A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

May 21, 2009

Back on the hay trail

It’s that time of year again; time to start looking for a supply of hay to keep the herd fed and healthy for the next year.  Already area farms are starting to cut wheat hay and with yet another dry year hay is going to be sparse and sought after.

With the annual quest for hay we are also reminded how important it is to have the hay tested before we purchase it.  Hay can look good and smell good but without an analysis there is no way to tell the nutrient content of the hay. 

I get into some interesting conversations with hay farmers when it comes to asking about analysis of their hay, one farmer I spoke to recently became quite indignant when I asked if he had analyzed his hay.  He assured me he had but when I pushed him for the results of the analysis his reply was “seven”.  I asked him what the seven related to and he told me “that was what the hay tested at and it’s some of the best hay you will find”.  Well, if the “seven” related to the protein content of the hay then I would not consider it to be very good hay, but who knows what the “seven” was.  I asked the farmer if I could see a copy of the analyses and he told me “your not supposed to ask that”.  I decided that particular farmer and I did not need to do business, thanked him for his time and left it at that.  I suspect that the hay had not been analyzed and that he had mistakenly assumed that I was not knowledgably about matters of hay analysis.

One of the next hay farmers we dealt with was a much more pleasant experience.  A lovely man with some nice looking, sweet smelling wheat hay.  He readily admitted that he had not had his hay analyzed but was quite happy to sell me a bale so that I could take it to our local forage testing lab for analysis.  The farmer asked me questions about what nutrients the alpacas needed in their hay and was willing to hold some of his crop for me until the hay was tested.  Sadly the hay came back with a very high potassium level, something that could cause reproductive problems with the alpacas and could also contribute to heat stress.   The forage testing lab told me they have seen a lot of high potassium in the wheat hay this year, so much so that they have already checked the calibration of their equipment to make sure that the tests are accurate.  To date it seems that the testing equipment is fine but there is a problem with a lot of the wheat hay this year.

So the search continues and this afternoon we spoke to a hay grower who seems to really know what it takes to grow good hay.  He tests his soil and fertilizes to balance out what his soil is able to provide.  He tests all of his hay and also seemed knowledgeable about the nutrient requirements of various livestock.  This particular grower has not dealt with alpaca nutrition before but was interested to learn about our needs.  For now his hay is sold out but we have asked to be notified when his next cutting becomes available.  This particular hay grower is the type of hay grower that we like to deal with, he understands not only what it takes to grow good nutritious hay but has an understanding of livestock nutrition and understands our concern about acquiring hay that is suitable for our alpacas in its nutritional content.

If we did not take the effort to test any prospective hay we could easily make some costly mistakes.  Hay that is only 7% protein is completely inadequate and would no doubt cause health problems in our herd over time, likewise hay with high potassium could cause problems in the herd.  Granted it takes some time to get hay tested and we have to pay for the testing, but our local forage testing company can usually get us test results within a day or two and the test costs less than $20 – a small investment but necessary investment if you ask me.

(Footnote  – we also always ask for a sample of the hay to take home to feed to the alpacas, in the past we have had hay that tested out well but that our alpacas would not eat.  No matter how well the hay tests if the alpacas refuse to eat it we would be wasting our money to buy it!)


January 29, 2009

More Teff Please!

Teff Grass (right) Wheat Hay (Left)

Teff Grass (right) Wheat Hay (Left)


The alpacas have eaten their way through the large bale of Tiffany Teff grass we purchased a couple of weeks ago.  We didn’t let them have free access to the bale but rather rationed some out at each feeding.  One thing is for certain they love the taste of it.


I still have not been able to find anything hugely worrying about the Teff grass, but part of the problem is the lack of information on it.  I just hope that there isn’t something about it such as a mineral tie up that will cause problems several months down the road.


Just from observing the alpacas we have not seen any bad reactions to the Teff grass such as diarrhea or bloating and they seem very content with it.  With the little bit of alfalfa we were feeding with the wheat hay prior to getting the Teff grass I did notice that the alpacas seemed a more aggressive when they saw the alfalfa bucket.  There would be much pushing and shoving, grumbling and spitting.  With the Teff hay they are certainly excited to see it but are less aggressive than with the alfalfa.


One of the drawbacks of the Teff hay is the seed heads.  The seeds are tiny and many.  This second bale seems to have less seed heads than the first but I wonder if those tiny seeds will work their way into the alpacas fleeces.  From what I have seen so far the seeds seem to stay on top of the fleece rather than work their way into the fleece and brush off quite easily.  Lets hope it stays that way.  The picture at the top of this post shows Teff grass to the right of the picture with a piece of wheat hay to the left to give a comparison of size.  The picture below this paragraph shows a wheat head on the left of the ruler and a Teff head on the right of the ruler.  You can see just how tiny the Teff grass seeds are.

