Maine’s 2 seasons: Winter and preparing for winter

As I sit down to write this second article in a series of three on winter operations in Northern Maine, focused on feed and forage, the leaves are just starting to turn as the cool weather begins to roll in at night. Still warm during the daytime. Quite enjoyable weather. Before long though, winter will be in full swing. For us, full swing means I will be in the tractor at least a handful of times, maybe as many as two handfuls, snow blowing around the barns so we can feed out that prized hay to our herd.

The saying goes something like there are only two seasons in

Maine: Winter and preparing for Winter. So, with that, my mind for at least a few months has been on feed during the upcoming Winter. I am still at that point where I am open to ideas, exploring differ- ent approaches, not settled on the idea that there is any one right way of feeding our herd during the winter months. My wife says I like to dream up new projects but really it is me just trying to refine my ap- proach to be the most efficient or to get the most out of our herd. And in the case of winter forage, making sure that the herd will have the feed it needs to thrive during the winter months.

There are three main areas that

I consider as I am preparing for feeding hay during the colder months: herd numbers, human help and the actual hay. How many head will I be feeding? Will I have any help feeding out the hay and keeping the open-air barn tidy? Well, I can answer this one quickly. Our grown children are mostly moved out so that leaves it to the wife and me.

What type of hay will I have access to? Price and quality? And how or where will I store the hay?

These are all questions that need to be answered during the planning process. If you wait, you will likely be caught with your pants down and end up with a shortage or paying through the nose for hay — neither of which are great options to deal with in the dead of a Maine winter. Let’s start with how many head of goats we will be feeding dur-

ing the winter. Of course your herd size will be different. Maybe larger or maybe smaller but one way or the other, size does matter and you need this information to evaluate how much hay you are going to need and where to put it. Or maybe you don’t store it yourself. That is another consid-

eration. There are some farmers that will allow you to store the hay with them and buy as you need it — gentlemens’ or ladies’ agree- ment that you will buy all of what you said you would buy.

22 Goat Rancher | October 2021


Of course, the flip side could be a concern as well. You wouldn’t want the farmer that is storing your hay to sell it out from under you to someone willing to pay a higher price. Had that happen before! I wouldn’t consider our herd to be large. Our herd is right sized for the market we are catering to and the size I want to monitor and maintain during the winter months, which is no more than about 25 goats.

During the summer months that triples or maybe even a shy more — about 18 breeding does, a few doelings kept as replacement stock, a herd sire and maybe a teaser buck that I might keep if he con- tinues to mature and show signs of being a great sire, or he may end up being processed for USDA-certified goat meat. With our winter herd size de- termined, now I can start planning my hay consumption. Recently, I met a very knowl- edgeable gent in the area of agroe- conomics, lacking a bit on goat-etiquette, he did have one pros- elytizing point: “You’re not a goat farmer, you’re a grass farmer.”

Ranching in northern Maine has its special challenges in winter.

The focus being that if your forage is optimum your goats will stay healthy and put on weight like

college freshmen. Here in Maine (and most of the northern U.S.) for- age is difficult to come by in the dead of Winter — even late Fall and early Spring — so you are left with feeding hay during those colder months.

Then what mix of hay is right for your herd to maintain good body condition? In many ways, it is determined by who you buy your hay from. In Maine, at least in our area, the quality of hay isn’t great. At best I am able to get about 8% protein. That is enough to keep the rumen going but not enough to gain or even maintain weight in a cold climate. We are forced to supplement or find better hay. Let’s add one more consideration to the mix: Price. In this area, hay is relatively inexpensive. However, that also means farmers are less likely to improve the quality of the hay because their Return on Investment is super low.

My options, there may be more, include working with a hay broker to bring in hay from another state or even Canada. Continue to buy locally, within 5-10 miles. Travel myself up north to get hay. Of course, I need a good trailer for that, or I can hay myself. The last one isn’t in the cards, at least not right now. Too many other balls being juggled at this point.

If I have it shipped in from a hay broker the quality is through the roof — 18-20% protein and a moisture content less than 10%.

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