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Feeding my cows trees

 
Cj Sloane
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I've begun my tree as fodder experiment:


I cut down a small beech tree and the mooing began. I don't know if they smelled it or if they just like to whine when they see me. They already had their regular hay for the day but they were mob grazing... my truck:


So clearly they like eating beech, and I like the idea of converting a low value tree to high value meat. And I certainly need to open up the canopy in lots of areas. I've just got to work on doing this more efficiently. In a perfect setup, I'd just cut down a tree and let them into that paddock to eat it.

My next attempt is probably to purchase one of those round metal feeders. Ideally I'd fill that up and then let them in to a new paddock but they may complain too much while I'm busy filling it up.
Thoughts?
 
Cj Sloane
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I forgot to add that I'm stacking functions because I'm feeding the cows, opening up the canopy AND turning the trunks into bolts for mushrooms! Quite are few trees are good for shiitakes including beech. This isn't the most perfect time of year to be felling trees for mushrooms, but according to Best Management Practices for Log-Based Shiitake Cultivation in the Northeastern United States you can still get OK results felling year round.

Other fodder trees are good for Oyster mushrooms which at least has a shorter turn around time (willow, mulberry, elm, poplars).

As far as I know, the only trees you really need to stay away from are maple and cherry.
 
Kris schulenburg
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Lucky and very cute cows. Stacking functions makes work so much more fun. Especially when your critters are happy and fed for free in the process.
 
R Scott
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I always counted the tree fodder as my "banked" drought fodder, but I was trimming "junk" trees and wasn't worried about timing of the trimming for the tree's sake.

Labor efficiency is always the tricky part. Best if you can just let them drop and eat them in place, but not always possible.

What is your plan for the stripped branches? Dump in a hugel? Chip into mulch? Something else? Keep your final use in mind as part of the labor profile. I used a 4-wheel feeder wagon, built to hold hay on a farm--a really small one built for goats that was relatively easy to unload.

You could use something this: http://www.tractorsupply.com/en/store/groundworkreg%3B-extra-heavy-duty-utility-trailer-1500-lb-capacity

It would be better with a wood floor so the branches slide out easier. Maybe a harbor freight or craigslist flatbed trailer with stakes in the sides.

 
Kelly Smith
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good thread -

i am planning on adding a swale in the middle of my pasture so i can plant fodder trees there
i am think more along the lines of what R Scott mentions - i want to be able to cut the branches and walk away; let the cows do the work, and ill be back to get the branches for chipping
 
Cj Sloane
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Kelly Smith wrote:
i am think more along the lines of what R Scott mentions - i want to be able to cut the branches and walk away; let the cows do the work, and ill be back to get the branches for chipping


Yes, but till my trees get going I'll cut & carry. Also, hanging over the fence line works too.

I'm starting to think about a chipper shredder though. I do have a pull start one but I can never seem to get it started myself, hubby's got to do it. So, maybe an electric one. I'm quite happy with my electric chain saw (Oregon, cordless). The cows should be able to digest small branches of 1/2" and the sheep 1/4". Maybe I'll try a test tonight with the chipper I have...
 
Cj Sloane
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On a whim I cut down a small tree yesterday, I think it's a type of willow that grows along the edge of my pond. I made sure the cows would eat it first. This one was not so satisfying - just one yield of fodder. I could've inoculated with oyster but I'm backed up with other logs to inoculate. I did put the logs along the edge of the pond where I hope to make a hugelkulture.



The sheep were out free ranging and they came over and started chomping.

I decided to cut the small twigs with leaves and fill up some 5 gallon buckets. This was a small tree, maybe 20ish feet and it's still early in the season, but I wound up with 6 5 gallon buckets. I'm not positive it was worth my time but the cows enjoyed the snack.
 
Cj Sloane
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So the other day I did this "properly" meaning I cut down a few small trees and let the cows forage for themselves. This didn't go totally smoothly though.

The cows were in paddock A and I cut down a small beech tree in paddock B. I threw a couple of big branches over the fence to tide them over while I cut down a few more small trees in paddock C. While I was doing that, the bull somehow got into paddock B laughing at the other cows stuck in paddock A.

Eventually, I let them all into paddock C and they started munching.


