We find ourselves in a bit of a quandary this year, for the first time ever really, over the availability of local hay for our goats. For all years past, we have fed primarily pea hay plus western WA alfalfa, supplemented with grass hay. All of our animals have 24/7/365 pasture access on a great grass blend that works well for us and our soils. Our climate is moderate and the pastures remain green all year.
For 2010 however, we have NO pea hay in our valley. This was a near-perfect goat food: it was affordable and it made an excellent use for a food crop by-product. The peas were harvested for the frozen food market and “our” young farmer, Charlie Lundgren, found the fields, baled the hay, and kept us well-supplied. The peas were a nitrogen fixing crop to follow potatoes, so that helped restore the land. It was win:win as far as I could see. We are seriously mourning the loss of this food which helped meet the needs of so many.
The peas loss came with some warning. I went to the local ag extension office to try to proactively look for a solution. We have land and I was willing to test crop and risk share possible alternatives. I sadly met with no help. Being a “woman” in dairy, with goats no less, I am seldom included in any of their discussions. That is another topic and I don’t lose any sleep over it. I take solace in believing I am doing the right thing, for the right reasons, for the right people. That is all I need.
Enter 2010 again…..the coldest, wettest Spring in a long time. Hay fields were wet and growth started poorly state wide. This, in turn, affected the alfalfa crop in western WA, whom we also depend on. Our goats MUST have alfalfa for the calcium and protein. These are relatively high producing dairy does and we carefully meet their nutritional needs to support their continued excellent health, production, and milk flavor.
In a perfect world, the goats would have a large wooded area to browse in, but we had the farm before the goats, so we get to work with what we have.
Fearing a loss of decent, affordable (?) alfalfa, we were able to secure a full semi truck load of 5th cutting alfalfa from the 2009 fall harvest. This is beautiful hay and we were lucky to get it. At this same time, the potato crop on “our front 20 acres” failed due to the cold and rain. We took this opportunity to go ahead and get some pasture/hay grass planted. Grass hay is what we will now use to feed the bucks entirely and to the girls as a supplement to the alfalfa. So, on July 2nd, we planted, and it has not rained since. The week of July 2nd saw a $10,000.00 hay bill!!!!! Now, we will begin looking into the grass “remedy”..more $$$$$$$$$$$. These are unanticipated costs and hit hard. We still believe our goats deserve the BEST and if we cannot give them that, I will quit.
The alfalfa we got is premium dairy hay. Each bale is 3 ft x 5 ft and weighs 1300 lbs!!!! Not our norm by any wildest thought. We are working this out too. I am being forced to learn way more than I wanted to about the business of hay. We have helped support the same young hay farmer for many years now, and our families have enjoyed getting to know each other. We continue working together on solutions.
These costs don’t get passed on to the consumer now. Hopefully over time it balances out.
On the bright side, we have 30.5 tons of great alfalfa which should last a year. Our does are producing beautifully on it, and the milk tastes great-which of course translates to the cheese.
Y’all do know you can’t make good cheese from bad milk right? You can screw up good milk and make bad cheese, but you can’t fix bad milk. Our sweet, fresh, delicious milk is the key to all we do around here.
Thank you for your support as we weather 2010.