Hay: It’s Not Just for Horses

In the mild season, our farm is all about moving animals to grass. In the winter, it flips and we’re moving stored grass to the animals in the form of hay bales. I hate the term “superfoods” because of the snake oil connotations, but for the critters on the farm there’s no denying that grass is the superfood. It is an abundant, renewable, locally-sourced superfood at that.

I prefer the summers when we’re moving herds and flocks between pastures. But I also enjoy these cold, brilliant days when I can get off the tractor and stand quietly among the cattle, listening to them contentedly eating hay.

The cattle are the biggest hay consumers on the farm. This bale started rolling down the hill leaving a trail of cattle charging after it as it unraveled. I’m happy when I see cattle running with heel kicks; it indicates their diet is providing energy to spare.
The pigs use up a fair amount of hay both for bedding and for eating. They burrow under it on cold nights and endlessly nose around in it looking for tastier bits of clover. We typically feed them stemmier, lower quality hay since so much of it ends up on the ground. In the spring we compost the bedding for fertilizing the fields.
The hens also get a little hay on the side. If I dump it in thick mats they start laying eggs in it and then the eggs will be filthy or cracked from trampling, so I try to scatter only a few armloads at a time and thus seems to prevent them from getting the idea to use the ground for nesting. Here they are enjoying hay and scratching through some chipped tree branches dropped off by the power company’s line trimming crews. Whatever doesn’t get eaten will become high quality compost in the spring.

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