The next pic is a little blurry but you can see they've striped a tree and are chewing their cud.


Note puuuulenty of trees behind them. It'll take quite some time to thin that out.
 
Adrien Lapointe
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cool experiment!

I was reading the book Feral a few months ago and the author was citing a study where they studied the carbon composition of Auroch's bones (cow's wild ancestors) in the UK and found that it was mostly a woodland animal. I haven't cross-referenced the claim, but I thought that it seemed plausible given the fact that cows seem to enjoy leaves.
 
Cj Sloane
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Adrien Lapointe wrote:...the author was citing a study where they studied the carbon composition of Auroch's bones (cow's wild ancestors) in the UK and found that it was mostly a woodland animal. I haven't cross-referenced the claim, but I thought that it seemed plausible given the fact that cows seem to enjoy leaves.


This is from Bill Mollison, an excellent cross reference:
Cattle are forest animals. They are not pasture animals. You have to chase them out on to pastures. Really, cattle belong in cool forest swamplands. They love it. In summer, they spend all their time up to their bellies out in swamps, eating the swamp grasses. In winter they will come back into the forest edges.

That is where we got them from. That was their habit--the white ox of the forests of northern Europe. We are talking here of beef cattle. Dairy cattle are much more highly evolved than most beef cattle.


My experience is that even dairy cows enjoy the forest! In drought years my neighbor's dairy cows always wind up swimming in my pond! It's really like they need a summer vacation in the mountains. You can look at my other thread and see that cows like eating reeds.
 
Josh Ritchey
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Because we need to balance profit with the fun of raising cows, can you bring a cow to butchering weight solely on forest grazing? I'm sure the paddocks would have to be much larger, though I wonder if the paddocks would recover fast enough.

Would a mixture of forest and field provide a better quality beef? Any thoughts on starting from scratch, with a lot of thicket and young forest, no field? That's what my options are in Eastern Tennessee. I'd like to start planning how best to turn a chunk of land like this into the most efficient and productive piece possible while still generating a profit.

Any thoughts are much appreciated. And thanks for all the sharing in regards to the cows and sheep liking the leaves. That sounds like a great idea, like Paul letting the goats debark small trees. That's really stacking.
 
Michael Cox
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Josh, if you are planning forest grazing as a sizable proportion of your feed you could selectively breed your herd for how they do on your specific fodder - much as beef farmers do for grass fed cattle elsewhere.
 
Cj Sloane
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I'd try to start off with cattle that are good grazers like Belted Galloway or Scottish Highlanders. You'll probably need hay for the winter but Bill Mollison has these strategies to think about:
1: instead of just relying on annual pastures, have areas of permanent, high-mineral mobilization herbs throughout all your pastures-- dandelion, chicory, comfrey.
2: Have evergreens, standing, high-nutrition tree crop within forage range that the cattle will coppice.
3: Have high-sugar summer pods that will carry cattle through the semi-arid seasons. This group is critically important to range capacity.
4: Also, you must have a winter high carbohydrate source--large nuts and acorns.
5: These are the truly perennial components--the fruit of trees that stand in pasture.


Evergreens are also good as "living barns" the cattle go there to get cool and the summer and warmer in the winter.

The cows can do a good job clearing some brush, but you'll still have to open up the canopy if it's full fledged forest.
 
Josh Ritchey
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Everybody,

Thanks for all the awesome info and sharing. I'm hoping to find some affordable land in E. TN, I'm just assuming it will be a lot of small trees and I wasn't sure if that would keep the cows happy and well fed while I work on forming operations, developing the land into a permaculture system that keeps the environment, cows and my family going strong.

I know that sepp holzer, geoff lawton and Joel Salatin encourage the use of everything but cows it seems for clearing brush and such. Joel mentioned because of black leg from the briars, I think it was, for his cows not doing it.

I didn't know if it was reasonable to run some cows through or run pigs and goat first. Though, that brings up a good point of how to keep anything contained when "attempting" to fence in a large area of under brush.

Does anybody know of a good breed that evolved in temperate forest or where to find that information?

Thanks again for all the info guys, it is greatly appreciated.
 
