by Charlie Tennessen | Serving lunch to ninety dairy cows is no simple undertaking. Every day, rain or shine, Gwenyn Hill Farm’s Land & Livestock Manager Ryan Heinen loads up about two tons of forage onto a wagon and takes it out to the pasture where the herd eagerly waits for their meal.
The feed wagon is pulled by two of the farm’s Belgian draft horses, usually Pete and Mike. The horses are exceptionally calm and stand still while the wagon is surrounded by the hungry lunchtime crowd. Depending on what pasture the cows are on, it may be an easy pull for the team, or a challenging trip up one of the farm’s steep hills. Ryan prefers using draft horses to pull the feed wagon, since the horses’ hooves are easier on the pastures than a tractor or skid loader.
Pete and Mike also respond to voice commands. When it’s time to move the wagon, Ryan simply calls out to the team, “Step Up!” The well-trained horses will walk forward a few steps, and then stop.
Ryan’s two sons Joseph and James usually come along to help. Riding in the wagon, the two boys help dole out the feed while the horses move through the herd. Hungry cows can be a little unruly sometimes. The herd is made up of Holsteins, Jerseys, and Norwegian Reds.
The feed is a mixture of haylage and silage, which are both fermented forages produced on the farm. Haylage is made by cutting grasses and legumes during the summer, and then storing without air (anaerobically) for several weeks. Silage is chopped corn, cobs included, which is also stored anaerobically. By depriving the forage of air after it is harvested, the plant matter is fermented. Fermentation increases the bioavailability of the forage while preserving it against spoilage. Silage was developed in the 19th century and made it possible to feed fresh forage to animals year-round.
In addition to the daily feeding, horses on Gwenyn Hill Farm work in the fields planting, in the woods pulling logs, and on the hay fields spreading manure. Ryan also hopes the team can be used to pull a plow in the future. After the horses are done working for the day, they are turned out into the pasture with the cows, to relax and enjoy a good meal.
Charlie Tennessen owns and operates Anarchy Acres in Pleasant Prairie, and writes children’s books in his spare time.