Skip to content

Sacrificing the sacrifice area

February 28, 2009


As we made the move to rotational grazing from continuous grazing, we realized that our practice of taking the feed to the cows every day in the field needed to change.  We wintered our cows outside and fed in a clean area of pasture every day.  We used a lot of fuel, cut some decent size ruts in the driveways and generally fed a lot of hay.  The upside of this was the convenience of not cleaning the barn, the cows stayed perfectly clean, we spread good seed on poorer ground,  and mostly the convenience was just in not having to think about the chore at all.

We knew we needed to rest the pastures, but were unsure of how to achieve this.  The norm for feeding cattle inside around here is a concrete floor that is easily cleaned out daily or whenever the farmer gets around to it.  We didn’t want concrete or any barn cleaning chores that required daily equipment.  Enter Joel Salatin with his deep bedded feeding shed for wintering his cattle.   It basically works by bedding the cattle daily in a covered shed or barn and as the bedding gets deeper, the head-gate where the cattle eat, is raised to accommodate the bedding build-up.   A small area outside the barn is cordoned off, and this is called a sacrifice area, and it gets sacrificed.  Read ruined for growing grass.  But this keeps the animals off the land during the wet season, and in all farming endeavors you have trade-offs.  Most of the land is protected and a small amount is ruined.

We have one shed with a movable head-gate and one with a fixed head-gate.  In my lottery dreams I have my dream barn designed after 8 years of feeding this way.  Being short on money and skeptical we adapted Joel’s design to our existing barns.  Some things we like about this feeding system  and some things we don’t.   It is multi-purpose and removable and that is what we liked, making it temporary to see if the idea worked for us.  The part we don’t like is having a poor location for the barn.  But we had to work with the cards we had.

Due to poor planning on my part this winter we did not have all our bedding here when the December snow storms hit.  We had some stockpiled grazing, and our straw guy only had x- amount of straw, and the plan was to move the cows in during January when we normally (according to my weather records) get our nastiest weather.  Well, so much for plans and records – we moved the cows in and promptly ran out of bedding, and the cows got dirty from laying in the shed without adequate bedding.  Now this is the part I rant about, dirty cows – not enough bedding etc.  Well, you guessed it, I’m guilty as charged.  If the snow hadn’t been over the fence posts I would have let the cows come and go from the pasture to the barn until we could have gotten more  straw, and they may have decided to sleep in the woods instead of in the barn.  But, I couldn’t give them the choice, with the snow so deep they could just walk over the fences.  So now they are stuck with their dirty coats until spring when they shed their winter coats. 

We have plenty of straw now, but in an effort to help them clean up, I have given them access to one pasture.  Their pattern has been spend the day in the barn and spend the night outside.  I have decided to sacrifice the spring growth on this particular pasture in order to make the cows happier.  And I realize I am happier about them being cleaner than I am about the potential for that growth.

It has been hard for us to cut back to a hobby size herd.  Our goal is to find the magic number of cattle that we can carry year-round and grow their feed.  I’m am not sure we are there yet,with our minuscule, motley crew of a herd.   Selling grassfed beef requires we have cows, calves, yearlings, and coming twos.   I like having a herd of mixed ages and seeing how the families act.  I can see good mothering traits and other qualities I am looking for. 

But I am digressing here, the point of this post was to show the beginnings of our yearly manure composting practices. 

A compost thermometer is a handy tool for the farm and garden.  It was cool and clear this morning, just below freezing. 

This bedding pack is about 20 inches deep.  Note thermometer inserted in the bedding. 

This is the temperature, 112°F.  With new material added daily, there is no offensive odor, just the sweet smelling beginnings of compost.

Daily after the fresh bedding is spread, the feeders are filled and the cows come in to eat their fill.  They settle right down and begin eating. 


Trace is looking for his favorite treat – sun cured garter snake 🙂  Hi snake breath!


The head-gates are attached to a 40′ log that can be raised and lowered with come-alongs.  It actually works pretty slick. 

This is Della’s hay, I wish all our hay looked like this.  We had many rain storms last summer making for a lower quality hay in some of our fields.  The cows get a little bad with their good every day, insuring that they aren’t eating too much low quality hay.  Even so, we have a few of our older cows that are looking a little rough this winter.  I hate to cull the old girls and sometimes I let them stay too long.  Our cows have to eat row run like we do.  If we have a bad year for hay, they have to muddle through it just like us on our less than perfect vegetables.

An interesting note on our hay this year is that our cows prefer our compost fertilized, rained on hay, to hay that we made on a neighbors field that received no compost or fertilizer or rain.  To look at it, the hay from the neighbors looks more palatable, but I don’t have to eat it, so I defer to the cows choice. 

At noon, we check on the cows to flip in the hay that they have tossed over the edge.  Usually we find some lying down and ruminating, and others are still leisurely eating.  The feeding shed is ugly and poor-boy built, but it is peaceful – I sure like the calming effect the cattle have on me when they are as full as ticks and resting. 



The hens are deep bedded too.  They are enjoying their snow treat. 

Thank you girls!

18 Comments leave one →
  1. February 28, 2009 1:14 am

    Great post. I really enjoy reading about farm life. Is that strange? 🙂

  2. February 28, 2009 5:14 am

    I don’t have the ability/space/etc to do *any* of those things, but that’s okay – I like reading and learning from you all the same 🙂 Very interesting on the cows’ choice as to compost preference. I wonder, is there something more nutritious/beneficial that drives their choice naturally? Or is it taste, like with us humans preferring one taste over the other?

  3. February 28, 2009 6:41 am

    I know nothing about raising cows but when I read about Salatin’s deep bedding plan in a book, I thought it was interesting. Love hearing about your adventures on a farm.

