You’ve probably heard me say this before, but farmers are happy when cows are happy. Cows are happy when they are healthy! This week’s post will take you through the feed cycle, a vital part of keeping the cows at the top of their game. Not going to lie, I stole most of this from my lovely mother who posted it on the Appel Family Dairy Facebook page as a slideshow. All the photos and research are her work! Check out the page by clicking HERE.
Our cows have their very own nutritionist to specifically design a quality diet year round. They are fed a blend of alfalfa hay, canola, cotton seed, rolled corn, a mineral mix, all along with grass and corn silage. Testing of the hay and silage is done to get the perfect blend of all the components, developing the the best possible diet for our cows health. As we add each ingredient, they are weighed to match the loading sheets we get from the nutritionist.
Starting in the spring, we get roughly 5 cuttings of grass silage per season from the multiple fields we either own or rent. With each field, the tonnage taken off and the manure applied is carefully tracked.
If the grass needs to be dried out a bit before being packed away, we “ted”. Tedding basically fluffs up the grass and spreads it out to dry. When it reaches a 60/40 balance of moisture and dryness it’s time to rake!
The rake picks up the grass, forming it into rows for the chopper. Then the chopper comes in, picks up the grass, and chops it into finer pieces. This makes it easier to store!
The grass is then either blown into the silage wagon and transferred to a silage truck or, if they are really talented, blown directly into the silage truck.
Once in the truck, the silage is transported to our storage bunkers where stacking tractors roll over it again and again to pack it down. After the silage is packed down the recruitment begins, and any able bodied person is fair game when it comes to tarping the bunker!
We cover the silage with a tarp and cover it with tires to press the air out and hold it down. Typically those tires are recycled from year to year, which means they have silage juice and water just chillin’ there for months at a time. Imagine throwing those tires around and that lovely fragrant water sloshing all over you. THIS is the reason some people avoid this particular job. Even though it may not be the most fun job, it’s very important to cover all the grass to prevent spoilage. There is no choice, it must be done!
As farmers, we have the best source of fertilizer, a natural by-product of our own cows, manure! In the wet season, we store this valuable product in clay lined lagoons until we can safety use it on our fields. To do the most good, we must spread it at just the right time, so after the grass is taken off the fields it’s time to apply the manure!
This means we are very particular about checking the weather forecast. We want the grass to absorb the nutrients, so if there is a chance of heavy rain we wait. As the grass grows, it takes up nutrients from the soil. In order to take the best care of the land these need to be replenished.
To help in maintaining this balance we do three things.
- Test the soil of each field to determine the nutrient needs.
- Record the amount of manure applied to each field.
- Record the tonnage of corn taken off each field.
This is a part of our own personalized Dairy Nutrient Management Plan (DNMP) set in place by the WA state conservation commission to best meet the goals for sustainability. Established in 1998 by the WA state legislature, the Dairy Nutrient Management Act requires all dairy farmers to have a DNMP. This is all a part of the process to help us best manage our land, provide quality feed for our cows, and protect the environment.