Winter Feed

The cattle have begun to bend my ear. Their grass has gone, and they bellow in the dusk for hunger and frustration. I started to feed them hay in early November, but this was a poor summer for sunshine and I only made a hundred small bales. The bulk of that crop should be saved for the bull, so I’ve moved the herd onto my silage, half a ton at a time; black-wrap balls like beetle shells which squeak if you rub them up the wrong way.

When I first came to cattle, I had four small calves. A big bale would last them for a week. But then I began to grow my numbers and the silage dissolved before my eyes. Suddenly I look up and find that I need to unwrap a new bale every other day, and I’m heavily aware of the cost. I was proud to see my silage stacked in lines during the height of midsummer, but already there are ominous gaps emerging in the store. Here’s that annual bottleneck again; the testy balance I have to strike between boom and bust.

I don’t have enough cows to catch all the grass when it comes in May – but when I have to provide their winter feed, it feels like I have too many. Grass swings between feast and famine, and this year I’m doubly tested by the arrival of four new heifers which came in June. Nine stores were sold in October at eighteen months old, and I’ll go into winter with twenty three head. That’s more than I ever imagined or planned for at first, and now I’m expecting eleven calves in the spring. There’s plenty of excitement ahead, but a fair heft of cost and labour to come first.

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