Saturday, December 25, 2010

Before the gifts... feeding at our outfit. Christmas Eve morning everyone was busy feeding so we didn't have to feed Christmas day.
Cattle have a ruminant stomach that is separated into four compartments and is designed to maximize the utilization of the conversion of forages and grains to energy. A ruminant's stomach contains bacteria that allows them to adjust to digesting feed over a 24, or 48 hour period.
We feed our cattle every other day, and that allows us to dedicate one day to feeding, and one day to something else. It's a matter of time economics, and the cattle are used the routine and it meets their energy needs.
If it gets cold we will adjust our feeding schedule accordingly to ensure our livestock have enough additional energy to stay warm and maintain their body condition in the colder weather.
Where my family lives there is rarely enough snow to cover all the grass, and they can fill up on the old grass. We are responsible for providing them with the nutrients the dead grass is lacking, and that's why we feed a lot of cake. It's a good way to provide that energy in a way that is easy to feed.
But, where my uncle lives in the black hills, the grass is almost always under snow this time of year, so he feeds them hay to both fill them up and meet their energy requirements.
There is a lot of science, economics, humanities, weather watching and dietitian aspects to feeding cattle. We have to make sure their energy and nutrient requirements are met, they stay healthy, and we don't go broke feeding them.
We feed our cattle on this schedule no matter what, and Christmas is no exception. We feed before we eat our Christmas dinner, open presents, or play games.

Christmas Eve morning I went with my uncle to feed his calves and yearling heifers hay. We pull out to the feed ground, where the snow is packed down, after loading two round bales of hay onto the pickup.

Here is the hay feeding pickup. He uses a hydrabed, which will be demonstrated a little further down. Here we are adjusting where the arms are gripping the bale - you want the arms in the center of the bale, because you pull the bale behind the pickup and it unrolls. If you don't grab it in the middle it doesn't unroll well, and causes problems.
The calves arrive and wait patiently for the bales to be unrolled.

First is getting the twine strings off the bales. This is what holds the round bale together. Some bales are also wrapped with net wrap instead of twine.

All the strings are cut, then you pull them out. You want to have the bale picked up off the ground for this step, because trying to drag strings out from under a 1,200 pound bale is difficult at best.

A recent rain storm on top of the all the snow froze some of the strings to the bale. So my uncle used his axe, and pitchfork, to break up the ice, and free the strings.

Here is a chunk that is still caught in the ice. After freeing all string, it's looped and tied in a knot and secured in the pickup. A loose batch of twine string can make an awful mess, and mad ranchers.

Then my uncle gets in, lowers the bale to the ground, and takes off. The other bale just sits on the back of the pickup, and will ride there unless you try to go up a steep hill.

As the bale unrolls, you use manual controls in the cab to lower the hydrabed arms further to keep the bale on the ground and unrolling.
Sometimes you will pick up a bale backwards, and have to back up to unroll it.

Then you drive, and lower the arms as needed, until your bale is completely unwrapped.

Those two knobs are the controls for the hydrabed. One raises and lowers the arms, and the other moves the arms back and forth to grip or release the bale.

He just let the first bale go, and is raising the arms to grab the next one.

Pearl was supervising.

He will set the bale on the ground, get the arms centered on the bale, re-grab it, raise it off the ground, cut the strings, knock all that ice off, pull, loop and tie the strings in a knot, set the bale back down, then unroll the bale.
We fed these calves five bales, and repeated the same process for each one.

The calves fall in behind and eat. After every cow, horse and other creature on the ranch has been feed their ration, we go in the house, eat our dinner, open our presents, and thank the Lord for the birth of his Son, the food, our family, the cows and horses and other creatures we are responsible for, and the gifts we received.

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