Feeding cows not an exact science
March 6, 2018
So a friend asked, when I agreed to meet her after I fed, "How long does it take to feed?"
Well, is it a clear calm day? Did you load hay the day before or do you still have to load? Are you going to be loading bottom bales? They soak up moisture and are the devil to lift because of the added wet weight.
And if it froze overnight the bales will be stuck to the ground or each other like ice cubes in a tray. Difficult to pry apart. Ripped my right rotator cuff muscle right off the bone once trying to pull apart frozen bales. Only had to do that once to learn to take from the covered stack on icy days.
If bales are loaded, is it a calm day when you can drive right out to the field and push flakes to the ground? Or is the wind blowing so hard you have to lean into the field gate to push it open. After you have shoulder shoved your own vehicle's door open. Gripping the door handle tight to prevent the wind from yanking the door from your hand, springing the door's hinges?
On the days you stand there thawing metal in your hand, watching the cows settle into their feed, you get to notice the light turquoise the sky has turned.
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Did the wind blow hay back into your face while feeding, scratching your eyes, and dust fill in the gaps of your teeth? If a snowy windy day there is the added feature of solid crystals of ice water being flung at your face. In either case a good hair brushing will be required.
Before you can enter the field to feed on really cold mornings you have to take the glove off your hand and hold the cold bite of the gate's metal clasp in your exposed hand. This melts the ice built up inside the clasp allowing it to open the chain to the gate. You repeat this procedure leaving the field because the clasp refroze while you fed.
On the days you stand there thawing metal in your hand, watching the cows settle into their feed, you get to notice the light turquoise the sky has turned. Fresh snowfall creates classical black and white views of the valley. But some mornings tropical ocean hues overhead proves one is living in color.
Another second to check the ditches. Water is running slow and clear reflecting the day. No need to break ice for the animals to drink.
Then there is the time spent changing in and out of feed clothes. I keep a pair of pants and sweater in the laundry room for feeding. I do not wear what I feed in out in the general public. My pants are covered with stray bits of hay and dirt, the sweater formless and frayed.
Crawling up onto a feed wagon when it is covered with snow or gunk gets my pants frosted in snow and ick that melts by the time I drive back to the barnyard. I hang wet pants and gloves by the furnace to dry for the next morning.
My feed coat is a black puffy jacket with a wide strip of red duct tape covering a barbed wire rip down the right arm. I have to change and clean up before I can venture any where off this place after feeding.
So how long does it take to feed? Well, it all depends.
Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher.