Old Farmer Tip #3:Bedding Cattle

January 19, 2023

I don’t have a good photo of bedding cattle, so I just threw this one in here of a nice heifer calf from this fall.

Bedding cattle, for those of you who don’t know, is the practice of laying down forage, usually straw, to give the cattle more comfort in winter or in muddy conditions.

For those of you who bed cattle on a hillside, here’s something to try. The natural inclination, for me at least, is to bed around the contour of the hill, which works fine.

But one day I decided to bed up and down the hill, and I saw right away that the cattle prefer and utilize the bedding better when it’s bedded up and down the hill.

Strange but true, at least for my herd. Give it a try, and let me know if it works for your herd.

Daily Winter Cattle Watering

January 14, 2013

Cattle Tank Waterer

I wanted to house my fall-calving cows with calves on the south side of my farm this winter.  I couldn’t figure out a good way to walk them back over to where the heated Ritchie waterer is, so I purchased the 110 gallon tank, pictured above.

465 is the cow in the photo.  She is my oldest cow at nine years old.  Coincidentally, she was the model cow in last year’s post about the Ritchie waterer.

I needed a way to keep the water thawed.  So I purchased a sinking tank de-icer.  The first cold night it blew a 15 amp fuse.  I thought I was in for trouble, but I replaced it with a 20 amp fuse and it has worked flawlessly since.

Sinking Tank De-Icer

One drawback is I fill the tank with a hose at least twice per day, draining the hose well after each fill.  I figure each cow is drinking between 15 and 20 gallons per day.  I don’t notice the calves drinking much because they are still nursing their mothers.

In the photo below you can see the herd eating hay out of a feeder.  13 cows, 12 calves, and 1 bull are eating a half of a round bale of hay per day.  If similar quality hay is valued at $200 per ton, and a round bale is 1500 lbs, then the herd is eating $75 worth of hay per day.

Tank Waterer and Cows Eating Hay

Grazed Barley/Rape Field

June 20, 2012

In the previous post, BC asked for more photos, and specifically what the field looks like when they’ve finished grazing.  This is the field, four days after turning in 31 steers and 30 hogs.  The field is about 3/4 of an acre.  The hogs received some grain besides.

In my next post, I’ll show what I did with the field now that they have finished grazing.

Cattle/Hogs Grazing Barley/Rape

June 18, 2012

This is the Barley/Rape field on June 15th as I turned the steers and sows in for grazing.  I planted it April 27th and posted pictures on May 11th.  Growth is slow the first couple of weeks, but really takes off after that.

Forage for Swine: Oat Bale for Sows

February 1, 2012

Inspired by Walter Jeffries, who raises hogs with forage as the primary feedstuff, I decided to feed the sows a round bale of oats.  I baled these last summer when my oat fields blew down in a storm.

My plan had been to combine the oats, removing the oats from the straw, then bale the straw for bedding.  I had to use a backup plan, and cut the oats before they were ready to be harvested, and bale them as forage.

Cattle will readily eat this forage, but I hadn’t considered feeding it to swine until reading Walter’s blog.  It’s notable that I’m being inspired by the outliers.  Thank you, Walter.

Forage Testing

October 13, 2011

I took three cutting off this hay field, and it’s ready to be cut or grazed again at the end of September.  I’ll wait until after a hard frost, but before the snow gets deep, to graze this field with cattle.

If I grazed this field now, the alfalfa may use most of its root reserves to initiate regrowth.  If a hard frost shuts down the alfalfa at this point, it may have a difficult time surviving the winter because its root reserves are too low.  Grazing or cutting after the plant has gone dormant has little effect.  The time I avoid cutting or grazing is from about September 15th to October 15th, for this climate.

Justin, formerly of  Midwestern Bio-Ag, took two forage samples, one from first cutting, and one from second cutting.  The samples were taken from square bales, stored in the barn.  First cutting was baled June 1st.  Second cutting was baled July 8th.  The alfalfa was full-bloom both times.

I don’t understand forage testing very well.  If you want an in-depth explanation, check out this excellent article from the University of Kentucky.

These were the first forage tests I’ve ever taken on my farm.  I’ll share some of what I learned.

