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Hay shortage ... now what?

 
Cj Sloane
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I've just been cut off from the farmer I buy hay from! I wasn't worried because he had so much but it turns out much was pre-sold. Plus, he price was actually cheaper than last year. Last year was a horrible year for making hay in Vermont - way to wet.

I've been buying it weekly. Anyway, I can lay my hands on 100 square bales but between the cows & sheep I've been using 3 bales a day. I asked the farmer how much grain might help me stretch it but he said they could theoretically eat more hay with grain added.

I will certainly look into putting a bull in the freezer sooner than I had hoped. Any other suggestions? It's a long way till May's first cut. The sheep can forage early but my pasture isn't enough for the cows.

I may have to go with baleage but that's awful tough to handle without a tractor!
 
Michael Cox
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Cj - not really much help short term, but are you overstocked in the long term? Relying on bought hay suggests you have more livestock than your land would be able to support.
 
Cj Sloane
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The problem is I don't have much in the way of pasture. 7 years ago we had some logging done and opened up maybe 2 acres. The logger "helped us out" by flattening it out and pushing all the stumps in a pile and basically scrapping off what little top soil there was. It's slowly improving.

I do have plenty of land - 125 acres. But it's forested Vermont hillside, very ledgy and thus hard to fence. The animals I have are good foragers but not respectful of electric plus I'm off-grid. I'm hoping to have enough paddocks in a few years to support them - at least during the growing season.

Last spring I planted lots of willow cuttings which the cows & sheep like. They looked great during the very rainy May, June, July, then it was insanely dry till December so I'm not sure how many made it. I've planted lots of other things that the livestock will eat that are easier for me to grow - comfrey, black locust and there are lots of alder which I think Bill Mollison said was equal to hay. Last year I cut lots of reeds from my pond which the livestock loved so I may have to figure out a way for them to harvest it themselves.

I think if I can secure 10 wrapped bales I'll squeak by.
 
Michael Cox
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Got any evergreens they would be interested in if you cut them and dragged them to their pasture? I know the sheep by us love stripping bark from trees and things.

When you say your animals don't respect fencing - have you checked the voltage? It may simply not be high enough - how is your system earthed?

I can understand why you are trying to build more livestock up if you plan to bring more area into pasture eventually. Good luck!
 
Paul Ewing
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The best answer is to drastically reduce your stocking rate till your pastures can support more. There is a difference between supplemental feeding for short periods and replacement feeding which is what it sounds like you are doing. It is very hard to do replacement feeding and not go broke. Another thing is we buy all of our hay for the year at the first of the season so that we have it when we need it. This is a big bite in the pocket ($5000-$6000 a year for us now) but knowing you don't have to worry about finding hay in the middle of the winter is worth it.
 
Jeremey Weeks
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I agree with Paul, as long as all other options have been tried.

Call everyone you know with livestock, ask who they buy from. Sometimes this turns out better than before--two can get a quantity deal and split the hay.

Look on Craigslist.



 
Cj Sloane
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Michael Cox wrote:Got any evergreens they would be interested in if you cut them and dragged them to their pasture? I know the sheep by us love stripping bark from trees and things.

When you say your animals don't respect fencing - have you checked the voltage? It may simply not be high enough - how is your system earthed?

I can understand why you are trying to build more livestock up if you plan to bring more area into pasture eventually. Good luck!


I do give the sheep ever greens, it's those cows that are the problem.

I've got one bull that I planned to put into the freezer sometime this spring. I guess I'll do it sooner but I just put a whole pig in the freezer.

As for electric, the pigs respect it but it's not really worth it for the other animals - maybe I need a different breed of sheep. The rams have horns which seem to get stuck in the electro-netting.

I did secure 100 small square bales. I think I need 10 round bales in case it's bad haying weather this spring.
 
Eric Thompson
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If you have storage space, buying hay out of the field in summer is very economical and you can budget for a full winter. And to leverage this more, you may sometimes trade an animal for 10x its weight in hay.
In the short term, make some connections to get enough to get by, and maybe consider trading an animal instead of cash...
 
R Scott
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I built most of my herd by buying cheap in February when people ran out of hay--but only from the guys that downsized before starving the animals. Running out of hay can be a BIG problem.

I also had to scrape together a full set of haying equipment in about 3 days one year. Called the guy I had bale my hay for years to say the alfalfa would be ready in a week and he said he sold out over the winter and forgot to tell me. So now I bale my own hay.
 
