Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Winter's not over yet!

It just gets melted off and dried up, when it snows again – three more inches and snowing yet!

            My haypile was running low.  Winter started in early with snow and below-zero weather already in November.  I had enough hay to get through to May – and I have turned out to grass on May 1st.  But this is not the year.
            A neighbor on the Main Boulder had some hay left to sell, and we had made a deal for 60 tons at $80/ton.  Another phone call lined up a trucker to haul it – he would load at 0630 on Monday, and be out to our ranch with the first load at 0800.  I still had to swap the bucket-and-grapple on the loader tractor for the bale-spears before he arrived, and fortunately my son Ben was at the ranch yet Sunday evening.  I bribed him with Wild Turkey, promised him sour-dough fry-bread for breakfast, and he stayed over to feed the cows in the morning while I unloaded hay from the semi.
            I had hoped to make it through the winter on the hay we put up on the ranch last summer.  But one of my stacks had fallen over early in the winter, resulting in a lot of moldy hay.  And one of the stacks had unexplainably light bales, so I had less tonnage than I had calculated.  And winter is dragging on as long as is typical for our elevation.
            Monday was a window of opportunity – the conditions were bare and dry – and the trucker took advantage.  Born and raised in Big Timber, Doug knows well the vagaries of Montana weather.  And he was right to get up early and ‘get while the getting was good’.  Had he delayed, he’d have had to chain up and fight snow to get me the hay I needed to get through until green grass.

            One of the caveats of this hay is that it is straight grass rather than alfalfa mix.  Without a chemical analysis, I would estimate that the protein and energy of this hay are borderline for cows suckling new calves.  This is a critical time of year when the cows need enough nutrition to heal up from calving and build up body condition to re-breed quickly.  Alfalfa hay has higher protein, energy, and palatability, but local stocks are depleted and the cost of trucking can be high.
            The solution may be in a supplement.  I ran to Big Timber on Saturday morning to pick up a load of “Roughage Buster”, which is a source of Non Protein Nitrogen that the cow’s digestive system can utilize to enhance digestion and synthesize protein.
            This is a granular product that I set out in short steel barrels, and recommended consumption is one quarter of a pound a day.  At the end of two days, however, the cows had eaten all that I had put out - one whole pound a day!
            Salt and mineral supplements are an accepted practice year-round, and my bill for the last year was about $2 per head per month. Addition of this new NPN supplement was projected at $6.25/head/month – and already the cows had each licked up two dollars' worth in just two days!
            My answer – after consultation with the neighbors who have more experience with the product – was to mix salt 50:50 with the supplement to decrease their consumption.  It will be a couple of days now before I can gauge how my cows in this environment will make use of this product.

            And it is still too cold for the grass to grow.           

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