Cj Sloane
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So my cows seem to be as picky and fineky about food as the rest of my family

The other day I cut the new tops of a staghorn summac which they have happily eaten in the past. In a weird role reversal, the calves were happy to eat it but the older ones were not, particularly the bull who refused it entirely. I cut them down a few small beech trees and let them into that paddock and they did a great job of striping the leaves off.

The next day I let them back into the first paddock and what do you think they did? They dug right into that staghorn summac in the feeder, particularly Frank(futer) the bull!
 
wayne fajkus
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On a new operation where cows are introduced for the first time, they will clean out the lower limbs. No cutting needed. It took me a while to figure this out, then it was "duh!".

When driving down a road you see one parcel with limbs going down to the ground. Another looked like a botanist spent weeks there cleaning the undergrowth. The first 5-6' of all the trees looked like they had been trimmed. The whole place looked manicured. It took me a while to figure out cows were doing the manicure.
 
Cj Sloane
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What species were they eating?

I have some newly planted Willow, Mulberry & Ash planted along the fence lines & ideally in a year or two they will hang over the fence for the cows to eat.
 
Neal Foley
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In the winter on one farm I worked at we regularly put extra christmas trees through a chipper for bedding..... But before that was done we always through some into the paddocks with the cows. Cattle--cows and sheep, mainly--love evergreen boughs as they contain vitamin C.

Cattle love to eat trees....the leaves contain tons of minerals. However, there is a caveat.....too much of things like oak leaves or especially Black Cherry, which grows wild like a weed around here (great for my timber and milling efforts) can be highly toxic to cattle and horses... Black walnut is great for pig and cattle, but horses will go lame. But I think if the critters have access to plenty of feed and the trees, either hanging over the fence line or to graze among them, in a rotational setting, than they will select what they want and need.

Your willow example reminded me of seeing pregnant Highland cows nibbling on the leaves and twigs of willow....the original source of aspirin... They're not stupid!
 
Dale Hodgins
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Tannin levels are important. Cattle can lose hair and have digestive trouble on Luceana.

Around here, highland cattle graze on red alder, which is a nitrogen fixing tree. Cottonwood and alder smell like fresh cut hay. I've cut both species and returned to find that deer had grazed the branch tips, leaves and the tender bark on small branches that were 50 ft out of reach before. Highland cattle will strip this bark faster than a beaver does.

I had goats who would nibble maple, oak and evergreens. They ignored these foods when cottonwood and alder were available.
 
Cj Sloane
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I know tannins are an issue but good for keeping parasite levels down. I did read a study about sheep with high loads having a preference for high tannin forage. I haven't cut down any oaks as I have way too many junky trees to cut down first.

Cottonwoods are poplars and they & willows are among the most popular tree fodder. I have planted a bunch of hybrids. It looks like half may not have made it but hopefully I'll be able to fill in the gaps with cuttings from the ones that did make it.

I stay away from cherry altogether. The only maples I feed are striped maples, mainly because Bill Mollison specifically mentions cattle enjoying the sugary tips. I also give the livestock pine in the winter as long as nobody has a date with the freezer (it badly effect taste).
 
Cj Sloane
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Cj Verde wrote:
I stay away from cherry altogether. The only maples I feed are striped maples,...

Here are my sheep proving me wrong:

They are eating newly cut maple & cherry which I cut to put in the chipper/shredder which is right in front of their paddock. I apparently need some hard wood chips for my wine cap mushrooms so I thought I'd chip a few up.

Both of these are deadly when wilted although good minerals can mitigate.

While I had the chainsaw out I cut down a staghorn sumac for the cows and to let some light in. I dragged them out of the woods and the sheep went after that too which I've never seen them do:


I'm starting to develop some theories about livestock and trees. It's kind of obvious but they don't eat too many trees because they can't reach the leaves. They come right over to investigate any tree that's down.

I'm now quite surprise other ruminants besides giraffes didn't evolve long necks or wind up taller to reach more leaves. I've seen goats climb trees, that makes more sense now.
 
Josh Ritchey
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So what is the difference between fresh and wilted cherry then than doesn't cause it to be poisonous to the animals? I've always been told that cherry would kill the animals.
 
