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Winter Chores are Heating Up

January 12, 2011

(sound effects by Trace E. Pup)

How’s that for 18°F to 92°F in less than 60 seconds?  The cows have been in the feeding shed for 11 days and that is their new electric blanket.  I am either easily impressed or easily amused, depending on who you ask.  There are no middle of the road responses either, it’s either WOW or too much work!  Personally I like WOW.

Tough cattle dog…not.

It takes as much time each day to bed and feed as it does to rotationally graze.  I am just trading one chore for another.  With livestock you don’t really get a break, but a definitely the change of pace is refreshing.  Doing deep bedding however, gives the pastures rest and helps us to capture more nutrients.

And yes, we have mud.   Our sacrifice area is small and my take is that you don’t get every drop of urine or manure, but the more you do, is better all around.  There is always room for improvements.  The key is bedding, if you don’t have enough the cows will go outside to the sacrifice area and stand, rather than lie in their own excrement.  Cows that don’t feel well, will lie down in their own excrement.  I have seen all kinds of explanations of why cows lay in poop, from – they do it to keep warm, to that’s just what cows do.  I don’t believe a word of it.  Many times, and especially with dairy cows, they have a sub-clinical problem going on and it’s just too much trouble to move somewhere else.  Or often times the area is too small and they have no choice but to lay down in manure.  Carbon is the key to tying up all the nutrients a cow will give you, if the smell in your barn is offensive, then add carbon.

Dog supervisors optional.

Our fertilizer budget is for buying carbon.  We buy straw, sometimes it’s oat, sometimes it is barley depending on what the farmer we buy from is growing.  It all works and makes excellent bedding and the resulting composted manure bedding mix is perfect for the gardens and the pasture.  Sawdust, shavings, chips from utility companies, old hay, all are good candidates for your bedding and future compost.  Each area has its own unique carbon type material.  How I wish the utility crews were around more often, they make a pass through here about once every 2 – 3 years – great when they’re around but not often enough to count on, so we buy straw from a small grain and hay grower west of Portland.

Trace’s job is to survey from a lofty perch.

Melvin prefers the hands-on approach.

Making the bed.  Please note:  all this exercise doesn’t seem to have impact on double chins!

Twine saver.  Hangdog likes to make me pretty things 😉  Add this to the romantic gift list…

Breakfast, lunch and dinner.

So here is our procedure:

♥  AM – put cows out of shed.  Check water troughs, break ice, turn water on so troughs can fill while bedding and feeding.

♥  Throw in straw bales as needed, the number varies with the humidity.  Spread straw for maximum absorption.

♥  Chat with your child that is helping you, and be prepared to swell with pride at how confident doing meaningful, important work has made her.

♥  Fill feeder with hay.  Hang up twine so you don’t get chewed out when a stray piece wraps around the manure spreader beaters next summer.

♥  Let cows back in.

♥  Take five minutes to listen to the cows eating – it’s comforting and deep.

♥  Remember to turn off the water!

♥  PM – flip the hay back in that the cows flip out in their flake shaking maneuvers.  Add more if needed. And that’s it until the next morning.

Pretty easy really, of course more cows would entail more work, and might require a more efficient way to spread the straw, but this is pretty doable for even a small child of 7 or 8, my kid has been doing it since that age, and she can do this all by herself.  That’s pretty empowering for a child, to feel that they are contributing to the wealth of the family.  If we were using large equipment, 1 ton round bales and the like, she would have been shut down at an early age just when her enthusiasm was the greatest.

I also like the fact that I am still monitoring the cows condition every day.  By feeding each day I can visibly see how they are doing. We make our own hay and the quality varies from excellent to OK.  So, I have to pick and choose and offer a mix.  That’s where I disagree with feeding round bales in a small farm setting.  If you have a poor quality bale, and it takes some time for the cattle to eat their way through it, you have just shorted them that entire time.  My cows are workhorses, they are pregnant, lactating and need lots energy during the winter.  I can slip in a bale or two of lower quality hay, along with the good, but I try not to do more than what would equal a flake (about 5 pounds) per head, per day if that.  Round bales make sense for a large operator who feeds multiple bales per day.

Other constraints to deep bedding, is the shed design.  This particular shed is 18′ by 40′ with room for 28 head, however the most we have had is 27 and that is too many for this small of space.  Too many beefs among the beeves is not a pretty sight.  20 to 23 is a good number for this space.   This is a lot of material to move come spring,  make sure you can get in and get out with equipment, for instance no walls, just gates on each end.   On the opposite end of the spectrum is the laying hens, I deep bed them also, and I do clean that building out by hand, but chicken manure weighs much less than cow manure, so that is easier.   Other animals here, like Jane and Willy are stalled for the night and we clean their stalls each day.

