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Ask the Shepherd – How to Calculate Hay Usage


Sunset in Late Summer over the Green Mountains
Later Summer Sunset

When the crickets chirp all day in the grass, and the sun begins to set by eight o’clock in the evening, I know that fall is lurking just around the corner. By the beginning of September, I want my winter hay for the sheep in the barn, A common question that new shepherds often ask is, “How do you calculate hay usage?”

There are three questions you need to ask in order to estimate how much hay your sheep will consume in a winter:

1. Approximately how much does each sheep weigh?

2. How many sheep will you feed?

3. How many days will you feed hay?

The next step requires a little math. Take the amount each sheep weighs and multiply it by the number of sheep you will feed. This tells you how many pounds all of your sheep weigh together.

Filling the Hay Loft
Our New Hay Elevator

-each sheep weighs approximately 125 pounds x 10 sheep = 1250 pounds

Now multiply this number by how many days you will feed hay.

-1250 pounds (weight of all sheep combined)  x 210 days to feed hay = 262,500 pounds

In order to meet their nutritional needs, sheep eat, on average, about 4% of their body weight in dry matter each day. We feed only leafy second cut hay, which has a higher protein level than the first cutting from the field.  So now you need to multiply by .04.

-262,500 pounds  x .04 = 10,500 pounds of hay needed for the winter

Now divide the weight of each bale into the total amount of hay needed. If each hay bale weighs 40 pounds, then you will need 262 bales of hay.

10,500 / 40 pounds = 262.5 bales of hay needed for the winter

For further reading on hay usage and nutritional needs, check out these small farm friendly resources:

Shaltz Farm– provides easy to read information about raising sheep.

Oregon State University-offers resources and articles for small farms.

Winter Hay Usage at VT Grand View Farm

This year, we calculated that we will need approximately 13,000 pounds of hay to get us through our long Vermont winter. We feed hay from October until mid May. In the past we have shoved, heaved, and thrown all of our hay into the small hole leading up to our hay loft. The process took one person on the wagon kicking the bales off, one person carrying each bale to the barn, one poor soul lifting the 40 pound bale over their head and shoving it into the hay loft, and then one person in the loft, stacking the hay. That system worked for years, until our children grew up and left the farm, leaving just me and my husband to get the winter feed into the barn. So this summer, we purchased our first hay elevator! It is poised and ready for the hay wagon to arrive!

New Hay Elevator
Our New Hay Elevator

One Response

  1. Rose Marie

    You will love that hay elevator, trust me! We use more large round bales now and have become quite adept at peeling off hay to feed inside the barn in hay racks. Large bales require their own handling equipment, so it’s always a trade off when you feed hay.