Monday, March 25, 2013

the magic hay tree

Cloud Harvest Cashmere: where hay grows on trees!

I think most goat-owners will agree: while a goat will seek out with single-minded determination three oats that have fallen into your cuff, they are extremely wasteful when it comes to hay.

A goat will pull half a bale out of a manger, piece by piece, to get to that one special stem or one perfect seed head or one horribly wonderfully prickliest of thistles.

And that would be fine!

Except all the hay they pull out in order to reach that delicacy is now on the ground, or the floor of the barn.

And that would be fine!

Except now they won't eat it.
Because it is on the ground.
Or the floor.


My two cobbled-together hay feeders have been working fairly well.  But when there's nice clean snow on the ground (again!), it's tempting to just throw down a flake of hay for each goat, far enough apart to discourage squabbling.  There is waste, but not as much as when the hay is on the ground.  Apparently snow acts as a sort of tablecloth, keeping the hay ewww-proof.  A goat will munch at one flake for a while, then move to the next, and the goat that was eating that flake will move down, etc.  It's Musical Goats, but no one is ever "out" as there is always a spot for each goat to eat.

Unfortunately, some goats will eat what they want of a flake then immediately lay down on the rest.  Does the expression "dog in the manger" come to mind?  It applies, believe me.  Because not only can no other goat eat this lovely (and expensive) hay, but when that resting goat gets up, she (I am naming no names) pees and/or poops in her haynest before walking away.


One of my semi-solutions is the "hay tree" pictured at the top of this post.  I stuff a flake of hay between a few sapling poles left standing when I cut the tops off a couple of years ago.  The goats were going to kill these saplings anyway, by stripping the bark as high as they could reach.  So cutting the tops and dropping them to the ground meant more healthy browse for the goats to enjoy.

I started with Black Birches, because they would have lost their leaves early in the autumn.  The Red Oaks were saved for last, when most other deciduous trees would be leafless and the oak leaves would be a special treat.  That's what you are seeing in the picture above.  Two happy goats, and a rapidly dwindling supply of oak leaves.

When cutting tops, I would cut the poles at about six feet, higher if there was a rock to stand on, and then leave the poles standing.  The goats would gradually eat every bit of bark, and the next time I needed a pole for the garden or a hen roost, I knew just where to find one.  Lazy? Maybe.  I've never seen anyone else do it this way.  But it works for me.  And the goats enjoy using the thinner poles to scratch that hard-to-reach spot right between their horns...

like there...

and right there...

  Ahhhhhhhh!  :)

So, back to hay.  One trick for reducing waste is to keep the hay from hitting the ground for as long as possible.  With their hay tree, the goats first have to reach way up to grab a mouthful. They enjoy this!

Goats are "top down" eaters, to borrow a sock-knitting term; they tend to go for the higher vegetation first.  A pasture full of lush grass is not a sight to gladden a goat's heart.  But turn them loose on a stony hillside covered with scrubby, shrubby, and even wincingly thorny vegetation, and you can almost hear them humming the theme from The Sound of Music.

The hay tree approach takes advantage of a goat's natural inclination to start high.  Here, Lily of the Valley stands on her hind legs and demonstrates The Reach...

...then the simultaneous Pull and Munch.

As more hay gets pulled out, some of it falls.  It lands first on a big rock, which is still better than having it go straight to the ground when there is no snow.

Now Lily is joined by her sister and best friend, Violet.  Between the two girls, most of the hay will be eaten while it is still on the rock, so scattered wastage is much reduced.

Aren't they lovely?  Maybe I'm just biased.  I may be a bit biased.

And doesn't this remind you of the spaghetti scene from
Lady and The Tramp?