Cj Sloane
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"The leaves of the wild cherry trees, especially wilted ones, can kill livestock by depriving them of oxygen," said Hobbs. "Wild cherry trees leaves and twigs contain prunasin, a cyanide that when ingested, can be fatal."

The poison becomes harmful when the leaves are exposed to stress that causes them to wilt. The wilting breaks down the prunasin and releases the cyanide.

Cattle and horses are the main victims of poisoning by wild cherry trees. Symptoms include gasping, weakness, excitement, dilated pupils, spasms, convulsions, coma and respiratory failure.

That's from a site that recommends getting rid of the wild cherry with herbicides.

But...
This is from Brett Chedzoy, a silvopasture expert:
We've yet to experience toxicity issues with any of our animals (including the horses) from eating tree fodder (including red maple and cherry), but that doesn't mean there isn't a significant risk and EVERYONE should ease into this one. Some of the things that we do to minimize the risks are:

1. keep animals +/- continously exposed to sources of browse so that their curiosity of something novel doesn't compel them to gorge
2. make sure there's plenty of other stuff to eat (like forages) - not just a couple of maple tops inside a small electronet paddock. Livestock are often able to dilute or neutralize toxins if they have a diverse diet of other plants and plant compounds.
3. A balanced mineral mix seems to help (and plenty of fresh water). A local cattleman here had prussic acid (wilted cherry) poisoning issues here a couple of falls ago. Vet finally determined it was linked to selenium deficiency (the cows were only receiving white salt blocks)
4. Stressed animals are usually going to be more susceptible than healthy ones
5. I haven't found any information comparing the nutritional quality of tree leaves over the course of the growing season, but suspect they maintain a fairly high level of crude protein until they start to change color in the fall
 
Cj Sloane
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This is a good little vid on Tree Hay. At about the 1 minute mark he lists the species he feeds:
Cherry
Oak
Hazel
Crab Apple
Ash
Elm

So even dried cherry leaves are OK. It's just when they are wilted that there is a possible problem.
 
R Scott
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A video I just stumbled across:

 
Cj Sloane
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This is the best doc I've read so far on pollarding:
Pollarding in western Norway.

Abstract
The practice of collecting twigs and leaves for fodder for domestic animals is a very old form for fodder harvesting. Leaf fodder can be collected efficiently with small iron tools and the practice has a history at least back to the Iron Age. Almost all species of deciduous trees were used for animal fodder, also some conifers. Altho ugh the harvesting of trees for collecting fodder was widely practised all over Norway, the choice of species, techniques and utilization varied from area to area, as did the names given to tree management.

Pollarding (“styving”) refers to the process of topping trees, i.e. cutting back branches at a height of 2 -3 m, above reach of grazing animals. Lopping (“lauving”) is the actual fodder-collecting. The branches were cut into smaller pieces (approx. 1 m), bunched and tied together. The bunches of twigs (“kjerv”) were dried, and later stored in barns or stacked together (“rauk”). Young shoots were sometimes cut directly from the tree bases or as suckers (coppicing). Some farmers set aside areas that were cut frequently. In some areas, leaves were collected
for fodder by plucking them (“rispelauv”). Raking up autumn leaf-fall (“rakelauv”) was practised mostly for the use as bedding in stalls.

Branches especially from Ulmus glabra and Fraxinus excelsior were sometimes collected during the winter for twigs (“ris”) and bark (“skav”) and later fed to animals. Bark from Ulmus glabra was
peeled, cut into small pieces, mixed with water and given especially to dairy cows during the winter and early spring. Bark of Ulmus glabra was also valuable for its use in human nutrition (bread,
“barkebrød”).

A wide range of landscape elements and biotopes have been formed and maintained by farming techniques including leaf-collection. Most of the human-influenced and human-dependent vegetation types are under great pressure from extensive disuse, overgrowing and encroachment, vanishing due to inexperience with maintaining and preserving them.
...
 
Cj Sloane
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I was all set to do a post praising the Elm because the leaf is so large compared to, say, a birch. Instead I'm going to praise Basswood which is sooo big and satisfying to cut for fodder. Compare one snip of birch:

to one snip of Basswood:


No comparison! I'm comfortable feeding the twig/stem part as long as it's still green and not woody. The birch didn't register on my scale but the basswood was 17 grams.

