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A Little Bit About Jane’s Garden

October 1, 2013

My best advice for folks wanting to grow roots for a dairy cow in a garden setting, is to practice raising a winter’s worth for your family first.  Once you accomplish that, from sowing, growing and storing until spring breaks then you can probably tackle feeding a milk cow roots for four or more months of the year.  It’s a lot of work, but well worth the effort if you have the space, and like to garden.  Besides hay for winter, root crops are a good supplement to the family milk cow’s diet.

Carrots and parsnips

Carrots and parsnips for the house cow

I’m lucky to live in an area that some root crops can be stored in the ground.  Most of the time in the winter, our temperatures are about like a refrigerator, cool and moist.  Crops I leave in situ are carrots, parsnips, beets, and rutabagas.  The biggest share of the first three on the list are consumed by Jane the milk cow.  While in-ground storage saves me a lot of work and the need for a root cellar, there can be problems with that method.

vole hunter and guardian of the garden...

vole hunter and “guardian” of the garden…

Namely varmints!  Of all shapes and sizes, and of a wild or sometimes domestic nature.  Cats do a good job hunting the voles that love carrots, and the dogs do a good job of keeping the deer at bay…but a time comes in the late summer garden when the carrots are ripe…and the dogs decide, “hmmmm, I’m just gonna dig me some carrots while I am up here guarding the garden and keeping the deer away.”  So out comes the deer dog netting, because as annoying as the deer are pulling out carrots while munching on the tops, the dogs can dig and eat about ten row feet per night 😦  We grow a lot of carrots, but not enough for the dogs too!

Deer netting over carrots

Deer netting over carrots

But, this method brings about another problem, now the cats can’t get to the voles because the netting that keeps Bambi and Fifi out of the carrots also keeps the cats stymied.  Mother Nature does bat last, so I have to weigh digging and storing months worth of carrots, or growing enough that some can be sacrificed to the vole population.  I have always chose the latter, the voles are a nuisance, but they aren’t eating so much that I can’t afford to feed them, who in turn feed the cats, dogs, coyotes, hawks and owls.  It’s always a battle, but never a war.

male carrot

male carrot

Despite the long rows of carrots and parsnips for Jane, I manage the garden on a “cow share” basis.  We have carrots growing in four different succession plantings for us in addition to Jane’s rows.  But that doesn’t mean that we don’t eat roots from each other’s areas.  Right now, Jane is enjoying odd carrots and other things from the greenhouse because I need to get that area cleaned out before winter.  Next up are the main garden carrots that freeze more easily during a cold snap due to the keyline and shade issues that particular garden has.  That garden also contains successions of tender varieties that don’t hold up well in the fall and winter rains without splitting.  So those will go next, then our Chantenays and then finally Jane’s Chantenays.  We share, usually she gets the odd-shaped, small, or rodent gnawed roots and I take the good ones to the house.  About like the rotational grazing we just move our way through the carrot and other root crop stockpile until it is gone, in a normal year we have roots of some sort left in the garden in late spring.

barn bucket

barn bucket

milk cow treats

milk cow treats

Right now I am treating the milk cow garden as a winter storehouse and concentrating on vegetable tops, culls and dropped fruit for Jane’s treats.  What she doesn’t care for goes to the hens or pigs.  She doesn’t necessarily  need these treats but she sure likes them.  It’s not a bad idea to stay on the good side of your milk cow either, since you work in close proximity to them twice a day.  Treats from the garden keep me in good stead with my faithful cow companion.

Milking time

Milking time

33 Comments leave one →
  1. October 1, 2013 2:12 pm

    Neat, neat, neat.

  2. Victoria permalink
    October 1, 2013 2:23 pm

    FYI, I’ve managed to do in-ground storage of parsnips and carrots through winters in upstate NY. You have to wait until the ground isn’t frozen to dig them up, but the roots will make it through the winter, and usually I can dig them out through December, get at least one more round out in February, and then the rest come out in March when I start planting the spring garden.

