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That Time of Year

January 19, 2013

We’ve been enjoying a stretch of nice weather this week, freezing at night and sunny by day, but previously we had snow, ice and then more snow.  At a certain point it was beginning to make more sense to put the cows in rather than leave them out and continue with my winter pasture fertilization experiment.  When we first read Salad Bar Beef  by Salatin, we paid particular attention to the chapter about winter feeding and how cows would eat less hay if they were housed in a feeding shed type setup.  What we discovered in our case is that the cows didn’t eat less hay they just did better on the same amount.  Livestock burn a lot of calories just trying to stay warm and dry, it’s hard in a rainy area like we have to deliver feed and keep it dry enough to stay palatable.  Hence the feeding shed.


So it begins, building the bedding pack.  We supply the carbon, the cows supply, well, you know what they supply.  When I checked the temperature in the bedding pack yesterday it had already reached 85°F in just a week.  Nice.

The cows and long yearlings were happy to come to the barn, although the calves were skeptical, they have been living the free-range life since they were born, and were a bit skittish.  Now they have to depend on me for feed.  We call it “the treatment”, within two days the calves were mmmming me when they saw me rounding the corner at the greenhouse.  Just like momma and big siblings, they learned very fast, that humans mean food and water.  Every interaction after the first day is good and reinforces that I can be in close quarters with them and it’s okay.


I’m always reluctant to put the cows in each winter, but once we do, I always wonder why I waited so long.  Chores are nice and under cover and the barn full of munching cows is a calming place to hang out.  I’m draining hoses each night before it freezes, but what the hay, barn chores are pretty comfy these days.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. January 20, 2013 3:43 am

    I envy your shed – it’s a great design and looks so solid. My shed and my barn are pretty rustic.

    Since my current bull likes to demolish things like water troughs and buildings, this winter inside is off-limits. Makes me feel bad since my cows all love their barn and everyone suffers for his ill-temper.

    But, soon I’ll be moving the girls to the pasture adjoining the barn for calving – can’t believe it’s time to prepare for that already!

    I love being inside with my animals, listening to the munching and contentment…it’s probably the only place my busy brain truly relaxes…

    • January 20, 2013 7:04 am

      AMF, our barn is actually quite “rustic” as well. A poor boy shed with log rafters attached to the existing early 70’s pole barn made from scavenged power poles and cedar logs. The log rafters are bowed as well from a heavy snow storm in the 80’s. Your bull is not alone, the cows have just about destroyed the feeder panels. I have yet to see a lifetime barn setup unless it is all pipes and even then you’ll see a bent pipe in a barn. Cows are big and get themselves in predicaments you wouldn’t believe, or actually I guess you would probably believe it 😉

      • January 20, 2013 12:23 pm

        Ha – I know it’s true, but still can’t believe the ideas they have sometimes, lol.

        I don’t envy fancy and shiny (most of the time anyway), I envy workable efficiency.

  2. January 20, 2013 6:32 am

    That is such a nice setup. You’ve described it before and I need to go back through your posts about this feeding shed and read them all… these are the first photos I’ve really noticed the arrangement with the hay right there in front of the feed bunk – how very, very efficient! Brilliant, in fact. I can’t remember if they stay inside always or if you have some kind of yard adjacent, I would like to know. I will need some sort of winter feeding strategy and I’m pulling as many ideas as I can together. Your barn has some great features, and the point you make about them eating less when they’re nice and cozy on that manure pack, that’s great too. Thanks for sharing how you do what you do…

    • January 20, 2013 6:36 am

      Sorry, I got that wrong…not eating less, just doing better on the same amount. My cows would never eat less, in fact, they would eat themselves into a stupor if I spent all day forking hay in front of them. They just can’t help themselves, eating machines that they are…

      • January 20, 2013 7:14 am

        TD, I think they would eventually stop, they are just scarred from their former life. It might be energy too, if the feed isn’t meeting their needs they have to bale a lot of it to get their needs met. It’s hard to find good hay, and depending on how it’s fertilized (or not) it might be throwing their mineral needs off too. Free choice minerals can make up for a lot lacking in feed.

    • January 20, 2013 7:11 am

      TD, it’s not my dream barn by any means, but it works pretty well for adding this new use to an existing building which is incidentally “the hay barn” we just brought the cows to the hay. I like looking at and smelling the hay and remembering where it came from in the field. They do have an adjacent yard that gets less than desirable for the duration. A totally covered area would work, but at this point I don’t want to spend the money. Always a tradeoff somewhere. For the most part they stay in, so I don’t lose too much manure…

      As for features, the ability to lift the feeder gate (40’long) is what makes this work so well, the shed Jane has currently taken over has a fixed feeder area and it is a pain to use and clean.

  3. January 21, 2013 1:03 pm

    It looks just lovely in there – and, when facing the cold day outside here today, downright cozy. 🙂

  4. January 22, 2013 1:37 pm

    Bedding pack. Are you just using straw and waste hay or do you have a source of wood chips too? You going to just clean it and stack it with a rented bobcat again or will you run pigs through first?

    Cows are nice but compost is cool.

    • January 22, 2013 2:40 pm

      I just use straw, and we don’t have any waste hay this year, since all our hay came from here, the cows eat every last piece. Not really interested in doing pigs, but they do do a bang up job if you have enough of them and the feed is cheap enough. Stacking works great, and we’re on a good rotation now, maybe my next lifetime or if I suddenly wake up and am young again and not nursing a DH in an arm sling…

  5. February 2, 2013 10:44 pm

    Hi Nina – Clare here at Big Table Farm – great post – I was wondering if you could share your thoughts on how many caws in how many square feet for the 2-3 months of winter deep bedding barn time? We are in the process of planning for a barn to bring out cows in off the hill in teh winter (as of now they stay out all year- just move up onto the hill where it’s dryer) but we’d love to have them indoors for the very wet months… jan/feb /march .. and doo deep bedding… thanks so much!! hope you are doing super!! cheers – clare

    • February 3, 2013 6:07 am

      Hey Clare, our shed is 20′ x 40′. I have had as many as 23 (cows, calves and long yearlings) which was too crowded for my taste, and as low as 16 which was much better. This year 19 head is filling it out okay. In your planning include room for carbon storage, it’s nice to have it handy.

  6. Molly's Keeper permalink
    November 3, 2013 8:23 am

    We have a 12′ x 15′ area for 1 cow, 1 calf and soon to be another calf, plus an endless supply of wood shavings (my husband has a woodshop). But our winter is more like 6 months. I’m afraid if I just keep adding bedding and don’t remove pies it will be a huge high pile by spring. Will I lose a lot of manure goodness if I make a pile outside, even if it’s frozen most of that time? Then also, what do I do with all this manure in the spring to get it ready to use? Is it bad to work it right into the garden in the spring? Should I let it decompose all summer and spread it on pasture in the fall? I need some direction!

    • November 3, 2013 9:11 am

      Molly, I only deep bed our beef cows, and the dairy cow gets her area cleaned daily. Not usually stripped but picked at least with fresh bedding. I think your pile will be fine outside if you pile it high, it’ll start to compost some and you know, I do sheet mulch on my garden with the milk cow’s daily load. I spread it thin and the winter freezing and thawing break it down. Either way works, just depends on how easy it is to pile or add the garden. The way it works here just because of handling chores, the milk cow manure usually goes on the garden during the fall and winter, and the beef cattle deep bedding ends up on the pasture after it is stacked and aged for a year. One job is pitchfork and wheelbarrow and one is loader, and manure spreader.

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