August 22, 2008
You know it’s been a bad grass year when you salivate over the weeds that grow in the median strip of the freeway. Having had only two storms this year there’s no grass and hay is selling for $285 per ton! It would be cheaper just to feed bales of stock certificates or devalued U.S. twenty dollar bills. Hay is so valuable I had to jerk a stem from my wife’s mouth, informing her that it was much too valuable for human use.
During drouths like the one we are currently enduring there are always articles in the paper about cattlemen using “alternative feed sources”; feeding commodities not usually considered bovine feedstuffs. Ranchers in Texas long ago resorted to burning the spines off prickly pear cactus with a flame thrower to make cow feed out of it. Now I read where ranchers back east are cutting down trees hoping that the cows will eat the leaves and twigs. What’s left they’ll sell as firewood. Neither of these are options available to me as it’s too dry in our area for cactus to grow and the cows consumed all the tress during our last seven year drouth. It got so bad that instead of the cows running for the feed truck when they saw it they ran to the chainsaw whenever I cranked it up. I couldn’t even prune my hedges without causing a stampede.
I have also read where cattlemen got so desperate for feed that they mixed chicken manure with newspaper and fed that to their cows. Again, that is not an option for me because the chickens starved out around these parts decades ago and the news in our area is so bad that even the cows can’t digest it.
I actually have a great deal of experience in feeding byproducts to cows because for years I had access to an endless supply of supermarket waste. In feeding it I discovered that cows are NOT like a garbage disposal, a goat or a hungry teenager. They won’t eat just anything. While they love lettuce, broccoli and squished bananas they don’t really give a toot for kidney beans and after picking up an artichoke most cows will drop it faster than I did calculus class. Cows don’t care for flowers, particularly chrysanthemums, cardboard boxes plug them up and, surprisingly, when it comes to spoiled milk products, most cows are lactose intolerant.
I have also had access at times to fields of vegetables that had already been picked or were left to rot because of a rotten market. Cows seemed to like the carrots the best but you’d never want to eat the meat of the orange-rumped beasts just coming off carrots. (Try to imagine a flank steak marinaded in V8 Juice.) They seemed to also enjoy the winery waste but my cows were drunk all the time and started going to seed. I also turned my cows loose in a sugar beet field once and they were always getting the beets stuck in their throats. You had to go around with a baseball bat plunging the beets down their gullets. The cull avocados I fed my cows were quickly turned into one giant guacamole wallow.
Due to the drouth I’ve redefined what constitutes a totally digestible nutrient. I searched 99 cent stores and thrift shops looking for cheap feed sources. I got this idea after someone dumped an old couch in a pasture and my cows ate the arms, cushions and headrest right off it. Only the springs were left. Not wanting to deprive some out-of-work Wall Streeter of their home, I did stop feeding appliance cartons however.
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Things are so bad if you drive around our county you’ll see ranches everywhere that look like recycling centers and dumps. We have all been turned into garbage collectors. There are piles all over the county of commodities that cows wouldn’t eat. A pile of lemons here, mounds of grass clippings there, even a stack of used particle board! Now what kind of an idiot would expect their cows to eat lumber?
By the way, if you’re interested I have several hundred board feet of slightly distressed Douglas Fir for sale. Will trade for a couch.
email lee pitts at firstname.lastname@example.org