We've come to that point in the year where the Oregon weather has made the ground wet enough that it's time for the Ladies to come off the pastures and into the barns for winter. We rotationally graze our herd for as many months out of the year as the weather allows. But once the rain starts it ultimately becomes too wet......soggy ground + over 80 cows stamping around would = ruined pasture for next year. One of the many steps we take to ensure we are making sound decisions for the environment and land that helps support our Ladies.
So while we would love to see the Ladies out on the fields year round, it just isn't a sound decision. So as we close the gate for the year and they are confined to the barn for winter we make every effort to ensure they are extra comfortable and well cared for. So what are some of the extra steps that go into winter care:
The Ladies have a nutritionist that works with us to make sure they are getting everything they need in precisely the correct portions. When they come in off of pasture that ration has to be reworked to adjust their diet to the absence of fresh grass. They are fed grain, top quality alfalfa, and a corn silage. They get all this year round, but consume more of course when not also getting fresh grass. And that consumption is huge; the average cow eats approximately 100lbs of forage a day. So in the fall, the end of the growing season, we purchase 400 tons of silage and 350 tons of alfalfa hay to feed our Ladies through the winter and into the next growing season.
A big part of dairy management and the other side of these large animals consuming that much feed, is that it all has to come out the other end, in manure form! And confined to the barn that manure builds up quickly. So every day, twice a day, all alley's are scraped clean of manure. This provides a clean environment for the Ladies which is important to their health and clean milk production. It also provides us with the opportunity to utilize that waste as fertilizer for the pastures.
Our barn also provide a comfortable place for our Ladies to lay down. Called free stalls, these beds are padded with rubber tires and also bedded with sawdust, the perfect bovine mattress! Each Lady is free to choose when and where she wishes to lay down. Confining the Ladies in close quarters we also try to make sure they're not only comfortable, but also content.
They also have areas where brushes are set up to scratch and groom their winter coats. There is often a waiting line at the brushes!
Besides extra scratches, because they are in the barn and we are interacting with them more then when they are out to pasture, the Ladies also routinely see our veterinary once every month. Our vet is checking up on the cows that have just calved, checking for cows that are pregnant and just helping with general cow wellness. Really the Ladies probably see their doctor more often than the average person! Veterinary care is routine no matter the weather, but hoof care becomes even more important in the winter. Our hoof trimmer, or bovine pedicurist, routinely comes every 3 months to make sure the Ladies feet are in pristine condition. Sometimes throughout the winter we will have him come an extra time for any Ladies that aren't dealing with being inside as well as they should. The hooves are very important to the health of a cow as they must carry all of her weight. A cow with sore feet, is a cow that doesn't want to walk, which results in not wanting to move around to eat and drink and ultimately affects her production. So hoof care is a very important part of winter management.
*A picture's worth a thousand words: I have pictures for all these categories, but my internet has been so dreadfully slow, they are not cooperating in uploading. I promise to repost as soon as I can make the pictures happen! One of the many joys of living in the "boonies"!!*
So while some of the Ladies do continue to look longingly out at the
pastures, they definitely are content with the spa like treatment they
receive while shut in for the winter. And in a few short months when the
weather allows, the gate will be reopened to rejuvenated green grass