One of the biggest challenges we faced while building our miniature Nigerian Dwarf dairy goat herd was trying to find the ultimate hay feeder. We went through a bunch of trial and error the first year, and finally came up with a year-round design that works really well for us and our herd, and saves a lot of time and hay costs.
You can’t just buy a cattle or horse hay ring and adapt it for goats… especially for miniature goats. Goats need to be eating their hay at a particular angle (up and with their throats extended) for healthy eating habits. Aside from that, the following was our list of challenges for the design:
- Mobility: our goats are rotated on fresh pasture year round and the feeder needed to be on skids for easy towing
- Jump-proof: Goats can jump really high. Yup. The last thing you want is for the goat to decide the hay bin looks like a bed as they will get in the feeder and foul the hay.
- Choke-proof: The slats needed to be the right size so no one gets their head stuck
- Weather-proof: There needed to be a “roof” that could shelter the hay from heat, rain, snow, dew, etc.
- Removable roof: The roof needed to be light enough to quickly remove / reset for top hay loading
- Hay bale flexibility: We never know how we will be getting our top quality non-GMO hay from season to season. The feeder had to be able to handle square bales, 3x3x8 bales, and 4×5 or 5×5 round bales with equal ease
- Ground level clearance: The space from ground to the bottom of the feeder needed to be “just right” for babies to feed, as well as to keep the ground clean and minimize pest or parasite collection areas
- Top height clearance: The space from the ground to the roof had to be “just right” for the largest goat to be standing on hind legs and not be nibbling on the roof instead of the hay (yes, goats do that too).
- Foul weather feeding: Anyone who has been around goats knows they get hysterical when they get wet, but hate to be trapped inside a shelter. If it is raining for days, feeding becomes a challenge when pastured. The design would ultimately accommodate feeding even when raining.
- Maximized eating area: the vision was to allow 12+ goats to eat happily around 1 feeder without butting each other to get a space. The linear feet of eating area was very important.
- Minimize wasted hay: If you have no way to grow your own hay, hay is very expensive. The design had to take waste into consideration, as goats will not eat hay that has fallen on the ground.
With this design, we also came up with some bonuses!
- The goats LOVE sleeping under this, even when it is sub-freezing cold outside. It probably has to do with the warmth of the hay layer above them, and the straw/hay layer below
- It allows the goats to hang around outside even when it is raining
- Some of our goats love this so much they have kidded under it
- It is the social center of the goat area
- Fighting / butting is kept to a minimum due to space
- It takes just a few minutes a week to put a fresh layer of straw or hay under it (so the ground is not fouled). This is similar to a deep litter method.
- The used hay for composting is in a nice pile when the feeder is moved
- The way the tarped roof is structured allows snow slide to go way away from any goats that may be under it when it falls
- Ice has a hard time not sliding off the roof right away when the sun comes out
- The roof dries quickly
- The wind is directed through and around the roof, so there is no issue with the tarp fraying
- Kids and moms can eat at the same time
Do you have any ideas that can improve this design? We and our readers would love to hear them, so please comment! We have built 3 so far as our herd expands, and try to improve the design with each version.