    • October 1, 2013 3:21 pm

      Victoria, that’s good to know, because you would not believe how many people tell me it can’t be done! Now I know that it can.

    • twoaussie permalink
      January 7, 2014 12:03 pm

      I love love to hear more about your storage of root crops.As we are trying to live off farm.Do you do it in a sheltered area ?

  3. Chris permalink
    October 1, 2013 2:38 pm

    The boy carrot was a real Laugh out Loud! Love that farm humor! 🙂 And that Jane…what a spoiled girl…but then she deserves it…she’s the mother ship around there, so deserves her very own garden!

  4. October 1, 2013 2:41 pm

    Love that frisky carrot!

  5. October 1, 2013 2:51 pm

    I started growing root veges the year before last, following your advice to grow them for ourselves. I don’t have enough room at the moment to grow extra for the cow, but I’m glad I tried, now I know how much space to allow in my next garden. I also found that I could keep Bella in green feed through our dry sub-tropical winter by feeding her the brassica leaves that we didn’t need. She also likes the overgrown zucchinis and chokos in summer! Unfortunately she tends to help herself to the bean plants too. I love the male carrot 🙂

    • October 1, 2013 3:27 pm

      Liz, Jane is liking the kale too, today she showed up when I was pulling rutabagas and she got the tops saving me packing them around, I’m hoping the morning milk doesn’t taste like rutabaga though 😉

  6. Bev permalink
    October 1, 2013 3:01 pm

    I am so laughing, that is some pic! We usually grow several different types of carrots. Our favoite is the Chantenay. At our elevation we find that we have to dig and store our carrots. We usually have carrots to about March. Keeping your carrots safe and having four legged carrot predators, ha. Most of our garden has manure on it and it is tilled in. We and the garden will rest now. Know the snow will be here soon. So we are enjoying a sunny day after a wonderful rain.

    • October 1, 2013 3:26 pm

      Bev, I can squeak by, we are so much lower, it doesn’t get too cold here to freeze too deep. The carrots will keep until we till in May if we don’t eat them first. Those dang dogs, they can make short work of the carrots for sure, at least though they follow the row and keep it even 😛

  7. sherry permalink
    October 1, 2013 4:42 pm

    I live in east central Wisconsin and I keep my parsnips in the ground all winter too. After it freezes I pile some old mulch (straw, hay, whatever) on them. Some winters I can dig them for a long time, others they’re locked in pretty tight but the freeze really makes them sweeter!

  8. Molly's keeper permalink
    October 1, 2013 5:34 pm

    I’ve been loving your blog for awhile now. I just had to ask some questions. I love to garden, and we got our first milk cow this spring. It’s going well. I’ve been wanting to grow some extra garden for the cow but wondered how much it can help with her diet. Also, how much carrot/beet/parsnip would you give a cow each day. How clean does it have to be, and do you have to cut it up? Have you ever grown field corn for your cow? Why or why not? We’ve been growing field corn for a couple of years for our chickens & wondered about doing more for the cow. Thank you for sharing your experience with the rest of us! I love how everything is just a down to earth way of life for you. It’s very inspiring.

    • October 1, 2013 6:20 pm

      MK, Thanks! I feed roots as a winter supplement, with our dairy cow eating primarily pasture or hay. In the winter I feed up to 5 pounds of roots a day, about 2 pounds of rolled barley and about 50# of hay, she is out on pasture but there really isn’t anything to speak of to graze on, and she is in at night. During the summer she gets other things that are too mature for us to eat or use, like cucumbers, summer squash, daikon, bok choy and any greens except lettuce which she won’t eat, this all in addition to full pasture, and mostly for her to eat while I’m milking.

      I wash the roots to get the dirt off, and trim the roots. I do chop or slice everything for her to prevent choking. I have a root cutter, or I use a knife.

      Field corn is not a predictable crop in my location, enough to work up the ground to justify growing it. If you can grow it, go for it. Cows love corn and do well on it.

      • Molly's keeper permalink
        October 3, 2013 6:16 am

        Thank for that information!

