11 (Thousand) Sliced Tires

On the eleventh day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me
Eleven (thousand) sliced tires

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Ten mooing neighbors
Nine essential nutrients
Eight loads of sand
Seven bales of hay
Six stripping shanks
Fiiiiive commodity baaaays
Four milking shells
Three shifts of milking
Two orange tractors
And a twinkly-light-laden faux tree

When we chop corn each year for cow food, DM has two options for storage: ag-bags or silage packs. Ag-bags are easier to seal and maintain; packs are more space efficient. We utilize both methods of storage, but I’m partial to the pack. Maybe it’s because Dairy Man won’t let me climb on the ag-bags. I’m all about storage methods that allow me to scurry around on them like a mountain goat.

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After we’re done building the pack, we cover it with huge sheets of plastic and thousands of sliced tires. Though I enjoy talking about “sliced tires” and imagining them on a pastrami sandwich on rye, DM would prefer I use their proper name: tire sidewalls.

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Tire sidewalls are sliced tires used to hold the plastic down on our silage pack, thus preventing oxygen from seeping into the valuable cow food. The slices come from the sides of old semi truck tires. Semi tires suit our purposes better than car tires (or rubber inner tubes, which, I admit, is what I first thought the black circles were when I first saw a silage pack) because they are heavier and cover more surface area per tire. We don’t use full tires because they hold water and are clumsier to handle.

The tires are ultimately tied together with bale twine to keep them from sliding down the pack. It also makes a perfect stairway for MFW mountain goats.

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In addition to creating a delightful farm jungle gym, sidewalls are an effective and cheap way to keep our cow food fresh and tasty throughout the year.

5 Commodity Bays

On the fifth day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me
5: Fiiiiiive commodity baaaaaays

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4: Four milking shells
3: Three shifts of milking
2: Two orange tractors
1: And a twinkly-light-laden faux tree

As we learned in this post, feeding our illustrious herd is a little more complicated than putting out a bowl of Frosted Flakes and a milkshake in the morning. Eating a balanced diet is key.

Each day our ladies chomp on a delicious concoction called Total Mix Ration (TMR). In addition to corn and hay silage, TMR contains five other components. These five fixins’ are stored in five bays in our commodity shed.

A commodity shed allows us to buy cow food in bulk. DM purchases the food through a broker and it is directly trucked in from the factories. The five bays allow for easy delivery and make the daily food prep a snap for an employee driving a skidster (or, as I call it, a baby loader). All five bays slope outward to allow rain and snow melt to flow away from the food.

But the cows don’t really care about all of this. They just love to spend hours each day with their face in the feed bunk.

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Eat, Drink, and Give Milk

The Dairy Man and I aren’t diet fanatics, but we do pay attention to what we eat. Fruits and veggies are a must. Processed foods are limited. French fries, soda, and candy are seldom (though all bets are off during jellybean season). A balanced diet is very important.

Cows aren’t entirely different. My Dairy Man pays close attention to the diet of our bovine ladies to make sure that they stay healthy, happy, and high on the milk producing charts.

Before I moved to a dairy, I thought all farm animals ate …well… hay. That’s the iconic mental picture, right? In the far off, seldom-used corner of our brains entitled “what happens on a farm,” we see an overall-clad farmer, chewing a stalk of wheat, and heaving hay into a trough with a pitchfork. At least that’s what I thought.

But the process of feeding dairy cows is infinitely more complex than that. Dairy farmers have to be part nutritionist, part scientist, and part ecologist in order to properly feed the herd. On our dairy, we feed the cows something called a Total Mix Ration, or TMR. This TMR is comprised of several different commodities (found below).

Our cows are fed once a day, typically after their first milking. While the ladies are in the parlor doing their thing, one of our employees hops into the tractor and pulls the mixer wagon (the dapper blue apparatus) to the commodities shed.

This is our commodities shed.

Each section holds a different tasty element of our cows’ feed. Think of it as the cow salad bar. Each component of the feed is mixed together into a carefully constructed ration inside the mixer wagon. This wagon is essentially a KitchenAid mixer on wheels. It doesn’t come in a plethora of pretty colors, but it gets the job done.

The metal blades spin as the ingredients are added and blend them together.

In addition to hay and corn silage, our TMR contains…

Corn gluten:

Soy hulls:

Soy plus:

Ground corn:

Canola:

Once dinner is prepared, the tractor drives through the barns and deposits the food into the feed bunks (which, as far as I can determine, is just what we call the space on the floor directly in front of the cows).

Each ingredient in our TMR plays a different role in growing healthy cows. Just like people, cows need the right amounts of proteins, starches, and carbs. Despite the deliciousness, we can’t eat a diet of pizza and Whoppers. And cows can’t eat a diet of just corn, or just hay. Our ladies need a balanced diet with the proper nutrient structure.

But the cows don’t exhaust themselves thinking about nutrition. They trust us. Eating is just a favorite activity, right up there with napping, socializing, and chewing cud.