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!)


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