We've just wrapped up the fourth week of our annual Bucket Calf Project, where the kids and families of our community "adopt" and work with a calf over seven weeks during summer while learning about how a dairy operates. This week the kids learned about what cows eat with a tour through our Commodity Barn, the large open air barn where their food is stored!
After a quick check in to go over what they'd be practicing and learning about that session, project leaders Vanessa and Stephanie split up the kids into groups based on the breed of their calf. Our farm's herd is 100% cross-breeds, meaning that none of our cows are "purebred", or one single breed. However, normally there is one breed that dominates a cow's physical appearance, so the kids were able to figure out which group they belonged in pretty quickly.
Danish Jersey: the most petite breed and primarily light brown in color (but they may have some white on them). German Fleckvieh: the biggest and strongest breed, usually with a white-colored face and a brown and white coat. New Zealand Kiwi Cross: appears like a Holstein/Jersey cross with a very dark brown coat.
After splitting up into groups, the kids learned a little about their calf's breed and practiced leading them in a circle while a 4-H instructor watched. Now that we're halfway through the program, a big part of the lesson was tips on presenting what they've learned at the Bucket Calf show at the upcoming county fair. The biggest tip? Remember to smile!
After enough practice, the group mooved on over to the Commodity Barn to learn about the organic ingredients that go into the supplemental feed that nourishes our cows while they're in the barns (this is in addition to the 40+ pasture species that they graze on in the field):
Silage is nutritious fermented grass that allows us to extend the nutritional benefits of our green pastures year-round. During winter when the cows are in the barns to avoid bad weather, we feed them silage so they can still access the nutrients of the pasture.
Alfalfa (see image below) is a high-protein grass that we turn into hay, which has a scratchy texture that aids digestion in a cow's gut/rumen.
A mixture of organic grains (corn and barley) provide carbohydrates that give the cows energy. Whole corn kernels don't break down well during digestion, so we use corn that has been steamed and rolled instead (see image below).
A mineral pack that has all of the micronutrients and vitamins that cows need is added to the feed as well.
Water is added to the feed to hold it all together (in the past we've used tasty organic molasses when it is available).
Wood shavings are also stored in the commodity barn. We use it as nice, soft bedding for the cows in the Maternity Barn, Freestall Barn, and in our calf hutches.
The kids also learned about the mixer wagon that blends the alfalfa, grains, minerals, and water together.
After learning about the feed ingredients and preparation, the group headed over to the Freestall Barn where the cows relax between grazing in the pasture and heading to the Milking Parlor. Here is where they feast on the nourishing feed ration that supplements their diet. The Freestall Barn has a slight angle in the floor, allowing us to run water down the alley to collect the cow manure that we use as a base for the organic compost that brings so much life to our farm's pastures.
Next week, the group will return to learn about where the cows head after the Freestall Barn: the Milking Parlor!