Bedding Bales: Preparing for a Snow Storm

With a forecasted big snow coming over the weekend, it was time to set out bedding for the cattle to give them a comfortable place to get through the weather. This video shows the way I select bales for bedding, and then later in the video I check back in after the storm passes to see how things look in the pasture.


Hi, I’m Dave, your farmer from Wrong Direction Farm.

I am feeding the cattle today in preparation for a snowstorm. So over the next day and a half we’re expecting to get between seven to ten inches of snow. So it’s — you know — it’s a significant snowfall. Not a cause for any alarm or drama, but it’s a significant enough one that we should prepare for it. And this is a good time to talk about how we feed the cattle when we have snow in the forecast. So I mentioned in my most recent video how we feed the cattle with rings around their bales of baleage. But today — I don’t know if you can see; sometimes the exposure doesn’t work so well with black cattle on white snow. But if you look behind me the cattle are just eating bales without any protective rings around them and there’s a reason for that.

So I have some low quality bales these are bales that were cut later in the season. The earlier, generally speaking, the earlier in the season you cut them the better the grass quality is. As the grass gets older it gets stemmier and loses some of its nutrition. Some of the energy levels start to go down and some of the protein levels go down. In the bales there’s still bits of tender grass but there’s also quite a bit of stemmy, stalky stuff that, you know, they just don’t like so much. It’s harder for them to digest it. After a while the carbohydrates turn into cellulose and lignin and they become indigestible to cattle. If they can eat the grass while it’s still in that pre-lignin stage, they can extract a lot of more of the carbohydrates out of it. So the cattle are going to tear these bales apart. And they’re going to spread most of this stuff on the ground. There will be some small bits in here that they eat. Some of the leaves are still in good shape. But a lot of this stuff is just really on the stemmy side so it’s not going to be as palatable to them. If this were good baleage I’d be concerned about it but since this is since this is relatively low quality stuff I’m not really concerned about them eating it. If I were to force them to eat all of this they would probably, you know, they wouldn’t be gaining weight. They’d probably actually be losing a little weight while they were trying to digest such such coarse stuff. So it has a better use at the moment as bedding.

So I wanted to give a recap. The storm is passed. We got about six inches, although the first three inches were really a solid pack of ice. Just impossible to shovel through, you had to chip away in little bites.

And you can see behind me the area where the bales were. They spread it out and there’s a long dry spot for them to to lie down. So they got through the storm just fine. And you can see now that they’re eating bales back in their normal bale feeders behind me. So, yeah, that’s how we feed them when the snow comes. And they make it through it just fine.

When we’re dealing with snow, our cattle don’t need a lot of hand holding (or would that be hoof holding?). In the autumn as the temperatures begin to drop, they grow shaggier hair coats for insulation. Because we raise British breed cattle — mostly Angus with a little Hereford and Galloway ancestry — we are working with a body type that was selected over generations for thriving in cold and wet weather. Other cattle breeds, notably the taller, skinnier dairy breeds, and cattle with Bos indicus ancestry, aren’t as well adapted to cold weather.

For light snowfalls there really isn’t any intervention needed from us. When we’re expecting something heavier we try to ensure that there is plenty of bedding so the cattle don’t need to sleep in the snow. The other thing we do is to position them near a hedgerow. Even though the trees aren’t in leaf, the tree trunks and branches break up the wind enough to create spots with reduced wind and diminished potential for snow drifting. That really is the extent of preparation needed. They can take care of themselves.

Every year we end up with a batch of hay or baleage that was cut too late in the season, so these are the ideal bales for using as bedding. In the past, I’ve rolled out the bales by hand to create bedding areas. But I’ve found that the cattle will gladly do that work for me. As long as they have higher quality grass bales nearby for their primary nutrition, they don’t seem to mind picking through the junky bales and spreading them out on their own.

Watching cattle push unflinchingly through cold and snow, and observing smaller animals like deer and squirrels do the same, sometimes I wonder if our indoor lives of convenience rob our bodies of an essential experience. I wonder if we don’t give our bodies enough credit for what they are capable of enduring, and more, I wonder if we do ourselves a disservice by not directly experiencing more of the extremes of hot and cold. I have no proof that this thinking is valid, it is just a hunch.

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