Gertrude is my favorite thing on the farm right now (besides the people).
But, like all living things, she must eat. And lately, we’ve been learning a bit more about what she needs, what she wants, and the opposite of those.
Now, beef cattle are generally pasture-raised and supplemented with grain, by ranchers. Then they’re sold to a big beef company (e.g. Cargill) to be grain-finished. That’s the gross part – where they’re packed into feed lots for over a month, their movement is restricted (to keep them from losing weight), and they’re made obese by a grain-based diet. 😦
Not our Gertrude.
She is not a beef cow, for one. And for two, we want her to be a healthy, happy cow. So she eats grass during the time when there’s not a foot of snow on the ground, and hay during the other times. Mostly.
We recently learned that, because of the probable nutrient-deficiency in the hay we’re feeding her, we ought to supplement her diet with just a little bit of molasses-laced grain. More on that below…
We also learned that different grasses have different nutrient densities. I found this chart from http://www.caringforyourhorse.com…
I don’t know what hay type we started Gertie on. It was a hay we bought from the people who sold her to us. Then we moved to a hay from a local feed store – alfalfa-based. She ate that up. So we bought a new (overpriced) bale of lespedeza-based hay. Lespedeza is a grass a notch below alfalfa (the best).
As of now, she seems to hate the lespedeza. That’s okay, because we then bought seven bales of Fescue/Orchard mix today. She likes that.
But yesterday, we received the advice of a local Mennonite man named Michael – that we ought to supplement Gertie’s diet with grain.
“NO!” I wanted to shout. “My cow will be only grass-fed!” I thought of Joel Salatin, my hero, and his only-grass-fed cows.
Michael also knew of Mr. Salatin – and he posited that Joel’s cows can probably thrive solely on grass because of Joel’s ingenius fertilizing system.
Joel cycles chicken “tractors” from pasture to pasture. The chickens in these tractors eat the bugs from the ground, and poop them out, leaving super-fertilizer in their wake. The tractors are easily moved from one patch of grass to the next, and then after the whole field has been fertilized with chicken poo, the super-grass grows up, and the happy cows chomp it down.
That’s what I want to do.
But until then, we’ll supplement Gertie with grain. Just a little dab here and there.
But I don’t like buying probably-GMO’d, commercially fertilized, crap-grain for our wonderful Gertrude.
So, this spring’s mission: grow our own grains (and even sorghum, for molasses). We’ll see how it goes…