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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

More about Hay ...

Click on this link for an excellent site all about growing and feeding hay!

Donkeys need coarse, fairly long stemmed hay, not fine, soft or short hay.  But it's important to feed them a good quality hay too.

Local Island Hay 2011 - my analysis: many thin stems, which could mean higher fructan as grass stores sugar in the stem.  Not as coarse and crunchy as I would like but not bad!  A sample has been sent away by a friend for testing.

Some people have the misconception that donkeys can eat crappy old hay with no nutrition.  While they are efficient in digesting the maximum nutrition from what they eat, they still need to be fed carefully and well.  They need lots of fiber and while hay provides fiber, it also has too many calories so that's where the addition of barley straw can be useful, especially overnight to give them something to munch on.

I've found a source for barley straw and buy it in late August.  I do have a couple of concerns about it though - it can have a fair amount of grain still in it and last year's straw tested higher in sugars that I want.  This is the non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) component of both hay and straw and for donkeys that number should be no greater than 10%.

Last year's hay tested at 16.5 to 18.8% NSC and the straw came in at a walloping 13.9 - 15.8%!  This year I think I might be better off to find an over-ripe coarse hay with the seeds gone than offer straw but I'm still debating.

A few days ago I went to visit a number of farms offering hay for sale.  I brought back sample bales from 5 places and set about opening them up in my hay loft to see what I could learn.

Here's what I'm looking for:

1. coarse, crunchy hay, not soft
2. stemmy but coarse, lignified stems, not thin stems as they are the part of the grass that retains fructan
3. green not too brown
4. little or no seeds remaining in the seed heads (too much protein)
5. probably first cut but mature
6. a mixture of grasses such as timothy, orchard, rye, canary reed grass, native grasses, etc.
7. if fertilized, then with manure as opposed to chemicals or a "light" amount of fertilizer low in nitrogen
8. dry bales with a low moisture count so they will store well

All of the above depends on so many factors - the weather being a big one, when the hay was cut (morning cut is lower in NSC than afternoon) and whether the grass was stressed while growing, as stress due to lack of nutrients or moisture can result in the hay having a higher amount of fructan.

Some the the things on my wish list are pretty easy to see - but it's impossible to know what the level of protein, vitamins and minerals and NSC are without a lab analysis. Donkeys only need a protein level of about 5%!

Vancouver Island Hay 2011 - see all the moss?  Could mean the hay was grown in acidic soil, possibly stressed as I know it wasn't fertilized, so it could be higher in fructans!  just a guess ...

After sifting through my 5 sample bales, I chose 1 and sent a sample of strands pulled from inside and outside, to the lab.  If the results are what I'm looking for, then I'll buy 100 bales and will be able to recommend this as "good donkey hay" to others in the area.  If the results are wrong for us, then it will be back to the drawing board and the search will have to continue.

In the meantime, I have been soaking hay for both Siog and Dorica for over a week now - so far ... perfect poop!  So this may indeed have been Siog's problem.

This is hay from last year that I thought I'd consider instead of feeding straw this winter.  When I opened the bale, I see that it is almost 100% canary reed grass - not a bad thing in a mix of grasses but I wouldn't want to feed it by itself.  One thing you can test for:  if you twist a handful of hay, it should shatter.  If it makes a rope instead, this could happen in the donkey's belly and cause colic - not good!  This bale will go into my garden as mulch!

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