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 my feed bunk set-up & soiled bedding/straw routine

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maryjane Posted - Sep 03 2018 : 10:03:23 AM
I got an email asking me to describe my feed bunk set-up, sleep areas, and compost set-up, so I grabbed a few photos.

It all starts with 500 bales of straw every year. 500 bales fit on two trailers.

The upper bay of our barn holds exactly 491 bales. Because the floor is dirt/gravel, we put tarps and then pallets down to keep the straw from molding.

From there it goes into our various different feed bunks over the course of the coming year. In this photo, you can see our straw in the far back, then grass hay, and in the forefront, our alfalfa hay, all of it on pallets to prevent mold. Both the grass and alfalfa bales are stored in my son's barn and either we go to his place to grab some every week or he brings some when he comes to work.

Once the straw is soiled, it goes into a large rubbermaid wheelbarrow. This is done every day and sometimes twice per day depending on the number of cows we have and whether or not they're on pasture (seasonal). We're going into winter this year with 4 cows, 2 calves, and 1 bull, so we'll probably have leftover straw. Last year, we had 7 cows, 5 calves, 1 bull, and 1 steer and ended up with only 9 bales of straw left before we got more last week.

From the wheelbarrow, it almost always goes directly to where it will serve as mulch, weed control, and fertilizer. Even in the winter it goes directly to our gardens. After the wheelbarrow has made a couple of treks over the snow, you have a packed trail for it. Sometimes though, we have to shovel a path in the snow.

Often, you'll see things like this: delicate roses right next to a decomposing, fertilizing, blessed nugget of life-giving gold.

When the weather is really, really bad, we put wheelbarrow loads in a pile in front of large cement blocks. Why the blocks? That way the tractor, fitted with either a bucket or a grapple hook, can push against the blocks as it scoops.

From there it goes into a larger pile that we move with the tractor once it's decomposed a bit. We end up with a more composted straw that way that we can transport to places where we need fertilizer (like Brian and Ashley's garden) or like yesterday, a place where I needed more mulch than is being generated daily.

Here are two of our five different set-ups for feeding/housing (housing in all five locations but we'll only use three with the number of cows we have this year).

Our main location is where several cows can live and eat during the winter. It's our main location because it's next to our milking parlor and has a large "recreational," mud-free area (covered in wood chips).

Please make note of the metal rods (galvanized plumbing pipe) on our feed bunks. That keeps them from tossing hay out of the feed bunk when they root around for alfalfa leaves before getting down to business and eating everything we serve.

Right after I took one of the above photos, I asked Lizzy to come up for air to demonstrate how they bring their heads up to chew for a few seconds, then back down for more.

Maggie asked if she could model that for you, also. She mumbled something to Lizzy that sounded like, "Don't pose for the camera while chewing."

And here is the feeding area for our calves, O'Mally and Buttercup. Without the metal bar across the top of their area, they'd be able to put their front two feet into the feed bunk (I learned this the hard way).

We've perfected our system over time. Learn as you go, I always say.
Hope this helps you come up with a system designed around your needs.