When there is insufficient pasture for livestock, alternative feeds must be provided. The most common of these is hay. Other common supplements include concentrate pellets and grain.
How much hay should I feed?
When it comes to feeding hay, there is a useful rule of thumb. Most grazing animals require the equivalent of about 2% of their body weight in good quality hay daily, eg a 250 kg cattle-beast or pony requires at least 5 kg or a quarter of a small bale of good quality meadow hay daily. A horse weighing 500 kg will require 10 kg or about half a bale of hay a day.
However, some types of livestock (see next paragraph) require more than this basic maintenance ration. If the hay is of poor quality or if some are lost by being trampled, then more should be given accordingly.
Young growing animals and old animals require extra feed such as concentrates as well as hay in order to provide the energy and protein they need. So too do animals that are lactating or pregnant. Animals that are in poor body condition also benefit from supplementary concentrate feed, and horses in work need extra rations to maintain their body weight.
Good quality feed is important.
Mould and fungus growing in hay, silage or grain can cause a range of problems. The feed becomes unpalatable, and if stock are forced to eat it they may abort, or develop diarrhoea or ill-thrift.
Introduce a new feed gradually
Silage, concentrates, and more unusual types of feed should be introduced to the diet over a period of time. This is especially true of silage because of its acidity, and of concentrates because of their high carbohydrate content.
Any new foods should at first be offered in small daily amounts, gradually increasing to the full ration over a period of one to three weeks. This is called preconditioning. Feed must be spread out so that shy feeders get a chance to eat and greedy individuals don’t gorge.
Apples, potatoes, corn waste, and other chunky foods can be hazardous because hungry stock may choke. Too much of any new food too soon can result in bloat, rumen overload, or some other type of indigestion. Some vegetable waste is simply not sufficiently nutritious on its own and it should be fed in conjunction with more nutritious feeds.
Grain should be fed with roughage such as pasture, stubble hay, or straw and not as the sole diet. For sheep, only about 50 gm grain should be offered for each of the first 10 days, spreading it out in a long line to give all the sheep the chance to eat it. Oats are probably less likely to cause problems than wheat, which requires a more prolonged period of preconditioning.
It is important to remember that water must always be available to help keep the digestive system healthy, even in winter. This is particularly important if dry foods like hay or concentrates are being fed.