So mixing and matching of methods works, by being flexible you can gather almost all the fertility your animals put out.  It truly is a gold mine.

Russell Crow and his lady friends.

44 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2011 7:09 pm

    I thought I was the only one who saved the twine from hay bales!

    • January 12, 2011 7:19 pm

      It comes in very handy! Especially tied in a hank with all the knots on one side! We use sisal so I save this plastic twine from the straw.

      • January 13, 2011 3:10 am

        We also save twine here. Ours is mostly the biodegradable type. I use it braided in many different places. When we had horses, it made good cross ties, bucket handles, and lead ropes. I also use it to hand up things in storage, like spare rims for the truck, or the water barrels. Makes use of the vertical space in a barn.

        I also use it in the gardens to tie up plants.

        • January 13, 2011 5:48 am

          Pam. it comes in handy for sure, I lashed all the hog panels in the feeding shed for the pigs this year with twine. It’s cheap, handy and works great for a temporary setup. Pretty redneck for some that have a different idea of farming, but it is the baling wire of this generation. Personally we don’t use it after seeing a how much it wears the guides on the baler compared to sisal – but our straw guy does so we save it all, in those hanks it can just hang in the barn out of the way and will last indefinitely if we keep it out of the light.

  2. Kimberly permalink
    January 12, 2011 8:47 pm

    Russell Crow…..Haha

  3. January 12, 2011 9:25 pm

    Huh. The chins look much better than mine. 😉

  4. January 12, 2011 11:49 pm

    I read somewhere, and I can’t remember if it was a quote from Joel Salatin, or Gene Logdson, that they spread corn in the bedding through the winter. It ferments over the winter and in the spring when it comes time to muck it out, he sets the pigs on it, who are ecstatic about rooting through straw and cow poop to find the fermented corn. They turn it for him, and then all he has to do is pull it out with a tractor and bucket. I think it might have been Salatin.

    • January 13, 2011 5:40 am

      Paula, the Nordells started that and Joel Salatin has made it more popular. We successfully pulled it off one year when we “thought” we wanted to sell a lot of pork…however it would take 30 – 40 pigs to turn a shed this size of deep bedding in 6 – 8 weeks and get results like Salatin does. I highly recommend it if you have plans on selling lots of pork and deep bed your cattle. And on a slower scale, we put our pigs in there anyway – and they do a good job of turning it although without the corn, they don’t turn every inch of it.

      This post shows how our pigs did this year without corn:

      • January 13, 2011 2:13 pm

        *Sigh* You should think about doing farm stay vacations so people could come learn from you directly. You could add another income stream by doing it, and people would pay you to contribute their labor! You know so much, and there are so many people, especially young ones, who want and need to learn what you know.

  5. January 13, 2011 2:08 am

    Interesting that you say that cows don’t lay in their own excrement … except for yesterday, Gwen’s udder is cleaner than it ever has been. Need to ask Wally to stop and get a load of straw on his way home tonight.

    • January 13, 2011 5:43 am

      Michelle, I can’t honestly say never, but for the most part they don’t if they feel good, and if their adrenal glands are functioning well even if they do happen to lay in their manure it will come off right away. You know how filthy a dog can get and if they have a healthy coat the dirt and ??? comes right off. As soon as I commit this to paper I will find Jane laying in a cow pie this morning 😉

  6. January 13, 2011 3:19 am

    Here we use pine shavings. With just 4 cows over the winter, our volume is less. We tend to bed once a week, or as needed. We have the 2 foundation cows in a 35′ x 15′ area and the weaning calves in a 30′ x 10′ area.

    They each have access to a 1/4 acre sacrifice area for exercise (set-up left over from when we had horses).

    Yesterday we got 18″ of snow, the first real snow of the year. I bet the ground is frozen at least 2′ down, as it’s been bitter cold since late November. The makings of a deep mud season, but I digress…

    DH was snowblowing a path to the barn. As the snow arc’ed over the fence, one of the calves kept following it, so it would fall on him. His mother, on the other side of the fence, did the same thing. They sure do funny things!