I brought a leaf out to see what the sheep thought of it but I put it down when I went to feed the new LGD and when I turned around it was gone and a sheep was quickly chewing something suspicious.
 
Cj Sloane
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They're learning:

They stripped they leaves they could get to off these Beech trees.
 
Cj Sloane
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So a tree like this:

will provide about half a days worth of feed for the cows or full days worth for the sheep, 2 or 3 mushroom bolts, and lots of 1' sections of fuel for either a RMH or Masonry stove to be built next year. Not much waste, plus the tree isn't dead, just pollarded.


Beech will grow Oysters or Shiitakes. It'll take a year or 2 to look like this:
 
Jeff R Hodgins
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With my sheep I find that they will eat small amounts of toxic plants like cherry and that they will eat more of it if they are well fed already. They will also eat more if you cut fresh growth from a recently coppiced tree. I also feed them a bit of Carrizo grass (Arundo donax) also toxic but I feed it on a full stomach and only fresh shoots. I like to cut my good fire wood and throw just the twigs to them and let them trample them in to the manure. This can also protect areas of grass from being totally wiped out by the animals
 
Kevin MacBearach
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On my property I have mostly filbert and maple. I've recently started feeding these to my dairy cows and they seem to like it. Is there any limit to the amount I can feed it to them? Would these varieties be good ones to cut in summer and store them till winter?
 
Diogenese simpson
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In the middle ages they used to call it tree hay ,trees were specifically pollarded to feed animals , a large willow could supply up to a ton of feed then left to regrow for three / four years then it was ready for another haircut , in the east midlands of the UK they polarded willow for baskets and stripped the leaves for feed .
 
Cj Sloane
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Just make sure to re-read further up about the possibility of poisoning via wilted maple. Foraging animals supposedly wont eat Filberts/Hazelnuts yet my sheep do & so do your cows so go figure.

You can try drying and storing them or ensiling them (though maybe not the maple). I've been trying to focus on trees with big leaves (bass, beech, elm) and/or high protein (mulberry, black locust, honey locust).
 
Cj Sloane
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Diogenese simpson wrote:In the middle ages they used to call it tree hay ,trees were specifically pollarded to feed animals , a large willow could supply up to a ton of feed ...


Yup. I'm just a bit leery of cutting my big willows as they tend to break in unexpected places & I'm a pretty inexperience lumberjack (lumberJill?). I have planted a bunch of willows (and other species) this year & plant to pollard when the trunks are just a few inches - less than 6" for sure.
 
Diogenese simpson
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The willows on the banks of the Trent were several feet across and had been polarded for centuries ,middle ages type permaculture ! They let them grow in till they were above the "browse" level around 10 to 15 feet then cut the leader out , from then on its just time and patience .
 
Kevin MacBearach
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Well then I won't store any maple than for winter if there;s a chance it might be toxic. Unfortunately the only over prolific stuff growing around her (besides Douglas Fir) is cherry trees.

I'm surprised that cows supposedly dislike filbert leaves. Mine seem to come running for them. I wish I had some of those more high protein trees here like the Elm, Ash, and Willow. Maybe it's time to start plant Black Locust.
 
Cj Sloane
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Kevin MacBearach wrote:...Unfortunately the only over prolific stuff growing around her (besides Douglas Fir) is cherry trees.

... I wish I had some of those more high protein trees here like the Elm, Ash, and Willow. Maybe it's time to start plant Black Locust.


Look at that tree hay video above. They fed dried cherry leaves. I guess it's only in the wilted state that poisoning is an issue.

Mulberry is quite high in protein, anywhere from 15-35%! Relatively easy to plant from cuttings or you could buy 100 for about $100 and plant outside the fences.
 
Kevin MacBearach
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I do have a large stand of "wild" plum trees next to my property. I know the cows will eat them but how is the nutrition level in them? They do have lots of small fruit on them at the moment.
 
Cj Sloane
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I don't have info on plums, but protein levels of wild apples leaves are 11%. I say if they want to eat them, let them. There may be some nutrient that they need in there.
 
Kevin MacBearach
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I found out that plums are a sub-species with cherry. So I might not want to over do it.
 
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