Homemade Hay Feeder


20170612_095651Hay constitutes most of the diet of farm animals found on the homestead. Pulled directly from the ground by the animal consuming it is the most nutritious, but that’s not always an option. Fields need to rest, winter stops hay growth, and some folks don’t have the land to dedicate. There is any number of reasons a homesteader might feed hay. If that’s the best option for your circumstances, go ahead and do what’s right for you. I wouldn’t presume to know what’s best for someone else.

Besides the importance of maintaining condition of the hay, the method of feeding it is also important. Animals tend to make a mess. They are picky and go for the tastiest parts first. I often hear farmers caution that cows will eat the center out of a round hay bale to the point the outside collapses, sometimes causing injury.

In addition to store-bought feed we supplement for the known vitamins and parasite medication, we try to feed hay as much as possible. One of the many projects on my Honey-Do List is fencing off additional paddocks to use for rotational grazing. Until that chore is complete, the sheep will be largely on dry hay we bale through year.

My goal is three hay cuts a season, but between fires, unpredictable summer weather, using mostly borrowed equipment, extensive travel for work, and plain old inexperience, I’m doing good to get two mediocre cuts.

Our hay needs on The Five Cent Farm are modest with nine ewes, but with a soon to arrive ram, those needs will increase, if I can get Apollo to do his job. I’ve seen his results on my neighbor’s farm, so I’m confident that despite middle-age creeping up on the old boy, he’ll continue to produce long enough to expand the flock.

The big problem we were having with feeding the girls hay was two-fold. We get a lot of rain and any bales placed on the ground wick water up through them, so it becomes a race between moisture moving up and sheep eating down.

The second problem is the tendency for sheep, mine at least, to stomp all over bales as the pick through it, ruining hay they would normally eat while scattering around hay they might eat later, depending on how hungry they are.

Neither Mrs. Cunha nor I were happy with what we viewed a wasted resources in loss of finished hay and the time and effort to get it that way. Not wanting to re-invent the wheel, we set out to steal a few good ideas from other people and incorporate them into one of our own.

This is what we came up with presented in photographs. Feel free to steal some ideas yourself.

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Homestead Rules to Live By


Creating your own homestead is a great way to free yourself of other people’s rules, but in one of life’s ironies, often you end up establishing your own set. The good news is they are yours. The bad news is you have to enforce them, sooner or later. Here’s my list of non-negotiable rules. You might have similar ones.

Behave or be eaten

My kids are all old enough to know this rule can’t really be applied to them, but understand the sentiment. I doubt they believed it when they were young, either.  A seven-year-old girl walking around the chicken coop, pointing out pullets, and saying, “This one’s a jerk. She dies first,” tells me the lesson has been assimilated.

1389d74399e7d94e12031c4ee0ee0b75ad0ca2dce77429e3bepimgpsh_fullsize_distrIt’s my policy to maintain an understudy rooster in the all too likely event that Number One decides he wants to expand his dominion over more than the other chickens. The current Cock of the Walk at The Five Cent Farm is named “Turkey,” an unfortunate moniker he earned as a gangly cockerel, which was especially confusing once we added actual Meleagris gallopavo to the menagerie.

Turkey earned his promotion when I pulled into the driveway one afternoon to find Mrs. Cunha chasing Billy, the then-top-rooster, around the chicken run with a table leg, shouting, “I’m gonna kill that sonofabitch!” As it turns out, he had attacked both our daughters and Mrs. Cunha, leaving scratches from his spurs down the length of both forearms. That earned him a trip to Freezer Camp and created a job vacancy in the chicken coop.

Go be wildlife somewhere else

If you read my terrorist threat to the fox who ate my ducks, my position on wildlife predators should already be clear; there is no free lunch on the Cunha homestead. That meal will cost you dearly, if I have anything to say about it.

photo4Any venom I harbor for particular sorts of animals stems from experience and proximity. Any wildlife that makes the life-extending decision to not damage my property are regarded with indifference. With the exception of spotting a deer during fall, while having room in the freezer, I take a live-and-live approach.

I don’t have time to go traipsing all over the farm to eradicate every critter that might possibly take what is mine. Maintain a quick trot along the fence line and keep your eyes forward. You’ll be fine. We even overlook the occasional egg lost to Black King Snakes, since they eat rattlesnakes; #BlackSnakesMatter.

If you’re not producing, you’re waiting your turn on the menu

Several of the animals on my farm labor under the delusion they are somehow special; the sheep and pigs, in particular. Neither the sheep nor the pigs have ever looked around and thought, “Hey, what happened to Joe? I haven’t seen him for a few days.”

photo 2The dirty secret is they are breeding stock. We will be eating their babies, soon enough. And if my boar Hamilton doesn’t start siring me some piglets in pretty quick order, we’re going to have ourselves a little luau and find the gilts a new boyfriend, who doesn’t have the sex drive of a panda.

I suppose this rule confounds and terrifies the chickens, since we eat what they produce and sometimes eat one of them for dinner. Along with the occasional coup d’état necessitated to enforce Rule #1, it must strike the chickens as tyranny at its most schizophrenic, but such is life when your social structure is that of an all-girls middle school.

This isn’t a safe space (it’s not a safe place, either)

Homesteading isn’t just dangerous in terms of the ultimate fate of most of the animal residents. Safety sleeves on PTO drives and roll-bars make tractors safer, but you can still be hurt with sufficient disregard for common sense. On the plus side, these safety devices will only leave you maimed, so you can live to farm thoughtlessly another day.

KudzuMud and ice leave you on your ass wondering if you shouldn’t find a job in town. Waiting for your wife to hook up the next bale of hay, thoughts of whether it’s preferable to fall out of the barn loft or get a finger caught in the pulley flit through your mind. Animals don’t care about your feelings, your cold, or the weather. I suspect they conspire to launch coordinated attacks of mischief at the absolute worst times in order to make me look as foolish and inept as possible.

Make no mistake. Farms are harsh, unforgiving environments. It hardens a person. I realized “the birds and the bees” talk was unnecessary when my daughters began bringing me daily heat reports from the barn and cheering at successful mountings. They are well versed in anatomy, and I pity the nervous young men who come courting when my girls are older.

Well, not really. I find horrified millennials hilarious.

 

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