Bill McGee
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An old timer told me about using oak leaves for feed for his cattle during hard times. (he was from Mass.). This might be worth a look.

* A quick google says young tender oak leaves can be toxic.
 
Johnny Niamert
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Bill McGee wrote:An old timer told me about using oak leaves for feed for his cattle during hard times. (he was from Mass.). This might be worth a look.

* A quick google says young tender oak leaves can be toxic.



I don't know about cattle, but mule deer sure love leaves from fruit trees.

They ate 12 full bags I emptied and had planned for composting.
 
Michael Cox
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You can make what is known as "goat hay" from oak trees. In the summer when they are in full leaf you can cut young leafy branches and dry them, as you would with grass hay. Your livestock will eat the dry leaves and bark, leaving the woody core.

In some regions trees are grown specifically for this purpose. I think the method is also known as "shredding".

Mike
 
Michael Cox
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Cj Sloane
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Eric Thompson wrote:If you have storage space, buying hay out of the field in summer is very economical and you can budget for a full winter.


I did figure this out several years ago and so I bought one of those shelter logic garages and filled it up that summer. That was awesome so I bought another the next year, despite a warning they tend to collapse.

Well, in the spring of '12 the first one collapsed. No big deal, we still had the 2nd one. My husband finally fixed the 1st one this fall (after haying season) and 2 months ago the 2nd collapsed. At least I had moved all the hay from that one to the good one!

If the 1st one collapses again I'll have to build a low-budget but sturdy building to store hay.
 
Cj Sloane
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Johnny Niamert wrote:
Bill McGee wrote:An old timer told me about using oak leaves for feed for his cattle during hard times. (he was from Mass.). This might be worth a look.

* A quick google says young tender oak leaves can be toxic.



I don't know about cattle, but mule deer sure love leaves from fruit trees.

They ate 12 full bags I emptied and had planned for composting.


This is the type of thing I'm looking for. If the deer ate them, sheep will eat them. Question on the fruit trees leaves: What time of year did you harvest them?

And, as a total aside, why'd you bag 'em for composting? to have spare brown material?
 
Cj Sloane
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I found the Bill Mollison quote I was looking for:

...willows and poplars, and some eucalyptus. Cattle love the bark of these trees. It is quite possible to have enclosures of maybe five acres of tree leaves, which is much better than having a barn full of hay.

I know there are 30,000 plants worldwide that cattle will eat. I'm keenly interested in Silvopasturing. I have a list of about 50 plants that will work in my area. The key question for me, being in Vermont, is storage so I'll keep looking through old books, I guess.

Maybe I should start a separate thread on hay alternatives...
 
R Scott
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Hay alternatives and winter storage without baling would be good topics.

 
Michael Cox
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What I understand of making hay from trees is that you need to harvest the leaves in the summer time when it is in full leaf and is producing loads of sugars. I'm not sure how palatable evergreens are and I doubt they would be as nutritious as deciduous leaves harvested at peak vigour.
 
Paul Ewing
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CJ, I would read Russell Smith's book Tree Crops for information on using tress as livestock food. A PDF version of the 1929 edition is here: http://soilandhealth.org/01aglibrary/010175.tree%20crops.pdf

I have a copy of the 1950 edition and it does have some useful additions. You can sometimes find the original 1950 edition at used book sites or ebay and there is a reprint available on Amazon for about $55.

Acres USA is working with Mark Shepard on an update but I called this morning and the editor says that they are still early in the process and it will be Fall at the earliest before it is out.

The book talks a lot about using tree mast for livestock feed, but does talk a bit about using the trees themselves for browse. One option is to plant high density rows (seedlings every 2-5 feet) using something like Mulberry (not sure if it grows that far north) and then removing most of the male trees as fodder and any female trees that are too close together.
 
Cj Sloane
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Tree Crops is one of my all time favorites!
 
Cj Sloane
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Michael Cox wrote:I'm not sure how palatable evergreens are and I doubt they would be as nutritious as deciduous leaves harvested at peak vigour.


They could be as nutritious because they are fresh - plenty of Vit C.

I would just not want to feed it to any animal that was going to be harvested near term based on the following anectode. A local told me that her husband got a moose out of season and it tasted like turpentine (which is made from evergreens). She suggested that this might be the reason there is a specific season for hunting!
 
Johnny Niamert
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Cj Verde wrote:
Question on the fruit trees leaves: What time of year did you harvest them?

And, as a total aside, why'd you bag 'em for composting? to have spare brown material?



