Like a walk through the country side living on a small farm is full of daily surprises, sometimes wonderful and amazing, and other times puzzling and sad. I hope you will walk with me as I live out my dream of living on this tiny farm. You will come to know the dogs, cats, Shetland sheep and chickens that make up this farm and what goes into keeping them happy and healthy. Come and join the journey with me.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Feeding Hay

As those of you who have sheep know, feeding hay and keeping fleeces as clean as possible is an ongoing challange. There is also the factor of keeping wasted hay to a minimum---difficult to do as the sheep seem to enjoy stomping and romping on hay about as much as they enjoy eating it! I would love to have a better hay feeding system, but practicality usually wins out over cleanliness. Most of the winter I feed big round bales with a 16 foot cattle panel wrapped around it and wired in place. The bale is turned on its end and a tarp is wired over the top to keep out the rain. I've cut several 8 inch holes in the middle of the panel to accomodate the larger dorset heads. This works quite well and keeps wastage down--the biggest drawback is as the sheep eat the outer part of the bale, eventually they aren't able to reach the core. Then I have to pull out bits of hay from the core and spread it around where they can reach it thru the panel. When the bale is over 3/4 gone, then I will remove the wire panel and let them clean up the rest of it. However they do manage to heavily contaminate the neck and part of the back area of the fleece with this arrangement--its amazing how far they can stick their necks in there and fill it full of hay! Since I work full time away from the home, this system works well for me.

Now, what these pictures show is another 'part-time' system I use. This system uses small square bales. Its actually called a "Grate Bale Box Feeder", and I bought the kit several years ago. You can (or could) buy the plans, plus the metal parts. I built the frame out of old 2 x 4's and some new 2 x 6's and it cost under $45 for the lumber. I attached a (very flimsy) old piece of plywood on top to shelter it somewhat. There are two long metal rods that you screw into the bottom of the feeder and leave pointing straight up. When you 'load' the square bale into the feeder you throw it onto the rods and they pierce the bale. Then you lay the 'grate' over the top of the bale with the metal holes aligned over the rods. There are clips to keep the grate in place. (The clips come with small chains attached. I found out why last year when I used it in one of the breeding pens. "Someone" had very adroit lips and kept pulling the latch pins off and dropping them on the ground. I ended up nailing the chain to the side of the feeder to keep from losing the pins..) The idea is--as the sheep eat the hay, the grate sinks down--there is very little waste, and the sheepies can't get in, play on top or otherwise soil the bale. This works really great if you have 5 or less sheep. A bale of good quality hay will last them almost a week. However if you have more than that, (say ten) you'll find yourself loading it every other day. Which is a pain. I had the brillant idea to set it up for the girls and Redford in the breeding pen---they were totally thrilled and I was totally dismayed when a day later they had eaten every scrap of hay. Also you have to be careful using this feeder for the horned rams. It would be easy for one to catch a horn in it and be at the mercy of the other rams. I kept a very close eye on Redford while I had it in the pen, and he didn't have any problems, except when the bale got almost ate up, then he couldn't reach it.

Plan B with the breeding pen was a big round bale w/out the cattle panel around it (fearing Redford would get caught up in it), with a long canvas strap tie down, cinched around the top and a tarp over that. This worked great for about 4 days, until they ate so much around the edges, the bale toppled over (this was a rather small bale, I wouldn't have let a bigger bale get to this point). Once the bale went over, I removed the tarp and it was trompled and destroyed in about a day. (Can you tell they are bored?) They are now reluctantly working on cleaning up some of this hay.

I would love to have some ideas on feeding the ram flock. Right now, I toss over several flakes of hay per day, being careful not to throw over their backs. They waste alot of it. Somewhere I saw a solid plywood type feeder that had little slots at the bottom for the hay to come out. I need something where getting a horn caught up is not a danger. I have seen several other good ideas for feeders on a couple of other blogs this week, and appreciate all ideas and seeing what works for others.

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