If you are in the market for a family cow (Dexters are awesome by the way!) then you will need to know your feed options. Grass is not available during the winter, so what do you do? Hay to the rescue. Choosing hay for your cow, especially if she is lactating, is a very important decision. She is providing for her calf and will need nutrients to support that demand.
Boy oh boy! We did not do our homework on this before we bought cows. I was in the consumer mindset of when you need it you go to the store and you buy it. I thought it would be the same for hay. There is a season for everything on the farm and hay is seasonal. Find a hay farmer in your area that grows hay, in a way that is consistent with the practices of your farm. Example, does he/she spray chemicals on the field. Calculate how much hay you will need for an entire winter and buy it in bulk. Store it up in your barn or a shelter. If you fail to do this and need to buy hay during the off season, you will pay a premium price for your hay. Even worse, you may not be able to find hay at all.
You want to buy quality hay for your cow. She needs her nutrition to keep her body condition up. What does good quality hay look like? Good hay is uniformly green and sweet smelling. The smell should not be musty, sour or moldy. Ask to look inside the hay bale to look for texture, color, excessive weeds, or discoloration. If the hay bends in your hand easily, its fiber content is relatively low and will be more digestible than if the stems snap like twigs. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Is the hay from this year? Did it get wet before baling? Most farmers like to talk about there product and are proud of the quality, as long as you are polite.
There are several types of hay: grass(timothy, brome, orchard, and bluegrass), legume(alfalfa, clover), and mixed(legumes and grass). The type of hay will differ from region to region. What grows well in Ohio may not grow well in Oregon. Along with what type of hay you buy, you need to decide what kind of bale you will buy. There are different sizes: small square bales, large square bales, and round bales. The small bales will be easily handled without machinery. If you don’t have a tractor this option may work best. For large round bales, you will need a tractor to pick them up and relocate them.
Now that you are more knowledgeable about hay and how to choose it for your cow, you can make an informed decision for your farm. Having stored hay in the barn for winter is a huge peace of mind.