I used hay to mulch my garden, so I know hay isn’t cheap. When it gets wet, it doesn’t take long for it to get moldy, so several bales can be ruined quickly and become nothing more than compost. As I’m currently learning everything I can about goats, I was wondering if it was okay to feed them wet hay. So, what happens if the hay has only been wet for a short time? Can you still feed it to your goats?
If it’s been less than 24 hours, wet hay can be fed to goats. Any longer and it starts to grow mold and becomes toxic. However, even within the 24-hour window, some goats are picky and won’t eat the wet hay. If this happens, and if it’s still within this time frame, you can set the hay out to dry.
So, what else can you do if hay gets wet? How exactly can it be dried? Let’s take a further look.
What Happens if Hay Gets Wet?
Hay has already lost some of its nutrients when it’s dried, so when it gets wet, even more nutrients can leech out. It will need to be dried properly before feeding. Sometimes goats will eat wet hay, but they have been known to refuse it. If it’s freshly wet hay, and the goats will have it, it’s okay to feed. But what actually happens to the hay when it gets wet?
When hay gets wet, it can absorb water and start to ferment. The water ferments the hay, breaking it down into sugar, which begins to feed bacteria and fungus. If hay is wet for too long, the bacteria and fungus can spread through most of the bale.
If you store grains next to the hay, and they become wet too, they usually can’t be saved by drying. The grains will usually stay soaked and start fermenting and spoiling at a much faster rate. Hay is a bit different and can be saved if you act quickly.
What Happens if Goats Eat Spoiled Hay?
If goats do eat spoiled hay, their digestive system can be affected by the bacteria and mold. This can result in bloating and sickness. One of the only livestock that can eat wet and fermented hay are cows (however, it needs to be properly processed first).
For best results, if you know your hay is growing mold or isn’t suitable to feed to your goats, use it as compost instead. It will likely save you the headache of having to deal with a sick goat.
How to Dry Wet Hay
If your hay has been wet for less than 24-hours and has more than just a light sprinkling of water on top, then drying it could help save the bale. Of course, drying it depends on how tightly it’s baled and how soaked it is. Tighter bales have more water-resistance and can be saved more often. So, how do you get started drying hay?
Hay is water-resistant and is hard to get wet, but if it does get soaked, you can dry it by turning the bale over every couple hours or split it to dry out the center. If it’s been over 24 hours, then the hay might be moldy and would be best used as compost.
If your bales are soaked through, the first thing to do is move them to a dry area and space the bales out. They should not be stacked on one another. The water will simply drip off of one onto the other. Secondly, they should be off the ground to avoid the water from accumulating. From there you can either rotate them until they dry, or split them open if they’re soaked too far through.
To dry your hay by splitting, take your hay bale outside when the ground is dry and open it up over the grass. If you’d like to keep the shape of the bale, you can cut the top of the strings and let it fall open.
If the split bale is really wet, spread the hay out so that the layers are thin enough to dry. Depending on the weather, and how soaked it is, it can take several hours to dry. Having a warm climate and a lot of sunlight can help speed the process up and dry the hay within a couple hours.
What to Do With Wet Hay (That Can’t Be Saved)
If your hay has been wet for over 24 hours (or your goats won’t eat it) you have a few options. You can try composting, mulching, or selling it to a cattle farmer. They might be able to use it as silage (fermented hay) for their cattle.
Before composting and mulching the hay, make sure to check that it doesn’t have pesticides or herbicides. This could damage your garden (and the animals’ health) and take many years to get out of the soil.
If your hay is constantly getting wet or rained on, consider moving it to another location or building dry storage. You may need to add some shelving inside your barn to elevate it from the ground and keep away from livestock. Remember to build the shelving to allow water to escape if possible. This can usually be done by using a mesh bottom to the shelf and spacing out the bales.
Stack bales in a way that water runoff doesn’t drip onto the others. If this happens, one wet bale can easily become five. To make sure there’s proper ventilation, keep at least one foot of space between the bales.
To see how to best work with hay that’s rained on, check out this video by SSLFamilyDad.
If your hay gets rained on or soaked some other way, you can usually save it if you act quick enough. Some water will run off of the tops of tightly-packed bales, but if it sits long enough, it will soak to the center.
With only a little water in the bale, rotating is probably your best option. However, if there’s a good volume of water, then splitting it open and laying it out to dry is the best bet. But who knows, if you have newly wet hay, your goats might actually end up eating most, or if you’re lucky–all of it.