Every winter we feed our goats and sheep by bale grazing in our pastures, by feeding round bales of hay outside directly on the ground. I’m always impressed with how quickly I can see bale grazing results with goats just from one season.
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Actually see the bale grazing results in a video
I recently was setting up a paddock to move our goats and sheep and had to stop and look at the results of last winter’s bale grazing. It was very noticeable where we fed round bales of hay. In the video below I walk through and show the differences between the areas where we bale grazed and areas that weren’t. There is a noticeable visual difference.
What is bale grazing?
Bale grazing is simply feeding round bales of hay on a pasture, or even field, during the winter time. Typically bales are fed in two ways
- Unrolled all at once, or
- Fed directly from the bale intact
Then the bale residue is left on the ground where the bale was fed. If the residue is thick, it can be spread out in the spring. Often this isn’t necessary.
How it works to feed hay this way in the winter
With bale grazing sheep and goats I have found that unrolling doesn’t work well for us for a few reasons. Our small ruminants just don’t eat through a bale unrolled that fast before they start peeing and pooping on it. And, the other reason is to avoid health issues from eating hay on the ground.
We bale graze from the whole round bale left intact. I also like to feed with a bale feeder instead of a free standing bale. This is to avoid excessive hay waste. And, minimize the bale collapsing on any animals as it starts to get eaten down.
We use a four-sided collapsible panel style feeder to bale graze our sheep and goats. The manufacture we originally purchased them from is no longer making them, so I’d recommend getting a similar style from Lakeland Farm and Ranch Direct. I have several friends locally who have Lakeland equipment for their sheep and goats and they really speak highly of the quality. You can find their bale feeder here.
These style feeders are easy to move by hand, or you can slide them on the bale spears on your tractor to move multiple panels at once. I also PREFER having the hay on the ground so you get the BENEFITS of bale grazing and it’s also easier for smaller animals to access the hay.
Benefits for soil health and pasture quality
So what are the benefits of bale grazing? Here’s what you can visibly see after a season of bale grazing:
- Increased plant density for more soil armor, less exposed soil
- Increased plat diversity from seeds left from the bale residue and the existing native seed bed
- Moisture retention – this last year we almost reach drought conditions and these areas were more lush than other areas of our pastures
- Increased organic matter
- Increased carbon building
- Added fertilizer from the sheep and goats manure and urine
In the future I would like to do more analysis of the differences between our bale grazed areas and those not. I’d take a look at soil samples, water infiltration, shovel comparison of soil aggregates and soil temperature.
Throughout winter I’ll continue to share more about bale grazing.
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