    • October 2, 2013 1:59 am

      How do you feed the corn to your chickens Molly’s keeper? Just throw it in and let them do the sorting out?

      • Molly's keeper permalink
        October 3, 2013 6:14 am

        We have a hand crank corn sheller and shell a few cobs each day into a bucket with oats & a protien supplement. We’ll either put it in a feeder, or sometimes just throw it on the ground and let them peck it up.

        • October 3, 2013 9:54 am

          Thank you for that. Do you feed them the oats whole? Sorry for all the questions but I am intrigued with what people feed their chickens and anything we can feed them that we can grow ourselves particularly for over the winter the better

        • Molly's keeper permalink
          October 3, 2013 2:37 pm

          Yes, whole oats but from the feed mill. We don’t grow them ourselves. Our hens seem to do okay with whole grains. I’m not sure how meat birds would grow on it.

  9. October 1, 2013 6:09 pm

    Our ‘Jane’ is named ‘Deluxe’ and there is not a single thing I wouldn’t do for that sweet cow. I was wondering about milk flavor though. Do you only feed these roots to Jane when she is dry? If not, do you find that they flavor her milk in any way? Always looking for ways to grow our own feed and supplements, love that zero mile foodshed for my very own zero mile foodshed. 🙂

    • October 1, 2013 6:24 pm

      CA, I know exactly what you mean, same here.

      The only thing I have ever seen flavor the milk are brassicas, like cabbage, kale etc. Or garlic and onions. They say 12 hours before milking is fine to feed strong flavored feeds, but I don’t risk it. So the sweet roots like carrots, beets, mangels, or parsnips have no effect on the flavor that I have noticed.

      • October 1, 2013 6:31 pm

        Awesome, thanks! We are in central Colorado at about 8000′ so keeping roots in the ground can be tricky depending on the particular winter we are having. I have had good luck with stacking whole straw bales over our root crop rows. So long as you are willing to dig in the snow, you can pull your roots up through the winter. Barley is readily available from the valley to our south, but it would be lovely to rely more on root crops when hay and pasture are scarce as they have been for the past couple of years. Thanks so much for the great information you provide, I love following along and it enriches my own ideas and experiences here on our farm. 🙂

  10. October 2, 2013 9:35 am

    We have cold snaps that go far below freezing for 7-10 days at a time. I bend PVC conduit over our beds and lay clear plastic over as a row cover. It does well enough. Carrots stay sweet and the tops are usually green.

    It’s the stockpiled forage I’m worried about. Freeze/thaw, rain/dry…forage can go downhill quickly.

    • October 2, 2013 10:45 am

      HFS, laying low I see… rain, rain, rain here is what ruins the stockpile 😦 I think Eliot C., uses a layer or two over his beds in Maine inside his greenhouses. It’s doable.

  11. October 2, 2013 1:10 pm

    Laying low? Crazy busy and the internet was broken for a couple of days. Reboot the modem? Really? Dude, the problem is on your side of the wire.

    Sure enough. Their problem.

  12. October 3, 2013 5:38 am

    I leave my parsnips in the ground this is the first year I’ve been really successful with carrots. I think after reading the above I will give it a try. The only thing you need to worry about is the carrot root fly…

  13. October 3, 2013 7:30 pm

    ‘Scuse me, but you’ve misidentified that carrot.

    That is a Nonchalant Male carrot.

  14. October 4, 2013 5:25 pm

    I love that carrot. Priceless and oh-so-proud of itself.

    How do you ever get Jane to eat this stuff? I offer it to my Guernsey and Jersey and all I get is a sniff and a look of disgust. They will eat our apples though. All our milking cows eat is hay and pasture (still looking good which is surprising for our area at this time of year). I would love to get them to accept some roots for the needed energy.

    • October 5, 2013 7:44 am

      Tara, I started giving her roots when she was weaned, chopped fine and so far she has always loved them. About the only thing garden-wise she doesn’t care for is lettuce. 🙂

  15. mica permalink
    November 7, 2013 4:19 pm

    Omg hahahaaaaaa!!! that carrot ! hahahaaaa!

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