Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The art of feeding cows

Have you ever stood in a pasture and listened to cows munching on hay?  If not, you have missed listening to SATISFACTION!  Yes, if there is a sound associated with satisfaction, munching cows does a far better job of capturing it than anything I can think of.   One would think that feeding cows would be pretty straightforward - just get the hay in the general proximity of the cows, they will find it and they will eat it.  But there is really an art to feeding them.

The girls get pretty restless after milking at this time of year, when they are not turned out onto a lush pasture, but one that they have already nibbled down to the nubs.  No grass treat awaits them in the pastures now.  So we are feeding four bales of hay each night.  They are creatures of habit, and they know that after they do their daily stint in the barn, it is time for the hay!  Blackie moos incessantly until the hay arrives.  Tonight I got tired of listening to her bellow, so I went down to the pasture with an armful of kale, which she and Rosie just love.  Quattro is getting a taste for it, too.  Those three ran to the fence and started grabbing mouthfuls of it from my hands.  Rosie is the pushiest, and she kept taking it away from Blackie, I mean tearing it right out of her mouth.  Shame on her!

Then Erin started down the path with the hay.  To hell with the kale - here comes the good stuff!  They all crowded around, and getting that first bale opened and into the paddock was a real trial.  Once their heads are down and they are stuffing their mouths, then opening the other three bales and laying them out in the proper pattern is a piece of cake.

We used to sprinkle the hay out in a big circle.  We were told to do that, so that the bits of seed in the hay would fall to the ground and improve our pastures.  Of course you would want to spread it out over a large area.  Two thing are wrong with that.  First, I didn't see any improvement in the pastures where the hay was thrown.  In fact, it tended to kill out the grass, and where we fed a lot of hay last year, we got a mighty fine crop of lamb's quarter, but no alfalfa.  The second thing is that if they are standing on the hay to eat it - which they will do if it is sprinkled out in a big circle - then they will poop on the hay.  And once they poop on the hay, they will not touch it, nor will they touch any hay within a foot of that cow pie.  So a lot of hay was going to waste.  At a price of $225 to $300 per ton, that is not a good thing.

The square 50 pound bales we are feeding at this time of year break up into pads of hay that are about 2' x 2' x 6" thick, and we call those "flakes."  (They are called "square bales," but obviously they are rectangular,  not square.)  Anyway, there are about 15 of these flakes in a bale.  I looked over the situation and thought about what pattern would prevent them from defecating on the hay.  I tried lining up these flakes, one after another, in a straight row.  The row was two feet wide and about 30 feet long.  Voila!  It worked!  The cows line up on either side of these rows, heads down, munching away, and most importantly with their rear parts AWAY from the line of hay.  They clean up most of it, and I have yet to find a cow pie on any of the rows.  Experience is the best teacher, don't you think?

Tonight, after Erin and I got the first bale broken apart and put into some semblance of a line, I got to listen to the sound of SATISFACTION as the cows munched away on their supper.  It is a peaceful way to end the day.

Chickens are satisfied, too.  The escapees made it back into the pen tonight, and 15 chickens are at roost.

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