THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON TIMBER CREEK FARMER.
Do you know the different types of hay and other forage? Which one is the best choice for your animals and why. The following information is meant to help the backyard or small homestead farmer, choose the best forage for their livestock. I am not addressing the needs of a large herd of dairy animals or a large herd of beef cattle.
Hay comes from two main growing sources, Legumes and Grasses. A third type is from grain, commonly called straw, but can be used as a forage if cut young and before the grain is harvested.
Legumes include alfalfa and clover, two popular choices for energy and nutrition. Alfalfa hay can contain almost two times the protein and three times the calcium of grass hay. Usually the protein range for Alfalfa is 16% to 18% . Protein content will vary depending on when the hay is cut and the maturity of it at the time of cutting. Some animals such as a dairy goat or a dairy cow providing milk for your family, may need the higher calorie and higher protein content provided by Alfalfa hay. But for an animal that just needs forage to keep the rumen functioning and to provide some calories and nutrition, a grass forage may be the better choice.
Grass hays include bromes, fescues, orchard grass, rye grass, wheat grass, timothy, coastal Bermuda or Bluegrass. Hay from grasses contains less calorie(energy) and a lower protein amount, usually 6% to 10%. Your feed store may carry a mixture of alfalfa and orchard grass, or a mixture of timothy and orchard grass. If your animals need a particular level of protein or energy from their hay, it is a good idea to ask what the bale consists of. I do not recommend feeding alfalfa unless the animal requires the higher energy and nutrition.