    • January 13, 2011 5:56 am

      I never did answer your last question about our frost line, but mud season here is from October to April. Our soil doesn’t really freeze to deeply, so our trade-off for getting to store root crops in situ, is mud. I used to use shavings, since they were so cheap, and the higher carbon ration allowed us to bed less often. But, now they are so expensive I couldn’t afford it.

      I quit weaning, and let the cows do it, we have everyone together here and it is much easier. The families are pretty cohesive and it is much less stressful for all involved, plus I don’t need a separate area anymore. We have another feeding shed, but we built that with a fixed feeder so if the bedding gets too deep it is a pain to feed the cows. This one is much better with the feeder “gate” that can be raised as the bedding builds up. And as easy as it is to feed the cows outside with pickup, I like this much more, even with an open sided barn, it’s cosy and safe in there.

  7. January 13, 2011 3:52 am

    Good Morning Another day on the job. I know the routine. I love the gift hangdog gave you. It is very sweet. I get the same kind of gifts. I love the way you explain your day and describe to people who do not know the hard physical work involved. I love farming. You know you have to love the life to really do it. I feed 4 large round bales a day, I peel off outside for bedding and to let calves pick through it then I put the rest in the feeders. I always make sure they have a mix excellent and good hay everyday. I use the poor quality bales for bedding this works out nicely. Like you I am with them everyday twice a day so I can see how they look and are doing with the hay. At this time we have 39 mothers and 6 calves. Everyone is healthy and happy. Be safe.

    • January 13, 2011 6:11 am

      Buttons, nice gift huh? I actually have one for each barn, but I need a couple more 😉

      It’s hard to find round bales around here, they are few and far between. The one guy who did bite for a round baler, stores his round bales and then spends all winter rebaling them into small squares. I can’t see how that is profitable but oh well…

      • January 13, 2011 6:34 am

        Wow I can not imagine baling round bales into square. To much work does not seem very profitable. I have always thought we should turn round bales into square. They sell very quickly around here and there seems to be a lot of profit. To much work. Horse people always want square. They now buy our round it is actually cheaper for them. It has to be very good hay. I can no longer do that much physical so I love the round bales best thing we ever bought.

        • January 13, 2011 6:49 am

          Buttons, I think the steep ground around here keeps more from going to round bales, and there is hardly any farming in this county anymore, so that pretty much takes care it.

  8. Sheila Z permalink
    January 13, 2011 3:57 am

    I’d love to have a 92 degree heated bed. It would be so comfortable on my aching arthritic bones. Have you ever tried putting pigs in after the cattle are done in the spring the way Joel Salatin describes?

  9. January 13, 2011 5:39 am

    A while back I was reading about how gardeners of old use to heat cold frames and even greenhouses with a deep manure compost and I thought it would be interesting experiment to try this out with a couple of cold frames one of these winters. It’s pretty impressive to see your deep bedding register 92°F.

    • January 13, 2011 6:35 am

      Mike, it will get up to about 112F soon as it gets a little deeper. That’s where it tops out in the shed, when it is stacked later, it will reheat to a higher temp.

      I wrote a post about using manure for starting seeds, but I think it is on the old Women Not Dabbling in Normal and is now gone, but the gist was the different properties of different manures as far as temps go for starting seeds. Horse is the easiest to use, since it heats up the fastest, and you need the pile to be hotter than what you actually think because the temperature is more of an ambient nature. It works great if you have a steady supply of fresh manure. I like my heat mats though for large scale seed starting 😉 Not very green of me I know…

      It’s what made Peter Henderson so successful with city market gardens – horses were the mode of transportation and horse manure was plentiful in the city. On one hand I am wistful for those times when resources weren’t wasted – but in reality as a horse owner (and a Black Beauty reader) I am glad horses are no longer the means of transportation.

      Henderson’s Gardening for Profit should be in Solomon’s Soil and Health library, the link for that is in my sidebar.

  10. Lucy permalink
    January 13, 2011 5:55 am

    Me with the horse farm again. I love straw bedding, which makes me an oddity among the local horse people. I can’t even get anyone hired to clean stalls because no one wants to handle straw. I can muck out a straw bedded stall faster than a shavings bedded one (we have one horse on shavings and the others are on straw). I love the pictures of straw! Makes my heart go pitter patter! How weird am I? My manure pile is steaming every day but I’ve never checked the temperature.