Wheat Hay Seed Head (Left) Teff Grass Seed Head (Right)

Wheat Hay Seed Head (Left) Teff Grass Seed Head (Right)


So far we are happy with the Teff hay.  I really feel our herd needs that bit of extra protein.  I was not happy with how they were looking when we fed them the wheat hay alone.  We have had wheat hay in the past and our alpacas and fleeces have always looked good, but this year’s wheat hay was not giving the same results despite its good figures on the hay analysis.  Since we started feeding the Teff hay along with the wheat hay we have already seen an improvement in the herd.  If our alpacas were usually on lush green pastures the Teff hay might not be a good choice for them, but for our situation it seems to be working well.



January 13, 2009

Trying Tiffany


We’ve received the analysis back on the Tiffany Teff Hay.  It is higher in protein than we had expected and also has more potassium than we like to see making me wonder if perhaps it was fertilized more heavily than it needed to be.  The Calcium/Phosphorus ratio is good as is the TDN (Total Digestible Nutrients).


During my research on Tiffany Teff grass and alpacas I have found varying reports.  Some farms said their alpacas would not touch it, others said their alpacas loved it.  For the most part though the alpacas that would not touch the Tifffany Teff grass were kept on fairly good quality pasture, while the alpacas that loved it were kept on dry lots as our alpacas are.  So it seems that when alpacas are used to lovely fresh pasture the Tiffany Teff grass is not of interest to them, but for alpacas that don’t have the fresh pasture it has seems to have an appeal.


We have decided to try a big bale to see how it works with our feeding program.  It will not be the main hay for the alpacas but rather will supply some extra nutrition to the girls who with various stages of pregnancy and nursing crias tend to need more nutritional care than the boys (although on cold nights the boys will be treated to a little of the Tiffany Teff grass too).


For ease of feeding we are putting the bale of hay in a feeding pen within the girls pasture.  The pen has a gate that can be shut, meaning that we will be able to restrict the access to the Tiffany Teff grass as we feel necessary.


The girls were quite excited to see a big bale being delivered to their pasture.  They have had big bales to feed off in the past and seem to like the idea of having 24/7 unlimited access to hay.  As much as the girls like that idea, the Tiffany Teff grass is too high in protein to allow them 24/7 free access, so they may be a little disappointed to find the gate to the bale shut from time to time.


Griffin the llama was particularly excited about the delivery of the big bale.  She spied the tractor outside the bottom gate and started performing a dance of joy, bouncing and twirling around outside the gate.  By the time we opened the gates to move the tractor and bale into the pasture word had spread among the girls that something exciting was going on and they were all galloping and pronging around the pasture as Ric drove the tractor in – making for some hazardous driving conditions (beware the low flying llama!), but Ric made it in and out of the pasture without injury to himself of any of the herd.


So we will give the Tiffany Teff grass a try.  The farmer who grew it is local to this area and so perhaps we can speak to him about making some adjustments to his next crop.  We have to remember that this is a relatively new forage crop and it will take time for the hay growers to figure out how to get the crop to the nutritional levels required by their customers.


This morning will be our first time of feeding the hay to the girls.  I always prefer to feed a new hay during the day when I can be around to see the alpacas reaction to it, we try to be careful to buy safe weed free hay, but should there be any adverse reaction by any one of the herd it is better to happen during the day when the vets is available and we are around to see what is happening.


Judging from the small sample we fed prior to purchasing the hay I think everything will be fine and hopefully the only problem we will have is persuading three greedy llamas to leave the pen when we come to close the gate in front of the bale of hay!



January 6, 2009

Exploring new options in hay

As we move forward into the New Year, our minds can’t help but start to think about hay.  Will there be any new hay available locally?  What quality will it be?  What will the price be?


We are fortunate enough to have a stash of wheat hay on hand, and should be okay for hay until after the spring, however then we will need to look for something to replenish our stocks.


Typically we feed wheat hay to our herd.  It is grown locally, it tests well provided that it is cut at the right time and the alpacas love the taste of it.  If possible we prefer to buy a full years supply at a time to make sure we have plenty on hand and to provide consistency in the alpacas diet.


When Ric was at the feed store the other day the store owner mentioned to him that they have some large round bales of Tiffany Teff grass for sale.  A relatively new hay crop Tiffany Teff is a warm season annual grass that originates in Africa.


In the literature that is available about Tiffany Teff grass it is often referred to as being similar to Timothy in nutritive value and highly palatable.  Values such as 12-17% protein, 80 –120 RFV are mentioned and Tiffany Teff is also said to be high in calcium phosphorus, iron, copper aluminum, barium and thiamine.  Potassium levels can be as high as 2.5 to 3.0, which in the world of alpaca hay is too high.


So the question to us is “Is this suitable for alpacas”?  At the moment we really cannot say for sure.  We took a small sample of the hay and let the alpacas try it and they ate it readily and seemed to enjoy it.  So the hay has passed the taste test, however we really do not know what is in the hay until we have it tested.


Our local forage testing lab ADM Labs has been out and taken a core sample of the hay for testing and we should know soon how the hay looks on paper.    Depending on the results of the forage testing we will most likely try and do some further research to see if can determine if Tiffany Teff hay is suitable for alpacas when fed long term.  With Tiffany Teff grass being so new to the hay market it is possible that no one really knows if it is suitable long term for alpacas, but as it seems to be an up and coming forage crop I think it is worth us taking a little time to find out all that we can about it.



