I pretty much take what I do every day for granted, forgetting that what is habit to me and mine is a whole new world to others. Especially if they want to farm, or are longing to reconnect with their heritage, or are just plain curious about farmsteading in general. Many of the tasks I do every day are etched in my memory bank so deeply I don’t give them a second thought. So I thought maybe a post about the care of Jane’s winter quarters might be useful and timely. When people ask me about getting a milk cow, most questions center around the task of milking only. Not the barn cleaning part. What’s to know?
Well, actually a lot. Cleaning your milk cow’s sleeping quarters is as important as cleaning your milk bucket. It doesn’t matter if you have one dairy cow, or hundreds. Manure handling is an important and daily chore. Grazing season is a little different, Jane is outside day and night and only comes in for milking, but now she needs to be in at night just to get a chance to dry off and rest. It may not get cold here in the Pacific Northwest, but it rains most days from now until April. A cold, wet cow uses a lot of energy just to keep warm. Energy in the form of hay, that we have to make and haul in during the summer. Hard work I don’t want to waste.
Jane actually is a little spoiled. Well, a lot spoiled. But not really because she is Jane, it’s more because the design of this loafing shed just isn’t good for deep bedding like we use for the beef cows. Plus deep bedding is not what you want for a dairy cow anyway due to the size of their udder. Beef cows as a general rule don’t have pendulous udders that touch the ground when they lay down.
After Jane is milked and put out to pasture, the milk is processed, I eat breakfast, gulp down some more coffee and go out and do my barn chores. I get annoyed with myself if I leave this chore until afternoon. When it is time for evening milking I want to just go out and milk, so having the barn night-ready makes me feel better. This is about like washing dishes before you start to cook, it just goes easier. Having manure chores separate from milking chores is a wise thing to do.
My first order of business is to remove her water buckets so they won’t get manure or soiled bedding in them when I push the loaded wheelbarrow past them. If it’s raining I put them under the gutter on the implement shed. If it’s not I take them to the water trough for filling. Rain is nice, I don’t have to pack the buckets so far.
Jane is pretty good about making a little nest for sleeping in a clean area of the shed. I like this. If she doesn’t feel good she is apt to lay in her own poop. It’s not true of all cows I guess, but I have noticed that cow that are ill or slightly off tend to just not care where they lay down. Kind of like us when we have the flu, who cares if you comb your hair, you feel like crap. If your cow is chronically dirty, your cow area may be too small, or you’re not using enough bedding. It happens, but you basically don’t want to see manure on the cows. A clean udder makes my job much easier to produce clean milk. As it is, if Jane does have manure on her udder, I don’t keep the milk for the house. I still have to clean her and milk her, but it makes more sense for me to discard the milk. The chickens don’t mind a bit.
The loafing shed has a dirt/rock floor. In the summer we put down shavings, and I add straw to the top of that. The shavings absorb the urine and the straw is there mostly because I want this material for the gardens. Shavings are great if you can afford them, but the carbon to nitrogen ratio is too high for garden compost, unless you have years to wait for it to break down. It’s good to note here too, that shavings or sawdust on top the ground is a good fertilizer, but since I am tilling this material in and basically burying the shavings before they could break down, using straight shavings isn’t the best for my garden situation. It’s also good to note too on the cow side that the shavings must be kiln-dried or you run the risk of Klebsiella bacteria possibly causing mastitis.
Like any other chore the right tools make the job go easier. I have a dedicated manure wheelbarrow, and a five tined manure fork. The handle is so smooth you wouldn’t believe it, a testament to how much I have used it. This old post about barn forks explains a little more of the hows and whys of pitchforks.
When we built this loafing shed for feeding we didn’t do deep bedding and these feeder panels are fixed in place. We tried to deep bed once, and what a fiasco to clean since we have end walls on this barn. The feeder gate spacing is a pain too, just ask Jane. I look forward to the day this whole thing is cut apart and gone and we can replace it with something that works better.
Of course, you must have quality control with barn cats and calves.
After picking the stall, I have to bed it with fresh straw. Cut the twine at the knot and cover all the soiled areas in the stall with fresh straw. I have handled so many bales of hay in my lifetime that if the knots are down I can flip the bale with a flick of my wrists before you could blink an eye. And I always have my knife in my pocket.
After bedding, I add Jane’s hay and we’re good to go until the next morning.
I know this makes it seem cumbersome to clean up after a cow, but to tell the truth I don’t have to think about most of it, like where to fill the buckets, or cutting the twine at the knot for recycling. It actually took me longer to take the photos than the actual chore of cleaning up after Jane. But I think this chore is probably the most important ten minutes of my day.