Thursday, October 4, 2012

Building Unity Farm - Hay and Other Foods

When we brought our 8 alpacas and our llama to Unity Farm, we were hay novices.   We had no idea how to choose good hay, differentiate first cut from second cut, or understand the difference between grasses and legumes.

Over the past few months, we've become experts, purchasing five tons of fine, grassy, second cut hay from Western New York and a ton of legume rich hay.    It's stacked neatly in the hayloft of our barn, pictured above.

Our first experience with hay was buying a small amount of first cut, harvested in June, which tended to have less green and more stems than our alpaca would eat.   We had a lot of waste and our manure management pile filled fast because our barn sweepings included so much uneaten hay.

In August we found green, sweet, tender second cut hay - a mixture of timothy and orchard grass.   The alpaca eat it out of our hands.   It's high in protein and very low in waste.   At this point, the alpaca eat their feeders clean.   We saved a dozen bales of first cut hay to use as bedding material and donated the left over first cut to horse rescue.

We also purchased second cut orchard grass hay mixed with legumes  (clover and alfalfa) for use in winter when the alpacas need a bit more fattening food.

Here's a great guide to evaluating hay quality

Now that we've experienced the difference between course, stem filled hay and fine, grassy hay, we'll never make the mistake of buying poor quality hay again.

We place the hay in feeders that minimize waste and protect it from the rain

Also, we planted half an acre of our own orchard grass hay.   We alternate feeding the males and females in this pasture, reducing the amount of purchased hay we have to use.   The alpaca pronk (jump for joy), roll around, and relish their days eating fresh tall orchard grass.

As a special treat, we feed our alpacas and llama a small serving of grain pellets - Poulin Grain Milk and Cria.   They have such an affinity for this food that we need to lock our storage bins.

We use Poulin and Blue Seal grain products to feed our chickens and guinea fowl.   The guineas receive a high protein game bird mix as a supplement to their daily foraging for ticks and other insects.

We store all these food products in cool, dry, dark places.   Our hayloft has a ventilator fan to minimize overheating and mold formation.   Our grains are stored in waterproof metal trash cans, sealed with metal bungee cords to prevent our livestock and forest creatures from feeding on them.

After a few months, we've figured out what to feed, how much to feed, and how to feed.

The winter will be a great learning experience for us, since we've not had the opportunity to keep our animals fed and warm in blustery New England weather.

When you're running a farm, the learning never stops.   And whoever thought rolling in the hay was a good idea has never had to do laundry after hauling 5 tons of hay into the loft!


Caregivers Orange County said...

very informative post keep posting more

Unknown said...

Hi John, I thought you might find this blog about sustainability in Finland an interesting read:

P.S. Congrats on the InfoWorld article!