January 4, 2008

Sometimes It Pays To Do Things Twice

I’m not a big fan of doing things twice, I would rather something well once and not have to do things again, but sometimes doing things twice is necessary.

Back at the beginning of December we had purchased some hay from one of our regular suppliers.  As is our routine we had the hay analyzed and were surprised to discover that it had very little nutritional value, the crude protein only came in at 6.05%, the Calcium level was very low and the Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) was 35.59 which is very low. 

We were a little surprised that the alpacas seemed to be really enjoying the hay.  With a TDN as low as the hay was showing it should have been unpalatable to the alpacas, but they were tearing into the hay with pleasure. 

Feeding hay at 6.05% protein and nothing else would be a recipe for disaster.  Alpacas really need hay between 10 – 13% protein depending on their needs (i.e. fiber boys need less protein than pregnant girls).  We didn’t want to run into health issues and so fed some other hay as well as the one with the poor analysis, but as we watched the alpacas eating the “poor” hay we couldn’t help but wonder if the analysis was somehow incorrect.

As it was time to put out more big bales we decided that it might be worth our while to have the hay retested.  We are fortunate to have a local company ADM Labs, who can test our hay for us and at the cost of $17 per analysis we felt that it would be money well invested just to put our minds at rest regarding the hay.

So we took core samples of the bales and took them in to the lab for analysis and low and behold the results came back completely different.  The protein level of the hay is actually 11.88 % which will be great for the boys and girls although we will continue giving the girls some higher protein hay as well as most of them are approaching their final trimester of pregnancy.  The new analysis also showed much better Calcium levels, a good Calcium/Phosphorus level and a TDN of 52.89 which is lower than we would like but a lot better than was showing up on the previous analysis.  The Relative Feed Value (RFV) on the new analysis is 83.89, which again is lower than ideal but vast improvement on the 46.49 that was showing up on the previous analysis.

We cannot say for sure what caused the previous poor analysis.  Maybe our sample was not well selected, or maybe there was a glitch in the testing machinery that day.  We have never had a problem with any hay analysis before and so hopefully this was just a one off experience.

We have now breathed a sigh of relief that we have not wasted our money on poor hay and while we still would not normally choose to do something twice on this occasion repeating the analysis was definitely worth doing.


December 13, 2007

$17 Well Spent

Filed under: alpaca, Alpaca Care, Alpaca Health, Alpaca Nutrition, camelids, General — Tags: , , , — alpacalady @ 7:33 am

We recently picked up some more bales of hay from one of our local hay suppliers.  Usually we like to pick up a year’s supply of hay at one time and we always have the hay analyzed before purchasing it to make sure it has the right nutritional content.

This year has not been the best for hay and when we made our purchases we bought less than usual in the hopes that we might find some better hay as time went on.  Unfortunately we have not been able to find any better hay and having worked out a feeding program using the two different hays that we have purchased we had no choice but to stick with those hays.

The hay we picked up the other day was, according to the farmer who grew it, from the same crop and same field as our previous purchase.  Looking at it the hay appeared greener and fresher than the previous bales we had bought and when we put a bale out for the boys they dug into it with relish.  This hay was supposed to have only been about 10% protein, lower than we usually feed but at that protein level we could combine it with the other hay we are feeding it made a good “noshing hay”.

When the boys were so keen to eat the new bale of hay it made us wonder if perhaps the nutritional content of the new bales was different and so we took a sample and sent it off to our local forage lab for analysis.  It is impossible to tell the nutritional value of a bale of hay just by looking at it, but we suspected that the hay was going to have a higher protein level than the first load we had purchased.

Imagine our surprise when we got the analysis back and it showed that the hay had not a higher protein content but in fact a much lower protein content.  The hay tested out to be only 6.05% protein, far too low a protein level to be good hay for any livestock.  Even more surprising was that the TDN (Total Digestible Nutrient) was only 35.50% and the RFV (Relative Feed Value) 46.49.  There is very little nutrient value in that hay at all.

Usually with figures like that the hay would be pretty unpalatable to the alpacas so we are curious as to why the boys seem to like that hay so much.  Needless to say we have increased the amount of the other hay that we feed them until we can find a better hay source than one that is only 6% protein.

We may well re-test the hay in case there was an error during testing, but most likely the first test is accurate. 

Many livestock growers do not have their hay analyzed and I have lost count of the number of hay growers that I have spoken to who tell me that they have not had their hay analyzed but that it is really good hay.  How can they possibly tell just by looking at it?

Our hay analysis cost us $17 a fraction of the value of one of our alpacas.  Had we not had that hay analysis done we could have blindly fed that hay to our herd thinking that as they were loving it that it was good hay.  Over time we would have developed a whole slew of health problems in our herd as that hay has very little nutritional value to it.  Our $17 was $17 well spent and probably saved us hundreds of dollars in vets’ bills further down the road.


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