It is no secret that the more an animal of any kind can engage in its most natural behaviors, the healthier it will be. That principle has become the foundation of my ethics and I stand firm on it. If we remove the ability to behave and live as nature intended, an animal is , at best, lackluster and less than ideal at their production capabilities–at worst, unhealthy and prone to disease and depression –including all manner of abnormal and / or destructive behaviors.
Temple Grandin , a leading expert on animal husbandry and livestock standards has written several books on the subjects of animal behaviors in agriculture and livestock keeping in a humane and economical way. In her book, Animals Make Us Human : Creating the Best Life for Animals , the author explains that in order for any animal to be healthy, one must take into account the needs of the mind as well as the body. Her outline of what is necessary for an animal’s overall health is as follows:
• freedom from hunger and thirst
• freedom from discomfort
• freedom from pain, injury, or disease
• freedom to express normal behavior
• freedom from fear and distress
Ms. Grandin goes on to explain that the first three go to physical needs and the latter to psychological needs, but all are equally important.
We want our cows to experience everything that makes them cows in the safest and most natural environment we can provide them. Obviously, there aren’t herds of wild dairy cows grazing freely on the plains, but though the modern dairy cow has been bred down from their ancestors to conform to a homestead standard, they retain much of the instinct that their genetic ancestry stored in their DNA such as the instinct to graze and forage. It is a drive in a cow to do so as much as it is a drive in them to drink water. It is natural and instinctive.
My herd loves not only to graze the flat grasses, but forage the underbrush, berry vines and lower branches of trees. I will often have to seek them out among the thick trees in the wooded areas we leave them for shelter from the unbearable heat of our South Carolina Summers and watch closely for slight rustling of the lower branches as they gently tug at them.
I believe it imperative to allow a cow to graze in some respect and to the best of her keeper’s ability and to not keep more cows than your land can sustain– I learned that the hard way, as explained in another post and for another reason brought also by natural causes.
It is certain that not everyone who keeps a cow has a lot of land for her. Indeed, many are family cows kept on small farms or homesteads. I submit to you that grazing can still be provided adequately with a little creativity and a lot of planning in some cases. For instance, I allow my girls to graze in my own front yard around my cottage. I have never mowed my grass fully, only the spots the cows, llamas and sheep don’t seem to care for such as around the pecan trees. ( I believe the pecan shells make the grass bitter) They enjoy it. We have sturdy, adequate fencing all around. I lock the gates and turn them loose. All of my livestock are well-trained and return to their yards at the end of the day. Everyone is happy and I get plenty of rubber-neck ride by s checking out my motley crew lawn service !
Some who have no fencing around certain areas of their farm or homestead but would like to allow livestock to graze there simply use the tie-out method. This is a fine way to have animals enjoy grazing provided you ensure their safety from hazards such as entanglement, predators, traffic, pets, weather ( direct sustained sun can cause heat stroke ), etc…and provide water for them to drink if they will be there for a while.
Personally, I am not comfortable with this method unless I am outdoors supervising–I seem to fall into the category of freaky incidences.
If you have a small pasture for your cow (s) , I recommend planting seasonal grains in rotation by simply broadcasting them over the already existing grasses. You can call your local extension, local university agricultural department or visit your local feed & seed to find out what grows best at what time of year in your area. There are also many resources available online with some simple searching.
I routinely go around with buckets of our oats and just throw them out by hand. They grow beautifully and all of the animals love their lush , protein rich grasses; even the chickens munch on their young sprouts. In our southern climate, oats will grow well into winter, so as an overcast crop they are ideal and inexpensive.
*The primary photo on this page with the black calf is taken in a field planted with oats I just threw by hand. The photo below is a handful of oat grasses I plucked up.
Today we are planting millet in the dairy cow yards at home. The millet will provide a late Summer grass for the girls to munch in their pre-calving days that is rich in complex carbohydrates, contains uniquely dense complex starch levels, has a very high B-vitamin content and has things vital for a successful calving in superb quantities such as beneficial fats, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, magnesium. All of the things recommended to stave off milk fever are contained in this vitamin/mineral packed powerhouse of a grain. I just couldn’t think of a more ideal thing to plant for the ladies to come home to just before they give birth and begin to produce milk.
My Honey prepared the primary dairy cow yard, where the milk parlor entrance is for the cows, by knocking down and removing the ruins of two old chicken coops damaged by falling trees during the ice storms and took out any hidden chunks of old hay and straw with the claw.
our son, ELi and Cash, one of our Pyrenees, supervised the process.
After the clearing out was done, he tilled the yard to break up all of the thick layers of crust left by the dried up pluff mud and to work in all that glorious natural fertilizer: Llama, sheep & cow manure.
* Please disregard the huge dead pecan tree in the center of the yard, it died last year after the last of the major flooding following the hurricane bands and the tree guys wanted $2500 to take it out. We’re going to rent a lift and take it out ourselves bit by bit before the girls return.
Then, My Honey needed to get to his day job , so , he not having time to plant the seed, I volunteered to do it with the broadcast push spreader. Folks, those are made for neighborhood lawns, not thick , freshly tilled soil. I had to cast the old-fashioned way–by hand out of a 5 gallon bucket tucked under my arm.
As I walked around tossing the seed in an arc across the slopes of fresh , fragrant soil, a memory came back to me from my childhood : A relic of an elderly woman with a wisdom that did not require words. An old, peeling red kitchen pot, missing its handle, tucked under her left arm against her cotton gingham house dress. Her smiling at me as she used the same arc of her free arm I was using casting my seeds to cast scraps of kitchen greens to the chickens clamoring and squawking at her bare feet.
Mrs. Polk…Ah, I hadn’t thought of her in ages.
I used to sneak away to visit her as a small child when my parents visited relatives in her small town, lying to my mother about what I would be doing if I had to. She was considered the town outcast: ‘Weird’ , ‘ Creepy ‘. I found her magical and loving. I never got the feeling my mother felt threatened by her as the others did, but she was very much concerned with what others thought of her, so I was prodded to keep up appearances by staying with the family and away from Mrs. Polk. I have never so much cared at all what others think of me or the people I associate myself with, thank you very much. I’m sure I’ve always been a thorn in my mother’s side.
As I cast those seeds today the old-fashioned way and remembered that dear old woman who had inspired a ‘ weird ‘ little girl and made her feel at home, I wanted to say out loud as small children do: ” Look at me, Mrs. Polk. Look at me. “