That was the original plan. We got them from a semi-commercial orchard where the guy had the leaves from about 50 trees all bagged and ready. They were just raked up in the fall, when they naturally dropped.
He was putting off taking them to the dump, so we saved him the trouble and took them.
 
Red Bryant
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Since your problem is this winter instead of next, you might consider stretching your hay by feeding part beet pulp, or even going to a fodder system. Then your hundred bales might make it till the spring flush.

My beef and dairy cows do very well on supplemental beet pulp, giving more milk and gaining more weight than without it. I don't care much for grain. My sheep also do fine on it. And here's just a quick link to the fodder feeding, however if you Google it you'll find all sort of folks in all sorts of situations that use it, and you might find one that suits your needs.

http://pacapride.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/from-seed-to-feed-in-8-days-barley-fodder-sprouting-trials/

Hope that helps...

~red
 
Cj Sloane
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I actually just bought a 20 lb bag of sunflower seeds to try. I know they sprout but I'm not sure who I'll experiment on - probably the sheep. I almost bought a 50lb bag of barley from Agway last year, which they special ordered, but at the last moment I saw it was coated with a fungicide and labeled "not for feed."

I just don't think I can produce enough to make it worthwhile, except maybe for the chickens. Even if I commandeer the kid's bathtub (which they don't use) It seems like only enough to support 1 sheep - maybe. It has to be inside because it's too cold outside this time of year.

 
Bev Huth
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Any farm fields near you that had the plants be that corn or soy beans left over the winter? As for permission to cut those if there are any, cows can eat that for hay. Also rye grass may still be available somewhere (funny smelling but okay cattle hay.

Down here, when hay gets short, there is always rice hay (rice stalks after the rice has been harvested) and rye grass that many shun over the smell. Not the best, but it keeps the critters going until they can graze or better hay is available again.
 
Cj Sloane
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I think I have enough hay to making through till the bud-break. After much research I've found that the problem is, in fact, the solution.

I barely have any pasture, and I haven't had much success converting forest to pasture. The weather extremes haven't helped. That's why I'm short hay, it was such a horrible hay making year for people with great pasture! Last year, the spring was cold and dry, then it was so wet people could not hay till late July, if then, and then late summer/fall was extremely dry.

Through it all, the trees were green. I have plenty of land and plenty of trees.

This year I will be pollarding well know "fodder trees" in a cut-and-carry operation. I will primarily focus on Poplar and Willow, but I’ll also experiment with other well known fodder species like Black Locust, Ash, Elm, Alder, Hornbeam, Birch, Beech, Striped Maple, and Staghorn Sumac. The last three tree species have very little, if any, financial value and it is compelling to convert those low value trees into high value meat.

I'll also be planting about an acre of "browse block" for future fodder/forage. Poplar, Willow, Black Locust, Mulberry, possibly Honey Locust.
 
Cj Sloane
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Oh yeah, I'll also be stacking functions by converting the left over wood into “bolts” for mushroom cultivation. Poplar, Beech, and Birch can host shiitakes while Willows, Elm, Mulberry, and Alder can host oyster mushrooms. Two yields from the same perennial crop! Plus, I'll be opening up the canopy.
 
Andy Reed
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This may sound silly, but take the cows for a walk down the road. As kids we used to graze cows on the roadside, just to keep things tidy. I've done it before when I was low on feed. Yes you will need some temporary fencing if the roadside isn't fenced, etc. It may not work for you but worth trying. Worst case scenario someone isn't happy and moans about. No big deal.
 
Cj Sloane
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My cows are not halter trained so that's not going to work. Besides, its a full mile to the road! Everything's frozen anyway. As soon as the leaves open up, I'll be all set, and I'll bring them fodder. The weather is not cooperating at all. I wonder how they'll make maple syrup with it not getting above freezing during the day. At some point the buds will open whether or not they were able to collect sap.
 
Andy Reed
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I was just meaning take them for a graze down the road, not with a halter. We used to graze a mob of over 50 cows on the quite country road where we farmed. I would take a book and stop the cows going one way, my brother would do the same at the other end. If things are too frozen it's not helpful I agree. All the best.
 
Dan Grubbs
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This isn't an immediate solution, but is it possible that you can adapt your animal species choices to your existing landscape rather than the other way around. Since you have so much wooded area, have you considered swine? I realize you mentioned that fencing in the wooded area was a challenge, but it might be a worthwile endeavor to stack the function of swine in your woods. Just tossing that out there.
 