  4. February 28, 2009 7:13 am

    Jodz, strange? Nah! I love reading about farm life myself. 🙂

    Mangochild, cattle naturally seek out the most nutritious feed for themselves if given a chance. Their sense of smell and highly developed taste buds help them do that. The subject of hay and feeding can become quite contentious among livestock owners. We do the best we can and let the cows tell us so we can learn how to do a better job. Humans usually only rely on sight and preconceived notions of what is good hay. You hear of cattle being fed strange things and you wonder why they eat them, but they get hungry and they have to eat – it is up to the human caretakers to provide palatable feed.

    Chiot’s Run, it actually works very well, we have taken one part out of the equation by not using pigs anymore to turn the bedding after the cows go to pasture, but even utilizing the plan the way we are, allows us to gather and protect more of the manure, which then in turn helps our pastures and gardens.

  5. February 28, 2009 8:50 am

    We run cattle so much differently than you do. I’m just happy to live where we don’t need to “barn cattle”. It sounds like a LOT of work.

  6. Dusty permalink
    February 28, 2009 12:23 pm

    I enjoy your blog & photography. Have you read Greg Judy’s ‘Comeback Farms’ about mob grazing? Even simpler than Joel’s method and with better results. It’s being used as far north as Saskatchewan, Canada. In a nutshell – no barn, no tractor, just cows on pasture (and windrows if the snow gets over 2′ in your area). Good luck with your farm!

  7. February 28, 2009 12:38 pm

    Linda, I don’t think we need to barn them, I just want to. If we lived in a more arid climate I don’t think it would necessary.

    Dusty, Greg’s stuff is amazing! No Risk Ranching is good too – we plan on mob grazing starting this season, but I think the feeding shed will still have some use. Our problem is our 100+ inches of rain each year. Our stock piled grass loses too much nutrition and we rarely have frozen ground or snow for the winter. Have you read any of Kate Yegerlehner’s articles?

  8. Rich permalink
    February 28, 2009 12:40 pm

    Is there a particular reason you stopped using pigs to turn the bedding?

  9. Rita permalink
    February 28, 2009 4:41 pm

    How is mob grazing different from Salatin’s method? I don’t farm either, but am fascinated by the whole process. Finished Salatin’s book “Everything I want to do is illegal” awhile ago. The book and your blog are very helpful for us “city folk” to understand your world, afterall we need you badly or we starve.

  10. February 28, 2009 6:29 pm

    Lots of food for thought for us wanna be cow owners. Thanks again for another informative post!

  11. March 1, 2009 3:02 am

    I absolutely LOVE reading these blogs! I have a garden of about an acre but mostly just the usual flowers and shrubs. I would like to have some chickens but have “chickened out” (sorry) because I hear that they are messy and a lot of work, but it must be wonderful to get your own eggs. I also want to get some bees – with all the scares in the press about the end of bees and the end of the world being just around the corner I think I should do something.
    Are other people as well-intentioned but nervous like me?

  12. March 1, 2009 7:21 am

    Nita, I’d be so tempted to just sit in that barn all day and share in the contentment…I don’t know what it is about cows and certain other animals, but if they seem happy and content, it just fills me with such a sense of belonging and wellbeing! LOVE those videos…..I can practically smell the wonderful barn smells (and yes, I love the smell of cattle and horses…and hay…and compost….arggh get me to the country NOW ) 🙂

    Everyman, hey don’t chicken out…have chickens for all of us who can’t! there are enough enthusiasts out here who have great workable and not-overwhelming ways of raising a healthy happy flock, no matter how large or small 🙂


  13. March 1, 2009 12:03 pm

    Interesting bedding method. I wonder if it would work for horses?

  14. March 2, 2009 12:00 am

    As I was reading this post, a couple questions came to mind … and then promptly disappeared as soon as I saw the eggs. EGGS. *sigh* This egg addiction is embarrassing.

  15. March 3, 2009 12:07 am

    I was quite started at the temperature under them.
    I suppose it is kind of two fold. compost for later, heat for the cold morning (or is that stupid reasoning.)??

    I saw chickens at various displays at the Portland Garden show this weekend. and this afternoon I was walking in the rain and a house several blocks away had a little chicken shed and I heard a hen sounding off as though proclaiming she’d just laid an egg.

  16. patty permalink
    March 8, 2009 2:37 pm

    I visited a county farm that had cows. It is the winter time here on Long Island, NY. The 30 cows are kept in a large open barn. It has I think a cement floor. It looks as though the cows lay down in about 6″ of manure. Is this okay or do I need to check into how these cows are being cared for. I don’t believe they roam in a pasture at this time of year. They do have some sort of water fountain and fresh hay.
    Just curious.


  17. May 18, 2009 5:53 am

    Great to read a blog about cows and grazing.

    I’m working toward mob grazing myself – found that the “conventional” methods are more expensive and take more time. Plus the cattle do better if you work with them every day.

    As far as hay, I found that when I had frost-seeded oats and clover on hay stubble, the cows prefered this very ugly, slightly moldy stuff to my premium fescue/clover hay. Not over fresh grass, but side by side, they’ll finish off the oat/clover/corn stubble hay before they even get half through the fescue/clover.

    But that is some really ugly hay by what I’ve grown up around – all black and dark brown with dust in it. And weed stalks sticking out at all angles.

    Now it’s the most valuable hay I’ve got shedded against next winter. – at least until I figure out how to mob-graze right through the winter…

    Thanks again for the blog. Keep ’em coming!


  1. “LET’S (NOT) RODEO” – July 20 | A DEVOTED LIFE

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: