As a livestock owner who needs to buy fodder for your animals in the winter, what do you look for to ensure the best quality for your money, and fodder that is fresh and dry, free of debris such as twigs, leaves and stones, dust, rubbish, and weeds? And if second-grade fodder is all that is available to you, or is all that you can afford, what can you do to ensure that it is palatable and safe for your animals?

Look before you buy fodder

At first glance bales can be deceptive, and it is not the exterior of a bale that should interest you, but what’s inside. The best way to judge what is in a bale is to plunge your hand as deep into it as possible and yank out a small handful. If, as you pull it out your handful gives off a cloud of white, grey or black dust, chances are the contents are mouldy and will make your livestock ill, because the white, grey or dark cloud contains mould spores. These bales should be rejected.

If the dust that flies out is red or orange, the grass is dusty, and this can, to an extent and with a bit of effort, be dealt with. If you pull out a handful of weed instead of grass, try again elsewhere in the same bale, or move on to another one. One or two weeds in an average bale are inevitable and in most cases the animals will eat around them. Too many, however, and you’re simply wasting money because your animals will be rejecting a lot of what you have paid for. There is also the danger, of course, that your animals could ingest a weed that is dangerous or potentially fatal, so bales containing weeds should, if possible be rejected.

Bales containing debris such as twigs, stones and rubbish should also, if possible, be rejected because of the wastage and danger that an animal may inadvertently swallow something detrimental.

With the older-style small square bales, and with bales from mini-round balers, the hand-plunging test works well. It is less accurate on the jumbo bales and large round bales.

It is also important to know how the bale was stored before you came to look at it. Briefly, the best storage, without doubt, is off the ground (eg on pallets) in a barn. Next best, because of the danger of sweating, is under a tarpaulin. Lastly, bales stored outside, or exposed to the sun will be the worst of the lot, at least on their outer sides. This is particularly true of lucerne, which becomes brown and overly brittle very quickly when exposed to sunlight.

Using fodder

There is a simple solution to rendering dusty (but not mouldy) hay palatable to livestock, and that is to wash it clean before feeding it. This is best achieved by breaking the bale open, and plunging the grass into a bath, or half-drum, of water, swilling it about, and shaking it out of excess water before stuffing it into your haynets and feeding it immediately.

Mixing lucerne with poor quality fodder will make it more palatable.

Don’t let it stand around for more than a few hours or it will start to go mouldy. And if you dilute a good dollop of liquid molasses into your wash water you will render even the driest fodder very palatable to most animals. Throw the wash water out every couple of days, however, because it will be full of fine mud at the bottom, and the molasses mixture, if you use it, will begin to ferment. The disadvantage of the molasses method is that your wash bath and surrounds will attract flies. By the thousand… You can also make poor fodder more palatable by mixing in a few handfuls of lucerne before feeding.

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