From Pipi’s Pasture: Walking the obstacle course
January 16, 2015
Feeding the cows here at Pipi's Pasture each winter morning is a little like walking an obstacle course. The course begins at the gate to the pasture, continues on to the part of the feedlot where hay is spread out, and ends back at the gate. The obstacles are the situations/obstructions that make the course a little tricky to maneuver. The goal isn't to beat a certain time; it's to make it back to the gate without falling down or getting knocked over. Sound ridiculous? Read on.
Right now we're feeding small bales of hay. My husband, Lyle, helps me by loading the bales on a small trailer that he drives to the feedlot with a 4-wheeler. My job is to walk around the feedlot, cutting the bale twines, and spreading out the hay.
The obstacles start at the gate. First of all, the latch to the gate may be frozen so it has to be worked awhile. Then the cows may be waiting right at the gate, and they have to be shooed away before Lyle can drive through with the first trailer-load of hay. That's not as easy as it sounds.
Once the trailer is on its way to the feed ground, I have to carefully make my way across the next part of the course. If somebody other than ourselves were to look out over the pasture, he or she probably wouldn't notice any obstacles. There isn't much snow right now, and the cows have packed the places they frequent. But there's ice and, perhaps worse, manure piles that are frozen solid and sometimes partially hidden in the snow. One misstep and I can stub my toe on a manure pile, resulting in a fall or scary near-fall. So walking takes concentration.
Once on the feedlot, the course becomes more challenging. To understand why, a person has to understand how cows behave. First of all, our cows aren't mean. In fact, they're too gentle. They're used to us being with them all the time — some of them for years. So they pay no attention to me. I'd even go so far as to say that they consider me one of the gang. It doesn't help that they're a lot taller than I am, either.
Secondly, cows have a pecking order. The lead cows of the herd, usually the strongest, get first choice to the hay, and they will push, butt, and even hit other cows to get it. The cows that get pushed around don't seem to get hurt, but the move off. So the most dangerous obstacle on the feedlot is being in the way when cows push one another. If I'm in the way, I get knocked down, possibly clear over a bale. And if I step back suddenly, I'm apt to bump my toe on a frozen manure pile or end up in crusted snow to the side of the feedlot.
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So when I get to the feedlot. Lyle already will have put off bales. Sometimes there are as many as 10 cows around a bale. I either make lots of noise and shoo some of them away so I can cut twines or I go to another bale and return to that one later. All the time that I'm cutting twines and spreading out hay (which isn't as easy as it sounds), I have to hang onto all of the twines, my knife and a short pitch fork. Losing the knife is a nightmare because it's hard to find when there is so much hay and so many hooves to sort through.
Sometimes it's difficult to pull the twines off the bale, too. This is especially true if the bale is frozen.
Once the hay has been spread out, I congratulate myself for not falling or getting knocked down and carefully make my way back over the ice and frozen manure to the gate. Feeding is done for another day.