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Bale Grazing Sheep and Goats | Q&A Session

All things raising, grazing, and marketing meat goats.

On this week’s Q&A session I’m answering your questions about bale grazing sheep and goats including where you can bale graze in your pasture, how to manage the quality of hay while bale grazing, and how long it takes to see results.

Watch the Q&A session here:

Q: Can you only bale graze on areas with bare soil?

A: No! You can bale graze anywhere that’s a good fit. We focus on areas of bare soil that are somewhat wispy and need extra nutrient support so that we can create optimal soil health.

Bale grazing in these areas helps to build up an armor to maintain temperature (especially in the winter), help with soil erosion, and foster the development of soil microbes underground while there are living plants on top. 

Q: How long does it take to see results?

A: In general, it only takes one season. In our case, since we’re bale grazing this winter over bare soil and essentially starting from scratch, it will likely take us a bit longer to see results.

In other areas of our pasture we have seen almost immediate results just by looking at water infiltration ability and then the more obvious signs of green growth.

Q: Do you spread the residue in the spring or do the sheep and goats clean it all up?

A: In most cases we will have our sheep and goats eat the residue. Once the bales get down to a certain size we’ll take the feeders off and they’ll continue to eat the bale down, residue included.

If what remains is particularly thick we’ll take the tractor bucket and spread it out so that it doesn’t overwhelm one particular spot in the pasture with growth.

Q: Do you worry about your goats being away from shelter and water in the cold temps?

A: Our sheep and goats have access to our main barn with nearby frost-free waterers, we just like to feed them out in the pasture so that they get extra exercise going back and forth.

The sheep tend to be hardier in that they don’t mind being outside as much as the goats, but the goats are happy to spend time away from the barn on sunnier days, even if it’s chilly out.

Each section of pasture has three-sided shelters and frost-free waterers so that there are areas where they can stay dry, get out of the wind, and stay hydrated when and if they need it. 

Q: How well do the bales last in the elements?

A: Here in Wisconsin, when it gets cold enough, it actually stays pretty dry so even when there’s snow, the top of the bale will hold the snow and prevent it from soaking in and spoiling the rest.

Q: How do you manage the quality of the hay while bale grazing?

A: One of things that we do to manage the quality of the hay outside, especially when rain is in the picture, is consider the positioning of the bales. We place rolled bales on their side because then the water will shed off to the sides instead of pooling on top and soaking in.

Because we store our bales outside, there’s naturally a layer on top that isn’t as good of quality as what’s on the inside but that’s part of the curing process of having round bales and when you store them outside.

That same outer layer protects the hay inside. We also leave the twine on to maintain the integrity of the bale and cut pieces as the sheep and goats eat the bale down.

Q: Where do you get your bale feeders?

A: We like these particular bale feeders because they have a narrow opening where the sheep and goats can easily stick their noses in to eat but they can’t pull out big chunks of hay, which means much less hay waste! 

Learn more about goat hay feeders and our favorite feeder styles in this post.

Q: Will you harrow it in the spring?

A: We don’t have a harrow right now, but we’ll use the bucket tractor to spread the residue around if it’s particularly thick and the sheep and goats aren’t able to clean it all up.

Q: Does bale grazing increase the risk of parasites with sheep and goats?

A: Bale grazing, when done on the ground (and not in a raised feeder) does have the potential to increase parasite issues with goats and sheep.

It’s also important to consider the time of year you plan to bale graze. During the winter parasite loads are greatly reduced, as compared to when it warms up in the spring and the transition into fall.

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