Press-Republican

Columns

December 22, 2013

Animal husbandry important in winter

I got up this morning and went out to feed the cows. Unlike the summer, when I usually walk out in shorts and a t-shirt, it was below zero and there was an inch or two of snow on the farm road.

The reality of the long winter still ahead is sinking in. It was only a few months ago that summer was in full swing and the view was very different. Today, there was no sun shining warmly, no lush pastures and no smell of the grass and flowers of summer.

One thing we can still count on in the North Country is our contrasting seasons. While there is a world of difference between this morning and the glorious mornings of last summer, I still appreciate the beauty and variety of seasons we enjoy. The trees are frosted with snow instead of leaves, and the cows were waiting patiently for a new bale of hay. For them, nothing seems to change. 

One of the lessons I learned as a youth raising goats and chickens for 4-H was that the animals under our care had to be fed, watered and comfortable before I could eat, play or sleep. While the practice of animal husbandry has evolved over thousands of years, the basics remain the same. From a herdsman or farm manager tending a herd of hundreds to the backyard goat herder who has only a few animals, the livestock that we raise will grow faster and produce more when we care for, feed and treat them well. 

There are many types of animal husbandry. Most modern farmers employ breeders, herd health specialists, feeders and milkers to help care for the animals using the latest scientifically researched methods and techniques. Others may use a more down to earth, holistic approach, raising their livestock with natural or organic methods that worked for small farmers in the past.

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