Friday, November 26, 2010

Feeding calves cake

By cake, I am referring to the stuff seen below... Cake is a livestock feed we use to supplement protein to our cattle during the winter months. They rely on grass, and sometimes hay, to fill up on, and we feed them cake to meet their nutrient requirements.

This cake is 5/8 in diameter and contains 20% protein. We calculate a ration for our cattle based on their weight, the weather conditions (it takes more feed when it's colder), and how much we want them to gain. Cake is made from a variety of grains like barley and corn, other filler feedstuffs and usually a little molasses to make it stick and taste good.
You can also buy 3/8 cake, and you can choose from 12, 14 or 20% protein, depending on what you're feeding and what your feeding goals are. There are probably other cake choices out there, but where I'm from the ones I listed are most common.

Our cake is delivered by the semi-load, and stored in this aptly named cake bin. Our cake feeder, seen on the back of the pickup (it's in other pictures below too, if you want a better angle), sits on a scales so we can feed a specific amount of cake depending on how many come to eat, what we're feeding, etc...

You turn a lever, and a door in the bottom of the cake bin opens, and pours cake out. You can control the flow by how far you open the door. You want to be parked just right, or you'll pour cake all over the back of your pickup, or on the roof.

You want the handle you turn to open and close the door to be up-wind of the actual door. All that silt coming out is like sand, and when the Wyoming wind gets to howling it will sandblast your face if you're downwind of it. We had to switch our handle after learning this the hard way.

There is an auger in the bottom of the cake feeder that a little motor turns, and that spits the cake out here. That big wheel serves a number of purposes, one being that it prevents the cake from spewing out in a wide arc. You want it to be in a fairly narrow row when you feed so the cattle can find it and aren't tromping half of their ration into the snow and mud.

Now that the feeder is full, we're ready to feed something. These are our calves, and I fed them this morning. They love their cake, and if you aren't on the ball they'll all be waiting for you at the gate.

There is also a siren on the cake feeder that is controlled from in the cab. In larger pastures it's necessary to alert the cattle you are there to feed. Cows recognize different sirens, and pickups, and will come when "called" with a horn or siren. These guys are in a small pasture and can hear and see you coming easily, but I still turned on the siren a couple times in case any weren't paying attention, and to train them for the future.

Another thing that occurs in larger pastures is cattle have to wait for those that are still walking to feed. It's important to give everyone equal opportunity at feed, or some will get too much and some not enough. Calves can get impatient, but cows will stand around the feed pickup like this for over an hour while waiting for the rest to arrive at the feedground.

Then you feed. I took this picture one-handed, while feeding, and apologize that it's crooked. But it gives you an idea of what's going on. On the left the cake can be seen pouring out onto the ground, and the calves are falling in behind to eat.

We feed our calves in a circle, because if they're uncertain and wonder around and you have fed in a circle, they will hit the other side where their buddies are eating away. Calves are curious and give in to peer pressure, so when they see all their buddies eating off the ground, usually their curiosity kicks in and they try it too, and before too long you have everyone eating cake, or any other feedstuff. I did say usually, because as with all things involving livestock, there are always exceptions and the occasional unpredictable outcome.

These guys are getting on the cake pretty well. Not as fast as last year, when at this time I had one calf who wouldn't eat. This year we still have about 20 who aren't real interested in it. We are contributing this in part to the nice weather and abundant leftover grass this year. They have plenty to eat, and cold weather always generates more interest in cake, hay or other supplemental feeds. This week has been our first cold spell all winter, and no one is complaining about that : )

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