Renate Howard
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How are you making out? We ran out of hay, and then wound up with some very poor quality hay due to needing to get it SOON and not checking carefully for quality. We had to buy some protein tubs to make up for the poor hay to keep the cattle in condition because the one cow had a huge calf and she was losing condition trying to keep him fed. The feed stores sell bags of "hay stretcher", I think it's agricultural waste like rice hulls mixed with vitamins and molasses. Not ideal, but if you don't have time to cut enough to keep them fed yourself you have to do what you have to do to keep them going until the grass comes in.

Ours ate one bale a day in late fall (still lots of stockpiled pasture) then by December were up to two bales, by January up to 3 bales and by February 4 bales a day weren't enough. It's hard to plan hay needs when the amount they eat changes so much! I think the extra cold winter made them eat more, tho as well.
 
Cj Sloane
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Dan, I have tried pigs and this is the first winter I have kept one over. I do think they are a better fit it some ways & my next step will be to breed them. I'm disappointed to say I'm not the first Jewish woman around here to do such a thing!

If the cows & sheep take to my pollarding attempts I will be able to feed them but I'm not sure how much room I'll have to store the tree hay. I'm considering making silage too - small scale.
 
Cj Sloane
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Renate, so far so good. I was able to buy 100+ bales and the farmer who cut me off now thinks he has some to spare.

I've been feeding a little more lately after reading all about the "death triangle" from the permaculture voices notes. The cow is looking a little boney to me around her spine but none of the other bulls/calves do. They're always so vocal when hungry & they haven't been mooing so I'm not sure if it's an issue or not. I had made an on farm slaughter date for April 7th but now my husband is saying to wait - this would be the worst time of year and things should get better, let them fatten up.

4 more days before the temps get above freezing Then mud season starts for real
 
Cj Sloane
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Cj Verde wrote:I've been feeding a little more lately after reading all about the "death triangle" from the permaculture voices notes. The cow is looking a little boney to me around her spine but none of the other bulls/calves do. They're always so vocal when hungry & they haven't been mooing so I'm not sure if it's an issue or not.


Here's a question:
If the cows are laying down, chewing their cud, is that a good sign they eating enough?
 
Dan Grubbs
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CJ
I read your question (not a cattle person myself) and I took it to a person I trust who grew up and currently raises show livestock, including beef cattle. I was more than curious to hear their expert responses because I always lean something when I ask them questions. They both said that there could be several reasons why a cow might be more boney when others are looking healthy in the same herd. They qualified their answer by saying "if all things are equal for all the cows"

1 - This cow could be less tolerant to parasites than the others.
2 - This cow could have something in its digestive system that isn't allowing it to draw nutrients (see "Hardware disease of cattle" at this link: http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G7700).
3 - This cow might have a disease that either the others don't have or not yet.

She suggested isolating the animal to better monitor its intake which can help eliminate variables.

As usual, I'm out of my element, but just passing along what this cattlewoman told me.

Dan
 
R Scott
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What breed of cow? Bull?

Most modern diary cows all look boney to me. Especially when in milk.
 
Cj Sloane
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As luck would have it, I've got a photo from October, before the super cold weather & before the hay shortage & just after she gave birth:


So, I guess she looks about the same now and she could be due next October.
Clearly not a modern dairy cow but... her calf is probably still drinking a bit and like I said she's probably pregs.

I think she's fine. I try to keep my neurotic Jewish mothering tendencies at bay while farming but they do sneak out on occasion.

The good news is, the pond is now ice free and I saw my first willow leaves open up today.
 
Adam Klaus
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Cj Verde wrote:
Here's a question:
If the cows are laying down, chewing their cud, is that a good sign they eating enough?


Yes, IMO.
 
Raye Beasley
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I have Belties as well. Your cow is not typical of a Beltie. I have one just like her, even worse. I have watched her for years. She is low down on the pecking order and doesn't get first choice of feed. She came to me in a herd of seven and I beleive she was short on minerals/ nutrition, probably having calved too young as a first timer and not having the nutritional support needed as well. That sets them apart for life. Purely speculation about my cow.

If you look at the hind quarters of your cow, she has a dairy build rather than a beef build. Belties were bred dual purpose and I have come to the conclusion that most lean towards being beef types but a select few lean stronger to the dairy. These cows are just as tough as a typical Beltie, but they also produce much more milk than the beefier type. The problem is, they look so much worse than the chubby ones that you cannot help but worry.

I just make sure the parisites are under control and plenty of minerals are available along with lots of space at the feeders for all the cows in the herd and hope she is hiding in the bushes when people come to visit.
 
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