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Digging It

February 1, 2015


Turga parsnip

Turga parsnip

Over the years I’ve narrowed my quest for the ultimate (for my conditions) roots for the house cow.  Initially I fell for all the high yield claims of mangels, and then struggled through the off-tasting milk from brassicas like rutabagas in the mix. I’ve narrowed it down to a select few root crops the last few gardening seasons.  To fit the bill the roots have to be easy to grow, easy to store, and something most likely we are growing to eat ourselves.  The following pros and cons are just from experimentation over the years, taking into consideration my climate, gardening abilities and the fact I am only trying to grow a small amount of supplemental feed for one full size cow.  Here is the list from my least favorite to my what works the best.

Thumbs down:  Mangels, easy to grow and yes, they yield like the dickens.  But…they tend to make my cow a little loose on the back end, if you get my drift.  They require harvesting and storage to protect from freezing due to their growth habits.  A good portion of the sugar beet is above the ground.  If you have a large root cellar, want to mess with a clamp, or better yet extra space in your walk-in cooler, sugar beets would be a good choice.  I’ve read that storage mellows them and lessens the diarrhea effects, still, too much trouble for me to find out.

Thumbs down:   Brassicas in any form.  One, they can flavor the milk if you aren’t careful with your feeding times.  Supposedly feeding brassicas immediately after milking helps allay some of the cabbage fart smell in the milk.  I could pull this off since I milk on a 14/10 schedule, but I don’t really care to explore further using cole crops as milk cow feed, as I  could detect a slight cabbage-y taste in the cream even if I was diligent with my feeding times.  Probably the biggest reason for me to not delve too far into brassica forage plants is because I already grow way too many coles, and crop rotation gets a little tricky as it is.

Thumbs up:  Beets.  We eat them, they are much smaller so less likely to cause digestive upsets in the cow like the larger sugar beets do, and since they form little root above ground I can easily soil mulch them to protect them from freezing.  Downside?  Voles love them.

Lutz beet for lunch

Lutz beet for lunch

Thumbs up:  Carrots.  We eat carrots like crazy and the cow loves them.  Easy to grow, and easy to store in situ like the beets with soil mulch to prevent freezing in our garden zone.  Downside?  Voles!

Red Cored Chantenay

Red Cored Chantenay


Turga parsnip

Turga parsnip – 18″ roots

Big thumbs up:  Parsnips.  What’s not to like about a deep-rooted vegetable that really has no pests, including voles and doesn’t even need the soil mulch for freeze prevention?  We don’t really eat a lot of parsnips, but since they are so easy to grow and to save seed from I’m thinking we should ask Jane to share a few.

In summary, being a lazy gardener I have taken the path of least resistance in regards to growing root crops for the milk cow.  My goal is to supplement her winter feed with something fresh and raw, and root crops fit that bill. In our climate I am able to harvest and store roots weekly with a small amount of labor and space allotted for root storage.  Whether this saves me any money or not is debatable, but I sure enjoy growing roots for the milk cow.  Lifestyle choice right?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Fid permalink
    February 1, 2015 4:56 pm

    I learned about growing parsnips for my cows from you years ago. Thanks. I love eating them myself and so does everyone else that comes for company. Lucy and company thank you too!!!

  2. Chris permalink
    February 1, 2015 6:09 pm

    I grew parsnips and beets this last year too. I’m afraid that the voles enjoyed my carrots more then we got to. I also just started feeding fodder. I put the carrots, beets, parsnips, and apples in with the fodder. She loves it.

  3. CassieOz permalink
    February 1, 2015 7:47 pm

    I have so much trouble getting parsnips and carrots to germinate (even from the freshest seed) so I’ve all but given up on them in favour of beets. I can manage in the house garden (they have to be coddled so badly to get them started) but I just can’t do that in the ‘cow patch’. I’d love to know if there’s a trick to getting them started.

    • February 2, 2015 5:46 am

      Cassie, I plant early to take advantage of soil moisture from spring rains, so I don’t have too many problems, except maybe too much rain on those first plantings that sometimes crusts the soil which these crops do not like. Later successions of carrots seem to take a little more babying. Potting soil in the furrow, or row cover seem to make a difference if we’re experiencing a hot, dry spell and I need to irrigate. Drip irrigation placed at planting time too, may make a huge difference. I don’t irrigate much but I know that the CSA growers around here use drip tape a lot and plant a lot of carrots. If I know you though, you’re probably doing all those things already 🙂

  4. February 1, 2015 10:48 pm

    Our alpacas got apples and squash this last year, our fodder beets got frosted though. My husband is a bit hesitant to feed them beetroot (beets) as he is worried about staining their fleeces 😀 I think we should add them though as we got a reasonable crop and more than we could eat. Next year there will be more parsnips and carrots for sure, anything to reduce the artificial feed input.

  5. February 2, 2015 3:49 am

    You almost made me envy your climate! Here in Southern Finland I can leave the parsnips in the ground for the winter, but there is no way to dig them up from December to April, save maybe with a pickaxe.

  6. Luddene Perry permalink
    February 2, 2015 5:56 am

    II’m not sure about the no voles in the parsnip thing. In 2013 I had a lovely stand of parsnips but when I dug them up – tops still green and lush – there was only about an inch of the snip left. 8 – 10 inches had been chewed away. I use to get beautiful ones when I lived in Minnesota, now that I’m in Nebraska they’ve been terrible. This past year they grew lovely again, but the cores were so big and hard, they wouldn’t cook at all. But you know gardeners, I’ll try again this year!

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