Greg Baugues

Feeding the Cows

Most commercial milk comes from cows that never step hoof on a pasture while they are lactating. Instead of grass they eat what’s called a TMR – total mixed ration. It is carefully calibrated to maximize milk production while minimizing cost and might consist of haylage or silage – chopped, preserved fodder – ground with protein boosters like soy or the malted grain left over from brewing. If you think of milk as a commodity, one squirt pretty much the same as any other, then the TMR makes perfect sense. But if you think of milk as a food with seasonal and regional character, the TMR begins to seem as crazy as making wine out of hydroponic grapes.

-Kristen Kimball, The Dirty Life

Josep feeds his cows only hay, oats and potato skins leftover from dinner — “The cows like them.”

Since Thursday,  I have been helping Josep feed the cows in the morning. After breakfast, Josep releases the cows from their stables, and they meander down to a huge pasture where they eat and sunbathe the rest of the day. He spears a large bale of hay with the tractor, and drives slowly around the field while I disperse the hay with a pitchfork. “It’s important to create a lot of piles so all the cows get to eat.” Josep’s perfectly capable of doing the job on his own, as you can see in the video below, but he humors me.

The all-natural diet affects not only the cow’s milk, but their other major byproduct, “caca de vaca.” It’s different from what I have always thought of cow manure to smell like. It still smells like poop, but it smells… healthy. It’s the difference between the way the bathroom smells after I’ve had McDonalds versus roasted vegetables.

The fresh, juicy stuff is to be avoided, but after it’s sat out for a few hours, it doesn’t look or smell much different than dirt. We’ve shoveled hundreds of pounds of cow crap this week, and have come to appreciate it as something teeming with nitrogen producing microorganisms that will be used in a few months to give life to the vegetable beds.

Then again, we’re only showering once every four days here, so our olfactory sense may no longer be trustworthy.

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