September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Grazing reduces purchased feed for goats
Crawford County Extension Agriculture Agent Vance Haugen talked about alternative feeding options during the recent Focus on Goats conference at Platteville, Wis.
He noted that in 2010, dairy goat enterprise budgets found that forage made up 28 percent of a typical dairy goat farm's cash costs. That was with forage dry matter valued at $100 a ton.
Dairy goat budgets from the same year also showed that grain mixes comprised an even larger percentage of a dairy goat operation's cash costs. Grain mix, Haugen said, made up 35 percent - more than a third - of the cash costs. That was with the grain costing nine cents a pound.
"Hay isn't cheap," Haugen said. He reviewed the upward trend bales of alfalfa hay in the Upper Midwest have been on since at least 2008.
Six years ago, that kind of hay hit a low of roughly $120 per ton. It peaked at just under $160 a ton.
Hay prices shot sharply higher in 2011. In November and December that year, they rose above $180 a ton.
The next year - the drought year of 2012 - boosted prices even more. They finished the year at just above $240 a ton.
And last year, prices rose again. They started 2013 at $240 a ton but jumped $20 in May, before dropping to below $200 at year's end.
Looking at a longer time span, Haugen noted that hay prices have more than doubled since 2000. Fourteen years ago, all hay averaged about $80 a ton. The average rose to $90 by 2004, and was up to roughly $125 in 2008. Four years later, in 2012, all hay averaged nearly $200 per ton.
Contributing to the price increases in Wisconsin has been diminishing acreage devoted to alfalfa hay. In 2004, Badger State growers produced some four million tons of alfalfa hay from 1.6 million acres.
But during 2012 - a year marked by drought - Wisconsin produced just 2.5 million tons from a little more than a million acres. That, Haugen said, was the lowest production and smallest acreage since 1966.
Acreage and production did rebound a bit last year. Wisconsin farmers harvested close to three million tons from about 1.1 million acres.
By the way, Haugen noted, alfalfa accounts for about 70 to 80 percent of Wisconsin's total hay acreage. Alfalfa also accounts for about 85 percent of the state's hay production.
Looking at the U.S. as a whole, alfalfa hay acreage and production have also been declining. In 2004, U.S. farmers grew 22 million acres of alfalfa hay that produced 70 million tons.
As of 2013, the acreage stood at 17.5 million acres. That land produced roughly 58 million tons.
Nationwide, Haugen said, 30 to 35 percent of the hay acreage is alfalfa. And about 43 percent of the U.S. hay produced is alfalfa.
There is a way for dairy goat farmers to trim the amount of forage they buy.
"Grazing well-managed paddocks can reduce your purchased forage and grain mix by half," Haugen said.
But grazing doesn't come without costs. Fences are required.
A fence made of two strands of electric polywire and intended for interior use (inside a stout perimeter fence), will cost about 4.5 cents a foot, Haugen said. That figure includes posts, wire, insulators, an energizer, and labor.
The cost is higher for five strands of high-tensile perimeter fence. There, the total comes to 89 cents a foot, Haugen said.
Grazing goats can yield other benefits besides lower feed costs. Goats can be healthier on pasture, and their temperaments might improve. Plus, there's less manure to haul, Haugen said.
Haugen gave the example of a family in southwest Wisconsin that has been milking goats three years. In 2013, this family grazed 225 goats and 18 lightweight steers on 22 acres in fenced paddocks. Haugen said managed grazing has let the family cut in half the amount of hay it buys.