A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

July 30, 2009

Another Hay Bites The Dust

Last Sunday Ric and I (accompanied by puppy Blue) drove down to Roswell to meet with a hay grower and bring some sample bales of hay back. The hay we were interested in was a Bermuda grass hay and an oat hay.

 

The hay grower was a lovely man, very amenable to working with us and very proud of his hay. The grower already had an analysis on his oat hay and it was only running around 10% protein which is too low for our needs. Having ruled out the oat hay we brought some of the Bermuda grass hay home with us.

 

We tried the alpacas out with the hay and they ate it but were not as zealous about it as they are with the wheat hay we are currently feeding them. We would never just switch from one hay to another as that can really have a bad affect on the alpacas digestive system and it means that if they really don’t like the new hay then they have nothing to eat. We blended some of the Bermuda in with the wheat hay and over a couple of days the alpacas were starting to eat more of the Bermuda. Griffen the llama was particularly taken with the Bermuda grass hay, but her tastes in hay do tend to be different from the rest of the herd and our other two llamas Maya and Inca.

 

On Tuesday we ran the hay in for testing to our local lab ADM Labs. We received the results back on Wednesday and sadly they were not the best. While the Calcium/Phosphorus balance was good and the Potassium was not a disaster (higher than we like but better than some we have seen this year), the crude protein was only 9% which is nowhere near high enough for our herd, especially the pregnant and nursing females.

 

We were sad that the results did not pan out as we had hoped, we liked the hay grower and had looked forward to working with him. There is not point though in buying hay that is not suitable for our needs, at 9% protein it is not even sufficient for our fiber boys.

 

The results of the hay analysis will be shared with the grower, it is only fair to do so and it will help him decide what adjustments he needs to make to his hay management. For this year we will not be buying hay from him, but by next year perhaps things will have changed and we will be able to business.

 

In the meantime we will be keeping our eyes open for more potentially good hay on sale. Eventually we will find some I am sure and for now we have a reasonable stock of wheat hay on hand, but of course every day the alpacas keep eating it and the stack gets smaller!

 

Rosemary

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!)

Rosemary

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.

 

Rosemary

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.

 

Rosemary

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.

Rosemary

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