Saturday, January 17, 2009

Oooo ooo, that smell...

Paul surprised me today by bringing home a haylage bale. If you live anywhere near a dairy, or pass by beef or dairy farms on your commute, you've probably seen haylage...they're big, and round, and wrapped in (usually) white plastic. They are made of damp hay, usually later cuttings of the field, rolled into round bales and wrapped in plastic, then left alone to ferment before they're fed to livestock. They are reportedly higher in protein regular grass hay, and their plastic wrap makes them weather resistant, so they can be kept longer and with less effort.

Folks who feed haylage (or their common equivalent, silage, which is corn stalks prepared in the same manner) usually have the equipment for it: a tractor with a bucket or these big metal spike things, which are driven into the ends of the bale to pick it up, and then a hay ring that allows the cattle access to the unwrapped bale through bars they can stick their heads through. The latter prevents the animals from wasting the feed by scattering it everywhere and then lying, peeing or pooping in it, something they're very good at. (Incidentally, they won't eat soiled feed, so once it's soiled, it's ruined. I suppose that's a good thing.)

We have a hay ring, a second-hand one we bought from one of Paul's co-workers a few weeks ago; it's been sitting in front of the house in our evergreen tree bed like a giant hamster wheel, probably eight to ten feet in diameter. We priced rings at the feed store and found the cost anywhere from about $185 to over $500 for the really fancy ones. Ours is nothing fancy, just plain, dented, silver steel (or something), which is fine for us...the cows don't care! It's got vertical feeding bars like all of them do, but this one has slanted bars with a jog in them, which should be easier for our horned girls to get their wide heads in and out of.

Bridgit and her daughter quickly discovered how to eat through the bars, although the haylage is mostly out of reach for Annabel this way, given her little neck isn't long enough to reach everything (the open bottom of the feeder works for her, and hopefully is low enough that neither calf will see it as a way into the feeder). Sheila's horns are longer so she has to crank her head more to get through the bars, which likely involves a little more effort and thought. Being so large, the feeder also makes it a little harder for Sheila to bully Bridgit away from food, which is a common thing for dominant cows to do to the underlings. (Bridgit, incidentally, pushes T-Bone, Sheila's calf around, because he's next on the totem pole. He's so docile he doesn't bully Annabel, but he could if he wanted to.) With ample room to feed and more effort involved in getting her head in and out of the feeder, we're hoping Sheila won't be as quick to push Bridgit around at feeding time, which will mean Bridgit can continue to gain weight like she needs to to be rebred.

Getting the haylage bale into position in the paddock was a riot; probably a good thing no one saw us. Let's just say the bale is very heavy (900-1000 pounds or so), kind of squishy so hard to roll, and awkward. Thank God for strong husbands and 4-wheel drive diesel pick up trucks. Someday we'll have a tractor so we won't have to act so foolish (especially me, who got the giggles while trying to help tip the dang thing on-end, thereby losing probably 40% of my strength).

The cows are completely delighted with their new feed, and we're delighted as well; it'll take them probably two weeks to consume the whole bale, so we won't have to schlep out there daily to give them a fresh 40-pound bale of dry grass hay like we have been the last few months. The cows can eat haylage at their leisure. When it's gone, we might feed dry bales for a bit, then will do the haylage again. Tabor Thunder, the calves' father, is coming for a 9-10 week stay next month to rebreed Sheila and Bridgit, so he can eat haylage, too. He seems to be a very gentle guy, as bulls go, but it would be safer nonetheless to minimize the number of times we have to enter the paddock with him in there, and haylage will help.

The only part of this deal I'm still getting used to is the smell. Haylage smells, um, ripe. Full-bodied, sour, kind of acrid, with occasional whiffs of hay-sweetness. Very odd. It makes me wrinkle my nose; it reminds Paul of childhood visits to dairies. Hmm. I'm sure I'll get used to it!


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