Even though both cuttings were taken when the alfalfa was full-bloom, 2nd cutting was considerably higher in quality than 1st cutting.  The cattle’s preference confirms this.  2nd cutting was higher in protein, (17.28 to 16.58), lower in ADF fiber, (31.96 to 37.23), higher in TDN total digestible nutrients, (57.06% to 51.13%), and higher in RFQ relative feed quality, (143.91 to 108.68).

I’ll summarize what these numbers mean to me.  Cattle can maintain their weight eating the first cutting hay, and gain some weight eating the second cutting hay.

Some other interesting findings, calcium was low, lending credence to the importance of added calcium, which I have not done.  Manganese was fine, which is strange because my soil tests show low manganese.  Potassium was high, which is also strange because I didn’t add any potassium in the spring, eliminating the theory of luxury consumption, and the soil tests show medium potassium.

If you have any thoughts about this, please share.

Leaves of Grass

February 7, 2011

Timothy, Phleum pratense

Timothy is one of my favorite grasses.  I mix its small seeds in with alfalfa, when I’m planting the new hay seeding in the spring.  Look at the broad, beautiful leaves.  Look at the seedheads, covered in pollen.

I’ll lay it down, sun-dry, rake, and roll up, into a big, round, bale.  Summer sun, tucked away, waiting to be fed on a cold, winter’s day.

I’ve often thought that I should like the poetry of Walt Whitman more.  He titled his epic book of poems, “Leaves of Grass.” This suggested a kinship with him that turned out to be  nonexistent. I recently learned that he titled his life’s work based on a pun, “Grass” was a term given by publishers to works of minor value and “leaves” is another name for the pages on which they were printed.

I do like his poem, “O Captain! My Captain!”, written about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  It’s more straightforward.

My favorite poet is Robert Frost. I plan on writing a post, inspired by one of his poems.  The first person to guess which poem, will win a $25 gift certificate to Kiva. One guess per person.  The poem is not “Mending Wall.” I’ll give you a hint, the post is about genetics.  Good luck!

Forage Seeding Rates/ Seeds Per Square Foot

January 20, 2010

Do you know how many seeds per square foot you are planting?  I didn’t, until I read an interesting article titled, “The Forage Seeding Gamble” by Fae Holin.

It’s interesting that my planned recipe for this year’s seeding, 10 lbs. alfalfa, 5 lbs. orchardgrass, and 2 lbs. Timothy, results in 50 alfalfa seeds per sq. foot, 55 orchardgrass seeds per sq. foot, and 58 timothy seeds per sq. foot, according to the author’s calculations.  Very similar number of seeds per sq. foot.

I’m surprised I had never figured this out before as the calculations are not that difficult.  First, you need to find the number of seeds per lb.  I found several sources on the web, all with different numbers.  I guess people get bored counting thousands of seed and just start to estimate.  Here is a nice chart with reasonable numbers.

To find the seed per sq. foot with 1 lb. per acre, just divide the number of seeds in a lb. by the number of sq. feet in an acre.  We’ll use alfalfa as an example.  Alfalfa has 227,000 seeds per. lb. on the previous chart.  We know there is 43,560 sq. feet in an acre.  So 227,000 divided by 43,560 equals roughly 5 seeds per sq. foot.  If we plant 10 lbs. per acre then just multiply 10 by the number of seeds per sq. foot with 1 lb. per acre and you have 50 seeds per sq. foot when planting 10 lbs. per acre.

Another calculation which I had never considered is seeds per dollar.  I’m not sure how useful this calculation is, but I find it interesting.

Here are my figures for this year.  K500 alfalfa, 227,000 seeds per lb., $2.58 dollars per lb., equals 87,984 seeds per dollar.  Climax timothy, 1,152,000 seeds per lb., $1.06 dollars per lb., equals 1,086,792 seeds per dollar.  Baraula orchardgrass, 416,000 seeds per lb., $2.44 dollars per lb., equals 170,492 seeds per dollar.  Seed seems less expensive now.

Now that I know how many seeds per sq. foot I’m planting, I wonder how many actually grow.  It would be interesting to get down on my hands and knees and do some counting this summer.  One thing always leads to another in an interested life!

Baraula Orchardgrass Seeding for Hay and Pasture

January 6, 2010

Rejoice!  Baraula Orchardgrass seed is a steal this year compared to last year.

