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Flipped Out

February 28, 2015

Having the cows in the barn for feeding requires us to be present in mind, and with pitchfork.  In this post I’ll give a little overview of what goes on in the personnel side of the barn.


three tined hay pitchforks, straw and grass hay

Keep in mind we deal with small-squares.  In hayspeak that’s actually a small, two twine rectangular bale, approximately 14″ x 18″ x 36″ weighing about 50 pounds give or take.  It may be a fortunate thing that livestock farming has left the building in our area or not, depending on how you look at it.  You have to travel a ways to get a round bale around here, or even a large square that weighs a thousand or more pounds.  Which means on the luck side, we can make and buck 50 pound bales all day, and not need a tractor with a bale spear or round feeders to feed with.  Or have to deal with dismantling a large round bale by hand.  I’m comfortable with the handling required to put up, store under cover, and feed out small-squares.  But if you’re new to farming or live in an area that only has round bales or large three tie bales, you may be more comfortable with that because that is what you know.

What I do know is how cows eat.  And how to keep them from wasting hay.  I do not want to use expensive hay for bedding, and it bugs me when I hear people say they don’t care if hay is wasted for bedding, or that their bales are so crappy or rained on that a third of a bale is bedding material.  A ton of hay to me, is a ton of edible hay.

Cows really enjoy their food, they sniff out the best morsels first, clovers, plantain and dandelion before diving in for the bulk of the leaves and stems.  The baler compresses the dried grass, cuts it and stuffs it into bale form so we can store summer in a bale for feeding out in winter.  These cut flakes the baler makes are lovely for us to handle and use for figuring, but they annoy the cattle.  They shake and toss the flakes much like shaking out a pair of jeans to put on the clothesline.   Depending on how much they shake and sort, about one-fourth of each feeding ends up out of reach of the cows.  That’s where we come in.  We flip it back for them.  Zero waste.  They flip it out on the clean people side of the barn floor and we put it back within their reach.  It never sees the manure side and we don’t walk in the feeding area with dirty boots.


When the cows are in we feed twice a day, it’s comforting sitting in the barn listening to the cows chew.   I like to think about the sweat equity of investing a few minutes a day with a pitchfork instead of counting on a certain amount of hay wastage.  That slippage has to hurt somewhere.

A few things to help you save hay:

♥  Quality hay, cows will clean up good hay, if they are rejecting a fair portion of the hay, listen to them.  They know what is good and what isn’t.

♥  Enough feeder space and barn space for all the cows to eat at once.  You remember musical chairs in school.  It’s pretty humiliating and nerve wracking to be the one left out.  Timid cattle will go hungry before they risk getting beat up.  Or they quickly stick their heads in the feeder and pull out a mouthful in case they have to fend off an attacker.  Which then means they drop hay on the manure side and may be tempted to eat that.  The cow in the photo above will be the last cow I have that has horns. Even her own calf is staying one slot away from her.  In the video taken a few minutes after this photo, her calf had moved, so you watch her, she is threatening (o:15) a different calf next to her.  She’s not mean, she’s just got an advantage.  I know horns evoke a wonderful image in homesteaders minds, until you are on the end of that stick either literally or writing out a check to the vet for damage to another cow.  Keep the playing field even.  All horns or no horns.  I am done with horns.  Most of my cows are polled naturally but since I persist with at least one dairy cow, I have to deal with the horn issue when I breed for full dairy offspring.

♥  Build or buy the feeder and manger setup that suits the stock you have.  If you have cattle with horns, allow for that, you’ll need to double your feeder space to keep everyone comfortable.  Even metal feeders get mangled, so buy heavy duty if you can afford it.  With wood, I would use small smooth round poles or saplings about 6″ diameter if you have them available, or at least 2″ x 6″ dimensional lumber if you’re going that route.  Build the feeder hell for stout, or you commit yourself to rebuilding fairly soon.  Cattle love to rub, they fight, they play, and they have a lot of muscle to back all those activities up.

I like having the cows in for a bit in the winter, it’s not all work that needs to timed and plugged into the labor column.  It gives me a chance to observe them and their habits up close and personal.  I can work on taming the calves that at first regarded me a little warily, and I can just generally chill with the cows unlike during summer when I need to scurry off to work in the garden or …  winter barn feeding is worthwhile on many counts.


9 Comments leave one →
  1. Bee permalink
    February 28, 2015 7:40 am

    I know what you mean. The first thing Maybelle does is flip half the hay to one side, root around for the best parts and then flip it back. And if she doesn’t like what she finds on the first flip (she always wants to eat the clover first, like a kid who goes for the mashed potatoes instead of the broccoli — although my small fry actually love broccoli), she’ll raise her head and glare at me. That’s when I give her the “eat all your vegetables, they’re good for you” line. Strawberry and Ruby, the beef cows, aren’t anywhere near as fussy, probably because Strawberry grew up as a range cow. Actually having someone bring you food must seem like the height of luxury to her, so she dives right in and chomps down. Ruby is her calf, and seems to have learned from her mother — all food is good.

  2. Lynn permalink
    February 28, 2015 8:56 am

    Great post! Thank you for all the reminders!

  3. Mich permalink
    February 28, 2015 10:14 am

    I hear you on the horns…everything that needed dehorning got done asap when they were young. Life is so much easier when the cattle are indoors during winter, less bullying & less chance of injury to human or bovine.

  4. sherry permalink
    February 28, 2015 5:39 pm

    I hear you on the hay waste, especially if you have to try to clean up the yard and it has hay mired into the mud! With our horses we’ve gone to a 3×5 open bin for the two with a grid that lays inside on top of the hay. The grid has 3″x3″ squares so they have to work at pulling the hay through. Since they have to work for it there’s much less of the ‘ugly faces’ at each other and it’s eliminated the hay flipping. The only drawback so far is one has figured if she bangs on the base with her hoof a lot of leaves will drop through the hardware cloth that is the bottom of the bin. They scarf up the leaves but the banging gets a little annoying!

  5. Elizabeth permalink
    March 1, 2015 7:33 am

    I love the look of red cows. (Must be the Texas in me as many of our beefers are Hereford or Hereford crosses.) Are all your cows are red? Are they all related to Jane or your previous milk cow?

    • March 1, 2015 7:40 am

      Me too, brown cows and green grass! They’re all Hereford or Hereford cross and I only have one of Jane’s aunts now, her and a couple of cousins to Jane. The others aren’t related. Only one of them “knows” Jane too, and they haven’t been together since they were babies, so I imagine a big knock-down, drag-out would ensue if I put Jane in with them.

  6. Elizabeth permalink
    March 1, 2015 7:50 am

    Oops. Never mind. It helps to read the whole post before asking questions! 🙂

    • March 1, 2015 10:26 am

      This comment made me realize what I wrote…actually the cow with the horns isn’t dairy at all. She’s Hereford/Simmental/Gelbvieh.

  7. March 5, 2015 6:27 pm

    Hay wastage drives me nuts! We’re paying $.09/lb here (roughly) for high quality horse hay, and I’ll be darned if I let those nags waste it! 😛
    We feed twice daily of medium squares(800-900 lbs) and I’m out several times in between feedings to fork up the mess.
    The plan is to build as close to an injury proof feeder as possible, this summer. My Palomino, bless her giant heart, could injure herself just by standing still, so we had to do away with the traditional round bale feeder(she got stuck in it) and can’t use hay nets. With a 2″ net, the brat got a hoof *through* a hole and got stuck.
    *sigh* She really is my special girl!
    So for now, forking every few hours as needed works.

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