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All-season solution to hand-feeding hay

With a few modifications it works on all terrain

Each year on our ranch we keep a few heifer calves to raise as replacements for the cow herd. We keep them in a field next to the calving barn and pens, close enough to electricity that we can run an extension cord through the barn pens to their water tank for the tank heater. In sub-zero weather it’s nice to have water for the heifers that won’t freeze; they drink more and we don’t have the chore of chopping ice. We feed them a big grass bale every few days in their bale feeder, using our most palatable grass hay. They grow nicely, having free-choice feed in front of them all the time.

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Since the grass hay isn’t high enough in protein for growing calves, we also feed them alfalfa hay twice a day, morning and evening. We stack a few big bales of alfalfa in the hold pen next to their field. There’s usually snow on the ground through winter, so we’ve been using a big plastic sled to take alfalfa hay out to them during morning and evening chores. In dry fall weather we used a big wheelbarrow. As the heifers grow, however, they eat more and need more hay, and the big plastic sled (the same one we’ve used for many years to bring a newborn calf to the barn in cold weather) holds more hay than a wheelbarrow.

Attaching a sled to this heavy-duty cart makes it handy to haul hay to cattle regardless of the ground conditions.

Attaching a sled to this heavy-duty cart makes it handy to haul hay to cattle regardless of the ground conditions.
photo: Heather Smith Thomas

We prefer to feed them this way — with a wheelbarrow or sled, rather than use a truck, since it doesn’t take very much alfalfa hay per feeding, and this makes the heifers very gentle and used to people. When we walk among them twice a day to feed alfalfa, they become very easy to handle. They come running and follow us anywhere whenever we call them. They are very user-friendly cows for the rest of their lives.

The hay sled works great most of the winter, sliding nicely over the snow or frozen ground. Springtime and mud is more difficult. It can be a challenge pulling the loaded sled. I am usually the one feeding the heifers, often by myself, and as I get older I am not as strong as I used to be. This spring we made it easier to pull.

We actually have two sleds. One is older and the bottom was wearing out after serving multiple tasks (such as pulled behind a four-wheeler to haul firewood or other things, often during times of year there was no snow), dragged along the driveway. These uses had worn a few holes in the bottom, so we covered the bottom with tin to eliminate those holes and reinforce the bottom.

After the snow melted this spring and it became harder to pull a sled over dry ground or mud, we mounted the tin-bottom sled onto a little four-wheeled cart platform. These little light-weight cart frames are not very expensive but we got ours even cheaper; it was a used one at our local farm-feed store — it had been used for hauling salt blocks from one place to another around the facility. They didn’t need it anymore and we got it for $20. The sturdy little tires and cart frame can easily carry several hundred pounds so we’ll never overload it hauling hay. The handle makes it easy to pull. We bolted our old sled onto it, and now it’s much easier for one person to haul alfalfa hay out to the heifers, and my grandchildren love to help. Now we have a winter sled and a summer sled/cart, making the feed chore an easy task no matter what the ground surface is like.

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