In my post, “2009 New Hay Seeding,” I detail how I planted a field to Baraula Orchardgrass and Alfalfa.  I didn’t plant any Baraula in 2009 because I was waiting to evaluate the quality and yield.  It was outstanding and I wrote about it in my post, “2009 Hay and Forage Summary.”

When I received the 2010 Welter seed catalog I immediately flipped to Baraula Orchardgrass and was happily surprised by the price of $122 for a 50 lb. bag.  Last year the price was $200.

I emailed Welter’s and asked why.  They said there is a much better supply this year.

The “law of supply and demand” works.  But it’s important to remember it may be supply and/or demand affecting the price.  I assumed the demand for Baraula must have been through the roof.  Looking back now I see all the Orchardgrasses were higher priced.  The seed companies must have had a poor yielding year.  So the price was affected more by supply than demand.

I realize I need to do what’s right for my farm.  I’m glad I tried some other species of grass last year as I look forward to evaluating them.

As for this year’s new seeding I’m going to plant all 59 acres to K500 Alfalfa, Climax Timothy, and Baraula Orchardgrass.

2009 Hay and Forage Summary

September 25, 2009


Cattle grazing my best hay field, September 24, 2009.

In my post, “2009 New Hay Seeding,” I promised summer yield statistics.  When the cattle finish grazing the hay field pictured, every hay field will have been harvested or grazed three times.  Here are the statistics.

All the hay was baled in 1500 lb. round bales.  Estimated moisture content is 15%.

1st cutting: 120.4 acres, 341 bales, 511,500 lbs., 4,248 lbs./acre.

2nd cutting: 82.1 acres, 127 bales, 190,500 lbs., 2,320 lbs./acre.

3rd cutting: 61.3 acres, 68 bales, 102,000 lbs., 1,664 lbs./acre.

Total: 88 average acres, 536 bales, 804,000 lbs., 9,136 lbs./acre.

The reason the number of acres declines from one cutting to the next is because I start grazing selected hay fields with the cattle instead of harvesting them by machine.  I do this to help mitigate the summer slump in pasture growth and keep my cattle gaining well.

I graze fields which are self-contained, (no corn strips as cattle are hard to keep out of corn fields).  And prefer fields which are difficult to access with manure.  Without manure, fields decline in fertility.  Grazing, instead of machine harvesting and feeding elsewhere, keeps more of the soil’s fertility in place.

Hay fields were grazed with the mob of 134 cows and 134 calves and 5 herd bulls.  Here are the grazing statistics:

1st grazing: 38.3 acres, 10 days, 3.83 acres/day.

2nd grazing: 59.1 acres, 15 days, 3.94 acres/day.

1st grazing corresponds to 2nd cutting and 2nd grazing corresponds to 3rd cutting.  So if I take the average yield for 2nd and 3rd cutting and multiply by the number of acres grazed/day, I find the equivalent amount of forage the mob was eating.

1st grazing: 3.83 acres x 2,320 lbs. = 8,885 lbs./day.

2nd grazing: 3.94 acres x 1,664 lbs. =6,556 lbs./day.

I’ll have to do more “cipherin” to figure if it’s more economical to hay or graze.  I do most of my heavy thinkin’ in the winter and will have an updated post for you then.  I’ll tell you one thing.  I prefer to graze 2nd and 3rd cutting and oftentimes that is how farmers make decisions.

Below is a close-up picture of the field pictured above.  It is 1st year hay with what I consider  the ideal mix of grass to hay.  My recipe was 10 lbs. alfalfa, 2lbs. Climax Timothy, and 4 lbs. Baraula Orchardgrass from Barenbrug Seeds.  Baraula is the latest maturing Orchardgrass I have ever used and I will be planting more of it next year.   This field yielded tremendously and makes me think about the potential for my farm.  Here are the statistics:

1st cutting: 12.1 acres, 61 bales, 91,500 lbs., 7,500 lbs./acre, 77% better than the average.

2nd cutting: 12.1 acres, 29 bales, 43,500 lbs., 3,595 lbs./acre, 55% better than the average.

As shown, it is being grazed now.  I was late getting the mob to this field so it will not be grazed anymore this year.  Most of the other hay fields will be grazed by the cattle in October/November after a killing frost but before the snow flies.