Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cow care

We had some weather move in late last week.

Wind and snow.

But that's okay. Thanks to the new awning on our barn, the cattle were protected.

But we learned the awning had an entirely unexpected side effect -- the water from the roof drained into the adjacent bull pen and congregated in the bull pen shelter.

This not only made a soupy mess at the entrance to the shelter...

...but it left a goopy stew of "quick mud" inside the shelter that was about eight or ten inches deep. Truly ugly nasty stuff. We realized our poor critters had been unable to use their shelter during the storm.

While eventually we'll have to install guttering and drainage systems, we needed a more immediate solution. And the most immediate solution we could think of was to load the pen with gravel.

You see, about a week ago we got in a load of gravel in anticipation of next spring's garden. (For new readers, I'm transitioning to a raised-bed tire garden and cutting weeds with a combination of billboard tarps and gravel. It's worked wonders so far.)

Without much option, we cannibalized the pile of gravel in order to back-fill the bull pen shelter and create a gravel base. But how to move that much gravel into the bull pen? Trundling it over by wheelbarrow would take hours and require pushing the wheelbarrow through a lot of sludgy mud.

So Don decided to disassemble the backside wall of the shelter and use our neighbor's tractor to move the gravel.

We used a cattle panel (sometimes called a hog panel) to block the bull (and the cow/calf who's with him at the moment) and keep them out of the shed.

Then Don removed four of the sheet metal panels from the side of the enclosure.

Armed with a shovel and rake, I got gravel duty. Don carefully maneuvered the tractor bucket between the girts in order to dump the load.

While he drove around to scoop up another bucket-ful of gravel, I shoveled and shoveled and shoveled and shoveled. But no matter how thick I laid on the gravel, it just seemed to disappear into that horrible mud. This is my boot, sinking.

I lost track of how many times Don dumped another bucket-ful of gravel, but it was a LOT. He estimates we went through three or four cubic YARDS of gravel, and ended up raising the level in the bull pen shelter by eight or ten inches before we finally conquered that mud.

This diminished the gravel pile by quite a bit, so at some point we'll have to pull in another truckload (or two) for the garden. But I am mighty grateful we had that gravel to begin with.

Then we broke open a bale of hay and spread it out. We figured the critters were entitled to a little bit of spoiling after all that mud.

Here Samson peers into the pen, wondering when he'll be allowed to start eating. Soon, big boy!

But first we had to reassemble the outside sheet metal paneling.

The animals certainly enjoyed their dry digs!

But wait, we weren't done. Yesterday morning, well before dawn, Lydia kept barking both inside and outside the house. But I didn't hear a thing from outside, so it was with considerable surprise when, at first light, I saw every single cow out in the driveway. (Usually when a few cows escape, they all bellow. Since this time ALL the cows had escaped, no one was bellowing...the sneaky little turds.) No wonder Lydia kept barking.

It was 6:20 am when I woke up Don. He said news like that is better than coffee for waking up. Not as enjoyable, mind you, but certainly better. Adrenaline will do that.

Ends up the animals had somehow managed to knock over all the cattle panels separating the awning from the barn. (The cattle panels are temporary; we're in the process of building feed boxes across this length.)

The camera flash revealed some of the animals had climbed up the hay bales for additional snacking. Aarrrgghh!

The critters cavorted around in the early morning light. Once we closed the driveway gate, we decided it was more important to have our morning coffee/tea before tackling the roundup.

However we skipped the morning feeding, since the cattle were already glutted.

After his dose of caffeine, Don reinforced the cattle panels by screwing some long boards across the barn side...

...and then wrapping baling twine through the panels and around the boards. This strengthened things considerably.

This wall of cattle panels is temporary. Don has permanent feed boxes planned which will regulate feeding much more efficiently (as well as waste less hay).

Bonus pix: chickens in the slushy driveway.

Life on a farm. It's never dull. True, we tend to lurch from crisis to crisis, but that seems to be par for the course.


  1. Would eaves trough help with where the water goes? Or does it freeze up in your area? New roof can have such unexpected consequence. Years ago I put up a lean to on the front of my barn...it was great for shade in the summer and worked as a breezeway...wonderful until the first snow when all it did was pile up the white stuff right in front of the barn or drop loads of it on my head as I went in and out to feed or check expectant cows.

    Ahh How do cows konw something is temporary? Its like an open gate they can smell thee opportunity! Yours don't even have the shame to look a little guilty! I am so enjoying your blog!

  2. I'd say this qualifies as a 'hit the ground running' Monday.

    I hope the rest of your week is less....well....exciting. lol

    The main thing is that you took time to put on your makeup before you headed for the barn.




  3. Perfect follow-up for your "glamorous" life posting! People who buy their beef shrink wrapped have no idea......

  4. I know this was an emergency but, you might keep a roll of geotextile fabric around the farm for your next gravel projects. It allows the water to filter through but you won't "loose" your gravel from the cattle walking it into the ground. I would have to spread a truck load of gravel every two years on my feed pad due to it working into the ground. I laid down some fabric and covered with gravel and problem solved. I also lay down fabric and gravel around my water tubs and mineral feeders in the pastures. If you can get "fines" at your quarry this makes a good top dressing for the gravel. It's dirt cheap (pardon the pun) and acts like concrete. Makes for scraping the pads off in spring so much easier and you don't scrape off your gravel. Stay warm. Idaho Bill

  5. becasue our area tends to have a bunch of clay, when we lay down rock, we put down road cloth, or we actually have feed bags (plastic) that we will put down first. Another thing is Hogs fuel, you can get it down at the mill and it is usually pretty cheap. hogs fuel and mud turns the area into cement. you will need to scoop it out the following summer as by then it is turning into a fluffy compost, but it does work better than the gravel

  6. Patrice,

    It appears the cows had other plans!

  7. The Peaceful Kingdom certainly seems to be enjoying themselves at Lewis's Hay Bale Smorgasbord!

    When we first got our horses, I was fearful that they would bust outta their stalls or paddocks and run away. I was told, "Nah --- they know where their food is."

    Sure enough --- they got out a few times, but they never left the farm. We always found them either trying to get into the grain, or nipping at the hay bales, or munching the fresher grass outside the paddock!

    "Never a dull moment" is right!

    Just Me

  8. I call these kind if situations "Animal drama". I am always having animal drama at my farm.

  9. I did not know that cows could climb hay bales.
    Glad you were able to get things settled so quickly!

  10. get those gutters and drain pipes...the vinyl ones are really quite cheap and are worth it. they are easy to install too...

  11. Once that dries you will have a very solid floor in there. I have the same issue with my barn runoff draining into outside areas and making two whole sides of the barn a sloppy mess. I solved it this year by putting down a butt ton of woodchips left by the powerline guys. it is keeping well for now but I need to get the drainage issue taken care of before the wood chips rot away and the problem starts again.

    1. I was going to say, that looked an awful lot like concrete after the gravel went in...

    2. That did look an awful lot like concrete after the gravel went in...

  12. Patrice and Don. What a team! Your place is definitely not "Green Acres". You may never get a 10 page spread in "Vogue" but I'll bet you're appreciated at home.


  13. Big job spreading all that gravel. Looks pretty darn glamorous to me!

  14. Crisis to crisis and never dull is right! The upside to that is it keeps your brain working to come up with solutions to those multiple everyday problems. You guys must have super brains with exceptional problem solving skills!

  15. I like the way you are using the wood rounds to partially close off the end of the new awning space. Multiple use of one item for multiple purposes.

  16. "lurch from crisis to crisis" made me laugh out loud. Now you need some goats! Bwa, ha, ha, ha.

  17. you might try soil stabilization fabric