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.

Batten Down the Hatches: Winter on the Farm

Something about that title makes me want to wear an eye patch, get a pet parrot named Polly, and end every sentence with “Yaaaaaaarrrrrr.”But this is not a post about pirates, yaaaaaaaaarrrr. This is a post about cows (but not cow pirates). Someday we’ll contemplate a world in which burly cow pirates roam the seas like those mischievous stars of the Chick-fila-A commercials, but not today.

Though Michigan has been experiencing some delightfully mild temperatures lately, I know the winter won’t pass us by. As we enter this second week of January, the suspense is building. The temps are slowly dropping and there’s snow in the forecast. These days it’s not unusual for the nightly lows to be in the 20s. And we’re not even in the throes of winter yet, people! This is the time of year when we have to bundle up from head to toe when entering the great outdoors. But what about our bovine ladies? How do they keep warm in the 4-6 months of blustery cold?

Is there a church group somewhere knitting cow-sized sweaters? Does the Dairy Man fill the water troughs with hot cocoa and marshmallows? Do the ladies huddle around hundreds of space heaters? Not exactly.

We have a few ways to help the cows stave off the chill in winter. First, the Dairy Man closes the curtains. Much like our parlor isn’t frilly and Victorian, the curtains here aren’t lacy and delicate. Rather than silk or cotton, these curtains are made of thick plastic. Each barn has top and bottom curtains that come down on each side. The bottom curtains are almost always down, but the top curtains come down in the colder months. These curtains help protect our cows from blustery winds and keep snow from blowing in and getting the sand beds wet.

Next, the ladies get fluffy. Seriously. Around November each year, I start noticing that the bovine members of our family are sporting some seriously rocking ‘dos.

The Dairy Man also has a few other tricks to keep our dry and milking cows happy. In the winter the feed ration changes slightly to include a higher fat content because the cows burn more energy to stay warm. We also turn on heating units in each drinking trough to keep the water from freezing. And what about the moneymakers on the underside of each cow? When temperatures drop below 15 degrees, DM and his milkers switch to a teat dip (more on that in a future post) that has more conditioners in it to keep the udders from drying out.

When you stop to think, it’s not entirely different from my raging chapstick addiction in the winter. I blame Bonnie Bell, circa 1999.

So that’s how the older and more mature members of our herd weather a Michigan winter. But what about the little guys and gals? The big cows may not get sweaters, but the calves get jackets!

What’s that? Your heart just melted? That’ll happen.

In addition to their stylish jackets, calves are also given more straw for their beds to build forts …er… nests. And visions of sugar drops danced in their heads…

Though this January has been unseasonably warm (I’m entirely in favor of global warming if it means 45 degree heatwaves in the middle of winter), a storm is a’brewing. I’ve lived in Michigan too long not to expect that we will PAY for this nice weather. So when the flakes inevitably fly, the cows and I will bundle up, eat more fat than usual, and dream of green pastures.

Jersey, on the other hand, has found a favorite season and loves to be outside. Curses.