    • January 13, 2011 6:08 am

      Lucy, I know it’s funny, this barley straw smells so good you could eat it. We get stable cleanings from a nearby horse stable, and they insist on shavings, she only used straw with foals. I am envious of her shavings bin though, it looked like about a $1000 bucks worth in there. But I get some it anyway for free, since they haul it all away 🙂 I am happy to take it off their hands. 🙂

  11. January 13, 2011 6:26 am

    Now that’s what I call an action packed video! Put me down in the WOW category.

    It’s great to have tons of old baler twin around when hang a half acre of garlic up to cure.

  12. January 13, 2011 6:32 am

    How do you know if straw is good quality or not? I am just learning all this stuff. I’ve heard that deep is best for chickens and want to learn how to do it.
    Thanks for such a wonderfully informative article.
    Love your 4 footed helpers, too. 🙂

  13. Jenny permalink
    January 13, 2011 6:32 am

    Marvelously informative. You’ve answered many of my questions. This will be greatly helpful with my one (1) cat! But I have dreams!

  14. January 13, 2011 8:00 am

    I need a Hangdog around here. We have SO much twine we only save some of it…..the stuff off the big square bales is especially handy. Old Russell looks pretty content 😉

    • January 13, 2011 9:16 am

      Linda, I can’t imagine how much twine you guys deal with – we don’t have too much.

      Russell is in seventh heaven, of course he has to “approve” all the food they get, geez I am glad I am not married to a rooster!!

  15. January 13, 2011 8:06 am

    Whew…I’m exhausted just thinking about all the work you do!

    • January 13, 2011 9:17 am

      Kristen, I think the photos just make it look hard. It’s not so bad, and I have to do something to keep out of trouble 😉

  16. January 13, 2011 8:43 am

    Visiting your blog always brings me such joy and amazement. Farming is indeed a labor of love and your post are just that…filled with love for your animals and farm. I never tire of your writing and photos as I learn so much information from you.

    Thanks for always sharing your daily life and routines. I find it so humbling and refreshing.

    Love the dogs.

    • January 13, 2011 9:22 am

      Pam, you are so sweet, your comments are always so thoughtful, and serve notice to me that I should be a little kinder. 🙂

  17. January 13, 2011 10:24 am

    Your daughter is doing a great job with the photos – really nicely done! I’ve been known to do some rolling around on the ground myself in the name of art. If our local creep feeder neighbors saw me doing that, well, you can imagine….

    Not much that can’t be made or repaired with twine and/or duct tape, lol. I’m reading this after spending my morning doing almost the same exact thing but I’m feeling serious envy for your feeding shed.

    I have a run in that I keep bedded with straw, but am feeding round bales outside. The shelter isn’t big enough to feed inside. Also, I much prefer square bales as I can do pretty much everything by myself that way. The round bales are so much harder for me to maneuver without fancy equipment being short, female and almost 50 and all.

    I can’t wait until I can make my own hay & straw! Isn’t it funny how excited cows get about clean straw? They are truly funny animals.

    • January 13, 2011 7:52 pm

      AMF, heck a feeding shed is easy, just gather a few friends, cut down some slick poles, get a few utility poles and some roofing and you’re in business! Of course it helps to have an old pole haybarn to attach it to…

      I like the squares – easy to handle all the way from field to feeder. I guess that makes me a square 😉

  18. jean permalink
    January 13, 2011 8:14 pm

    Is building a barn expensive just for feeding? Just trying to figure out if it would pencil out, we feed in bale feeders outside and don’t have to buy bedding, we just move the feeders around.

    Do you use more or less hay this way?

    • January 13, 2011 9:26 pm

      Jean, I guess it depends on how you look at it – the shed was attached to the existing hay barn, and made with mostly salvaged materials except the roofing. The hay has to be stored in the barn, so it is pretty simple and a time savings to just put the hay in the feeder, by hand no need for equipment to handle the hay. The bedding is stored there also. By doing deep bedding we are capturing the manure from the cows for fertilizing the pasture, otherwise if the cows are outside standing at a feeder, even if it was moved we would be putting too much manure in one spot and therefore wasting it.

      As for the question about hay usage, the week before we put the cows in, I fed twice as much hay per day, I had to haul it to the cows, which entails handling it twice more. In the barn, they don’t have to eat as much to keep warm, since the bedding is heating up already so they need less just to maintain body heat. The other savings is we have to make a lot less hay, which saves too. Buying feed, or making hay is the most expensive part of any livestock operation. So I guess from our perspective, it is worth it to feed inside and do the deep bedding.

  19. January 16, 2011 10:38 am

    I have to say WOW. I feel really lazy right now after reading this.


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