Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Deep bedding

I had to move the cows to the barn earlier this year than I wanted. That was the fault of a failure to plan ahead sufficiently and the fault of having more than just a couple of cows. We had our two milk cows, Chucky Joe (steer for beef this winter), Buster (a young steer for beef next winter), and Aggie (Buster’s mother who belonged to a friend). Spice was also on the pastures eating grass. So, the grass ran out earlier than I wanted.

I prepared the barn for housing the cows over winter. The hay Dad and I cut is all stored in the barn. So, it made sense to me to move the cows to the hay rather than move the hay to the cows. Besides, I’d rather have the cows warm and dry during the winter.

The last couple of years when we’ve had one or two cows, I’ve kept them in the barn, too. I would put down fresh bedding every day after removing the soiled bedding. This bedding and manure was piled outside to compost and be used in the garden/fields later. It was a lot of work, though, forking out the heavy, wet, soiled bedding twice a day.

This year I’m trying something new for me: deep bedding. The idea is to not clean out the cows’ mess but, rather, to continue adding fresh bedding on top, letting it accumulate and build up inside the barn. Adding fresh carbonaceous materials (bedding, like, old hay and straw) traps the nutrients in the manure, holding them and allowing the composting process to begin. The non-aerobic composting that occurs within the bedding will also provide some heat for the cows. It makes a nice soft floor/bed for them, too. Adding fresh bedding every day keeps their beds clean and dry which helps the cows to stay clean and dry.

They have a small area to lounge outside, too, but they spend most of their time inside the barn where the hay is. This is good. All that good stuff coming out their backsides is being incorporated into the bedding for later use.

I’ve been adding oats to the bedding as I throw down more old hay or straw. These are to feed the pigs. No, I don’t have any pigs, but I plan on getting a couple in the spring so I can put them to work.

The thing about the bedding is that with several thousands pounds of bovines walking around on it and the composting action going on within, it will be packed down and will be dense. I don’t relish the thought of forking and shoveling it loose in the spring (my back hurts just thinking about it). A better idea is to let a couple of pigs loosen it for me, aerating it and helping the aerobic composting process along. But, pigs need a good reason to root it all up. Hence, the grain that I’m adding. It’s pig food for when I get a couple pigs in the spring.

If I ate pig, this would be idea. But, I don’t eat it. It’s a moral choice. So, I’ll sell the pigs after they’ve worked for me by getting the bedding loosened in the spring. I expect that the bedding will be three feet deep or more by then. Think of all the good nutrients to be added to the garden and fields!

Oh, one more thing. With all that carbonaceous material being added, it does not stink. If it smells bad, that means you’re losing nutrients. The carbon materials hold the nitrogen and other nutrients. That’s a great thing about compost – you don’t loose the good stuff!


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