for the silage, with maybe some alfalfa seed thrown into the mix as well: http://sucraseed.com/sweet-silage/ read more about it here:http://sucraseed.com/products/dairy-products/

I know special care needs to be taken so that the silage is high quality so it does not cause disease from mold/bacteria when feeding it to goats. Can a goat be fed and kept healthy with only silage and no hay? the goats would also have access to brush, browse, and whatever they can get at as long as they will roam and forage if the snow does not deter them. I could also feed minimal amounts of a grain ration, but I'd like to keep that at a minimum. Or should I feed hay instead of silage? Would they make more milk on silage or hay, assuming both are made hi quality? I'm getting a few dwarf nigerians for milking.

thanks!
 
R Ranson
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First of all, goats are awesome!

Disclaimer: I've never fed silage to my animals. I've never even considered it an option. I'm of the opinion that hay is more like what their wild ancestors would have access too, as well as being more traditional husbandry for where my breeds come from.

That said, I'm also a huge advocate of using what you've got.

I also don't know if silage is good for goats or not, none of my goat gurus use it... I can however, give you some things to think about while you make your decision.

What minerals are deficient/excessive to your area? What mineral supplements are you currently giving them? What changes would you need to make if you fed them silage?

Do you have enough goats to eat the silage before it spoils? What will you do to extend the shelf life of the silage to accommodate your herd size? What will you do with the excess if/when it does spoil? Do you know how to spot signs of it being inappropriate for your animals (like how hay changes smell and colour as it becomes less suitable for eating, but makes great bedding at that stage, or mulch when moldy)?

What are you using for bedding anyway? My goat gurus all use hay (and so do I)... since we are buying it for food anyway, using it for bedding saves having to find and store a different bedding material.

Have you ever thought about mangelwurzels as winter fodder? They are easy to grow and store. We tried them this year for our sheep, and the vitamin in the mangels complimented the hay and they had far less need for minerals (reduced consumption of 1/4) over the winter.

One of the ways animals like goats control their internal temperature (keep themselves warm) is through their digestion (fermentation produces heat...&C). How will unfermented hay compare with pre-fermented silage for this internal heat mechanism? In the winter we need to feed our aged llamas more roughage so that they can keep themselves warm.

Quantity of the milk is (in my opinion) secondary to quality of milk (which is a direct reflection on the health of your animal). Minerals are going to be your biggest influence here.

Goats will nibble on anything, but they are exceptionally fussy eaters. Will they even eat silage? How will you ensure that they have a gradual change in diet so that they don't get bloat?

If you go with hay, do you have good storage? You know about hay and it's tendency towards spontaneous combustion? Of course you do. I'm just mentioning it for future readers.

I wish I had actual answers instead of questions. But like I said, I don't personally know anyone who feeds silage to goats.

Looking forward to what others have to say about the subject.
 
Wesley Kraemer
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R Ranson, thanks so much your post was very helpful. I"m interested to hear from others as well, but I was kind of leaning towards doing the hay and not the silage. just from the research I"ve done and from talking with others who live around here who have goats. I'm just getting into this so I"m trying to decide on what kind of equipment to buy. For making hay, I will need a haybine, tedder, rake, and baler correct? If I'm missing anything please let me know.

thanks
 
R Ranson
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Always glad to help. Very glad to see you thinking about the nutritional needs of your animals. So many people I've met don't even imagine goats need more than a few tin cans for munching on.

The equipment you need for hay making depends a lot on how much hay you want to make and how much time you have to make it.

Minimally you need a blade, a bucket (for broadcasting seed), a rake/fork/stick and agreeable weather. Although I would want more than that if I were to do over a quarter acre a year. At an acre, I would want a seed broadcaster, a scythe, a hay rake, a pitch fork, and something to haul the hay in (wagon/waine).

To do it on a large scale you will need a way of seeding the field, irrigation (many swear by this, but I feel it encourages the roots to grow too shallow, preventing the hay crop to grab the deep soil trace minerals and nutrients, causing more mineral supplementation needed for your goats to thrive - see pat coleby's book on natural goat care), fertilizer (anything from miracle grow to manure from using the hay field for grazing during the off season - again your choice here will affect the supplements you need to give your goats. ibid) something to mow the hay, possibly condition the hay, ted the hay, bale the hay, carry the hay,store the hay ... am I missing anything folks?

Most of this equipment can be rented - HOWEVER, it's usually very busy come hay making season. Another option would be to lease out your potential hay fields and have the guy/gal pay you in hay. Hay equipment needs a lot more upkeep than I like for something that is only used a few days a year, so if you do decide to invest in it, maybe you could consider how else you can use it - renting your hay making services, perhaps?

I have a sickle and some slopes that I 'harvest' has hay and pack it loosely in wool bale bags, so I'm pretty amature with my hay making skills. Although I did buy a scythe this year, and look forward to growing a larger portion of the property as hay. As a hay buyer, on the other hand, I have some strong opinions.


Common issues with local haymakers - aka, my little rant on how not to make hay
Most of this you know, it's just frustrating how many people enter the hay making 'business' with no idea about these things, so I'm writing half for you and half for the future potential haymakers.

Weeds and grass do not equal hay! It really doesn't! You need to seed your hay field, either with annuals, perennials, or better still a mix. I don't know how often this needs to happen, but hay is not leaving an acre fallow then bundling up the weeds.

Letting the hay field grow as long as possible DECREASES the nutritional value of the hay. Many producers here wait until the field turns golden and crunchy then harvest the hay. There is a sweet spot for when hay is ready, it varies from year to year depending on many factors. But when that sweet spot hits, you have only a few weeks or days to get the hay in. Goats have sensitive little mouths, so the sweet spot for goats is very different than for cows of horses. That would be one major advantage to making your own hay, you can customize it to your livestock needs instead of projected market demands.

If you bundle wet hay, make certain you have excellent fire insurance policy and/or don't mind dead livestock. Hay needs to be tedded until dry.



How much land do you plan to use for hay? Can you rent equipment or services for your first year? That way you can see how well the fields perform the first year before the full investment. If buying the equipment is the way for you, don't let me discourage you - I'm just thinking from the point of view 'If I xyz situation, what would I want to try/know'.

Please let us know what you choose and how it works for you.

 
Wesley Kraemer
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thanks again
I have lots of experience farming, that is planting and growing the crops, but not making hay. I have tractors, grain drill, cultimulcher, mower, chisel plow, disc, tiller, bottom plow. I just don't have a haybine, tedder, rake, or baler. so I know how to plant and grow good hay, but I'm just learning how to make hay now. In the past, my "hobby" farming has just been for the wildlife, to give access to healthy food since we enjoy seeing and hunting deer and turkeys which spend more time on our property because of the "food plots".

I've just been watching the craigslist ads for a few days and looks like I should be able to pick up equipment for about this price: haybine, $1200 to $1500, tedder $800 to $1200, rake $800, baler $500 to $1200
 
R Ranson
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Sounds like a nice bunch of equipment. What a fantastic opportunity to customize your hay growing for your animals.

If you are interested in preventive approach to goat health - with a focus on a organic style of care - I highly recommend you get your paws on Pat Coleby's goat book. It's very informative not just about the livestock, but also about how you manage your pasture/hay crops. Ie, what additives you put on your soil and how it effects the mineral absorption and general health of the animal. Coleby's writing for Australia mostly, but a lot of the information behind her advice is solid and with a little bit of common sense can be adapted for most anywhere in the world.

Another good thing to do before you start is to look at your soil selenium levels. Se has a huge effect on goat health, especially kidding and milking. Then again, there are parts of the continent where it's easy to get an overdose of Se. It may be worth the investment to get the soil tested on your potential hay fields.

Please keep us up to date with what you do and how it goes.

For the longer posts, I was writing half for you and half for other readers that might come to the forum not knowing their tedder from their snathe. Sorry to be a bit redundant with some of the info.
 
Katy Whitby-last
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Location: North East Scotland
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Personally I would never feed silage to a goat because of the risk of listeriosis. Goats are very susceptible. I have fed haylage to my horses and sheep but always get hay for the goats.
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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