My personal horse Webb lives at a local farm here in Lincoln County, along with 6 other equids and 6 or so goats. The property consists of exclusively warm-season grasses, so as we head into cold weather, the grazing is slowing down and we’re looking ahead to feeding hay. Every year I write about hay quality and calculating hay needs, but I figured I’d give you a real-life example for this go around.

            The first thing we did was a quick forage test. Since this farm has primarily maintenance equines, we look for some specific measures of quality in the “as fed” portion of the forage report. First, we want moisture less than 20% — high moisture forage is likely to mold and has the potential to spontaneously combust. Second, we want Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF), which measures how digestible the hay is to be 40% or less. Lastly, we look at Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF), which measures how palatable the hay is (how much the animals will voluntarily eat) at 60% or less. We also look at protein, which for an average maintenance horse, should be 10% or more. The hay at this barn tested at 14% moisture, 37% ADF, 57% NDF, and 5.2% protein. This hay is a decent hay for maintenance and non-working horses, with the exception of the protein- which is quite low. All of the horses at this farm are on supplemental feed, so they should make up the remainder of their protein needs from their grain. Ruminant animals (cattle, sheep, goats) can eat lower quality hay than horses- so this hay is more than sufficient to meet the needs of the goats at this farm too.

            Since this hay is an appropriate quality for the livestock on this farm, we’ll then want to look at whether we have enough of it to feed through the winter. The farm was able to harvest 20 round bales this year. I have not weighed those bales, so we’re going to give a low estimate of the weight of each bale at 800lbs. Multiply the number of bales by the weight of each bale to get the amount of hay harvested (20 bales x 800lbs each = 16,000lbs hay).

            The next step is to figure out how much hay the livestock need. For simplicities sake, we are going to estimate the average weight of the horses on this farm at around 1000lbs. Horses will eat approximately 2% of their body weight in hay each day. Multiply the horse’s weight by 2% to get daily hay intake (1100lbs x 2% = 20lbs). We know there are 6 horses on site, so multiply that daily intake by 6 to get the total hay intake for the horses (20lbs * 6 = 120lbs). We can do a similar estimate for the 6 goats, which weigh around 130lbs each and eat 2% of their body weight (130lbs x 2% = 2.6lbs x 6 = 15.6lbs). In this situation, we need an estimated 136lbs of hay every day to feed our livestock.

            Now, we need to decide how long we expect to feed hay– I estimate around a 90 day feeding period, but it will depend on your pasture/grazing/supplemental feed situation. Multiply the number of days you’ll feed hay by the amount needed each day to get an estimate for the season (136lbs x 90 days = 12,240lbs). Finally, you’ll want to account for anywhere from 10-40% waste from feeding round bales. If you use feeders, limit access, or net the bales, they’ll last longer and have less waste. In this example, lets add 20% waste (12,240lbs x 20% = 2,448 lbs) If we add this excess to our needed amount, we get 14,688lbs of hay needed for the season.

            In this example, the farm should have harvested enough good-quality hay to feed their livestock through this winter. Running this type of calculation can help you understand where your feeding gaps might be and can help you budget to cover any additional hay you might need to purchase to get through winter. If you need help with calculating forage needs, please contact us at or 706-359-3233.

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