January was warm, open and spring-like, so the herd was able to graze the hillsides until about the 1st of February. The entire month of February was a near constant blizzard though. I suppose it's a fair trade. Only now are we starting to thaw out a little bit.
Once a heavy snow sets in, the feeding trucks come out. We have two trucks with flat bed trailers and hydraulic arms on the back that are handy for lots things, but meant for grabbing round bails of hail and unrolling them to fill the bellies of cattle. It's a pretty effortless, modern way to feed compared to the old days! Imagine... You're feeding cattle in the pasture. You have square bails and a pitch fork. You're alone, so you put your pickup in first gear, 4 low, hop out and up onto the back of your now driverless pickup and manually fork off 20,000 pounds of hay to hungry critters... Yeah! We have it pretty easy today. With our fancy new fandangled technologies, feeding cattle is now easily a one man job. No driverless pickups required!
Saturday, February 29th, I was able to tag along with Taylor and get some photos of what his daily "to-do's" look like for you! As a passenger, I was required to get gates for him, but otherwise I just watched him do his thing. #moralsupport
The day went like this: After breakfast, we headed out to feed the fats (Truly Beef cattle we are fattening to eat) their morning grain. Pictured below is the rolled barley grains we are feeding while we wait for more brewers grains from Smith Alley Brewing Company in Sheridan. Our pups, Gilla and Bindi, are now about 6 months old. With tremendous instinct and desire to work cattle, Gilla kept getting under foot, so Taylor asked her to sit and when she did... she got sniffed and groomed by a number of curious cows! Bindi was off somewhere else playing with another puppy.
Next, we gave some mare/foal grain to the pregnant horses (we should have some new foals sometime in April/May!). They have 24/7 access to hay set up in a self-feeder, but the grain is just a little extra nutrients for mom and baby, almost like a prenatal vitamin... But tastier.
After feeding the mares we hopped in the truck, loaded up some hay and headed off to feed the cattle! They've associated the sound of a diesel pickup with mealtime, so they coming running as soon as you're in earshot.
These cattle are eating primarily the hay that's grown on this place, allowing their diet to be very consistent. Because they spend the winter in the hay meadow, eating hay, grazing and spreading manure, they are returning a huge amount of nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon back to the soil. The piles of manure will be dragged across the meadows this spring to help spread the fertilizer which will promote healthier, greener pastures. Whereas, if no animals were to graze this land, the grass would continue cycles of pulling nutrients up from the soil which would then die on the stalk and not return to the soil. With nothing to eat the grass, eventually the soil would become hard and barren, yielding nothing but weeds and releasing more carbon into the air. So! Grazing is good.
We weaned our calves off their mothers a few months ago. We keep and feed them in a separate pasture so they don't go back to their mothers. Feeding these older calves is the perfect time to let the pups practice working cattle. The weanlings aren't full grown and they aren't as protective as their mothers, so there's less chance of getting a pup (or its confidence) hurt. So we cast the pups out to bring the weanlings in for hay.
That was pretty much the day! Each group of cattle was fed by 3pm, so Taylor went out to train horses until sundown, and then we finished the day eating dinner with the family at Taylor's grandmother's house. It was a nice, mellow Saturday.
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- Cathryn Kerns