Big, round bales it is! Our neighbor put up the hay near us and sold us 40 bales to feed our flerd through the winter. As we were preparing to move the hay home, I began to wonder. Friends and fellow sustainable ranchers that we admire do bale grazing for their cattle. But they use a single strand of airplane cable as their electric fence. A single wire does nothing for sheep or goats so that was out for us. The electric net that we used in the summer is hard enough to set up in tall grass, snow would be impossible. It seemed that bale grazing round bales just wasn't done.
It seemed we were doomed to a winter of either forking hay into feeders or starting up the tractor and pushing snow every few days just to feed a bale of hay. We were not excited by either prospect.
I continued to search for information. Surely someone, somewhere had bale grazed sheep on round bales. And then I found a ranch in Saskatchewan that had done it! I forwarded the article to a very smart and innovative grazier friend who said, "I don't see why it wouldn't work!" Game on.
Literally, as Hubby was hauling hay home I came running out and told him what I'd found. He immediately began setting bales. I'll continue to share more as the winter progresses, but this is what we've found in the last six weeks:
Hubby placed the bales on their end. That puts the strings around the outside of the cylinder. He cuts just the bottom three or four strings. This allows the flerd (7 sheep, 4 goats, 1 calf) to eat only on the bottom of the bale. The sheep and cow are very good at eating straight in. The goats, however, prefer to stand on their hind legs and eat which pushes down more hay than they eat. But by only cutting the bottom strings, it prevents the goats from pushing down the top hay.
After they have eaten away about a foot or so on the bottom, the top strings are cut. Some of the hay sloughs down but the bale remains upright and tidy.
In this photo, Hubby has just cut the top strings.
This is after a few more days. The flerd continues to eat at the bottom and more hay sloughs down. At this point we open another bale. Not that the flerd is done with this one, but to allow more of them to eat at one time. Within the goats and sheep, there is a pecking order and we want the more timid ones to be able to eat as well as the boss ones.
And this one is almost gone! Naomi is in the photo to provide scale.
The flerd will continue to pick on this little pile and have now pretty much cleaned it up.
I am amazed at how little waste there is with this feeding method. When I was growing up, we fed round bales in feeders. And those feeders are still here. But if the openings are big enough for our cow to put her head in, they are big enough for the goats to climb into the feeder. And goats would prefer to poop on hay rather than eat it. Bale grazing is a wonderful solution to all of our problems!
I promise to keep you updated on the bale grazing experiment!
Love each other.