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Deep Bedding Maintenance

March 19, 2015

It’s felt like spring for quite a while now, but the beef cows are in the feeding shed/sacrifice area until the first part of April at least.  Waiting for grass to grow is agonizing.  Feeding out the winter’s hay supply is also agonizing.

The morning after

The morning after

Every morning the shed looks like this.  The front of the shed where the feeder panels are is the most soiled, and most compacted due to the fact that the cattle stand there to eat.  After they fill up, they lounge in the back.


After bedding

So every morning, we run the cows outside so we can bed in peace.  A dog helps, while we don’t use our pups for herding, they sure come in handy to keep the cows out of the barn.  Aussies are nice that way, they need a little bit of a job, but not too much.

Sacrifice area

Sacrifice area

Rather than have a sacrifice pasture, we have a sacrifice area.  The smaller the better, because it will forever be a ruined sacrificed area.  So much impact, so much manure and urine, it grows weeds mostly through the summer.  So you either build a gigantic barn or you have an area like this.  It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not pretty.




grass hay on top, oat straw on bottom

Our bedding material of choice is straw, usually oat or barley depending on what is available from the farmer we buy our straw from.  Economics plays a part here, as the grain straw is the most affordable.  Shavings or wood chips would be great and have a higher carbon component which translates to a higher manure and urine absorption rate, but wood products are expensive.  If you have access to free wood chips from utility crews, nab the chips.  We’re always on the lookout for carbon to add to the fertility machine. This might be a good place to add that the higher the carbon bedding material is, the less time you have to spend laying down bedding.  Other factors too are the number of animals and the space.  You get a feel for it.  You want the animals to have a clean, comfortable bed but it doesn’t have to fair stall quality either.  Basically just avoid the caked on manure look that is unfortunately too common.


straw from J4 Farms – Warren Oregon


After we banish the cows we put the determined amount of bales in the shed.  Wet days we use more, dry days less.  About once a week we add shavings/horse manure to up the carbon ratio a bit, and maybe a bag of lime. You’ll develop an eye for what is needed.  Just remember this is fertilizer you are making for your farm.

We keep close track of the twine, it either ends up in a cow, or in the compost and wrapped about the beaters and other various parts of the manure spreader.  Neither option is good.  Sick cows and a mad husband are two things I really don’t want to see.

Our tool of choice for breaking up the straw flakes?  A three-tined pitchfork.  These are our hay forks and never to be confused with a manure fork.  That being said, we are very careful to only stab the clean straw flakes with the tines of these forks.  1)  I want to keep manure away from the hay the cows have to eat.  2) It’s easier, manure forks have more tines and don’t glide as easy into the straw.  So cleanliness and less work.  If that’s still confusing, just think of your household and the toilet brush, yes, it’s a brush but you probably wouldn’t use it to scrub anything your food touches.  The pitchforks are tools and have specific uses.  Our manure forks are always stored away from the hay areas, and the hay forks are usually stored stabbed into the hay or straw.


I have to say, I bed Jane’s stall by shaking a few flakes of straw after picking her stall each day, and that is about the limit for my hands and wrists.  It’s the one chore on the farm and in the garden that kills my hands.  The pitchfork method is much easier on the wrist, but it does take some forearm strength to shake those bales out.  I split a lot of firewood and hand milk so that seems to keep my forearms in shape for this chore.

All in all this chore takes about thirty minutes a day.  That includes topping off water troughs, feeding and bedding.  It’s kind of fun seeing how high we can stack it.




18 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2015 11:33 am

    It’s an absolute pleasure to see the way you take care of your animals and property. You have it down to a science.

  2. March 19, 2015 12:43 pm

    Yeah. You didn’t put enough emphasis on the arm workout. lol

    It really helps to fork the flakes from the side as you illustrated. My oldest can’t seem to remember that. He spears through each flake and…well, they don’t shake out well when speared together.

  3. barefootfarmflower permalink
    March 19, 2015 1:54 pm

    I always forget to add the lime- good reminder. This year my sacrifice area is right next to my driveway. I think I’m going to throw out some pumpkin and sunflower seeds once the cows are moved. Just to pretty it up for the summer. And maybe those pumpkins will grow huge with all the rich soil to use up.

  4. Bee permalink
    March 19, 2015 4:08 pm

    I have feeding shed envy!!

    Back in the day, my father-in-law ran his cow herd in one of the smaller fields close to the house during the winter. They fed the hay on top of the snow with a team of horses, and in addition to the manure and carbon, the cows calved there. It was much safer than any of the other areas on the ranch and easy to keep an eye on the new babies. Come spring, the cows went out on the mountain, and Dallas plowed the “leavings” under. They usually planted corn in the calving field and sold it to everybody in town. That’s how I met them, actually, as a friend took me out to pick sweet corn to freeze.

  5. March 19, 2015 5:22 pm

    I am with you! Thanukflly I am only running two (and soon three) cows on this bedding.. you have a much bigger job.. the others have a big concrete pad.. thanks gods.. c

  6. deb permalink
    March 20, 2015 9:26 am

    These are such wonderful posts to read and learn. I wonder if I may ask a question. And since you obviously have many more things to do than answer questions from total strangers, I will not feel slighted at all if you cannot take the time.

    We are planning a barn build for spring. It will be a small, simple affair, maybe two horse stalls and a run-iin area, plus tack and hay storage. But it is my sincere desire to get a family cow in the next year.or two. (we just bought this homestead, and have lots of projects that have to get done first!) I would love to know what the basic barn space requirements would be and how we might plan better for this option in the future?
    Maybe you already have a previous post about this, but I haven’t really found much on the web about what a single family cow might need in terms of space for milking, calving, etc.
    Anyway, thanks either way, because I am gleaning lots from reading your posts…

    • March 21, 2015 5:02 am

      At a minimum you need room for winter hay storage (figure 50# per day), bedding storage, a milking area away from cow sleeping area, a roomy box stall or pen, 12′ x 12′ is adequate but larger is nicer, and a place to keep the calf separate if you have to. No combining horses with cows, a locked feed room, and build your gates into your cow stall large enough to drag a dead cow out of…sounds bad, but stuff happens. That’s what I could consider the minimum. I don’t know where you live but roof space is a premium around here where we receive a lot of rain. Build in your potential and avoid the small building syndrome if you can. Even if you don’t get a cow, or don’t keep one once you get it, the building will be useful for some use on the homestead.

      • deb permalink
        March 21, 2015 5:09 am

        Thank you. While we are designing the barn, this is the time to build in these plans. we are in New England, so roof space is a premiim here too! This is helpful and I appreciate it.
        first day of spring, and its snowing…., sigh…..

        • March 21, 2015 5:14 am

          😦 We’re now in our usual spring weather after a taste of spring, fruit trees starting to bloom and now heavy, cold rain! Dang.

    • March 30, 2015 7:31 am

      I would highly recommend getting on the Keeping a Family Cow forum. Read everything you can. Pretty much every question you could think of has been discussed.

    • March 30, 2015 7:48 am

      I would highly recommend checking out the Keeping a Family Cow forum. Any question you could ever have is discussed there.

      • Deb P permalink
        March 30, 2015 9:14 am

        Thank you! I will do that!

  7. March 21, 2015 6:15 pm

    Milton’s bedding is getting higher and higher and higher! Hopefully his head won’t touch the ceiling by the time he can go outside! Your cattle are lovely.

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