Bon Appetit!

Cattle standing in a bunch on the feedground waiting for the rancher to feed them is a familiar scene throughout the Green River Valley.  A few ranchers still use a team and sleigh to feed their cattle, but most ranchers use a tractor with a heated cab hooked on a bale feeder that is run by hydraulics.

Sublette County Wyoming ranchers feed hay to cattle with a John Deere tractor in the winter

It takes 1.5 – 2 tons of hay to feed a cow most winters (that’s up to 7,000 pounds for one animal!).  Cattle are fed five to seven months out of the year because the natural forage is limited or covered in snow.  The yearling calves are fed from the time they are weaned in November up to May when they are turned out on spring pasture.

Mother cow and calf rest in the sun of a ranch pasture on a cold winter day in Sublette County Wyoming

The cows are fed when the pasture is snowed under or used up.  It varies from the first of December to the first of February.  Usually if the rancher can make it until Christmas or New Years Day before they have to feed, they call that a successful fall grazing season.

Cattle feeding on hay fed by ranchers during winter in Wyoming

Often while the cows are on fall pasture the rancher gives the cows supplemental feed which is high protein pellets, block or tubs.  To supplement the yearling calves or cows with protein, the rancher can also feed them alfalfa hay which is a high protein feed.  Cattle are also given mineral, to balance their diet.

The rancher feeds the cattle a long, thin row of hay either by hand with a pitchfork, breaking little square bales and kicking them off the sled or by running the bale feeder, which is run by hydraulics.  The first two methods can mean a very cold morning for the rancher.

Feeding cattle in Sublette County Wyoming to humanely care for animals and livestock.
Sublette County Rancher Brian Esterholt feeds bales of alfalfa hay to his cattle during the winter months when natural vegetation is not available for the livestock to feed.

Possibly the preferred method can be done from the heated cab of a tractor with the radio playing.  The challenge with machinery is getting it started and keeping it running in the cold conditions of the Green River Valley.  If a team and sleigh is used, there is calm and quiet except for the sound of the harness clinking and the sled runners gliding on the snow, which is a very enjoyable sound.

The cattle must also have a good source of water because hydration is so important during these extreme cold conditions on the pasture.  Hopefully the rancher has good natural springs which have warm water that stays open year round.  If not, the rancher must drill a well and supply a water tank. The river can be used for a watering hole, but it is very dangerous even if the rancher opens the water hole every day.  The ice buildup and level of the water in the river can vary greatly.

As the rancher leaves the field to go to the house, the cows stand with their heads together eating hay.  All the rancher sees is a long line of the cows’ rearends.

Cattle feeding on hay supplied by ranchers in the Wyoming winter

The feeding job is done for the day unless a rancher feeds the calves twice a day to improve gain and reduce waste of hay.

From RealRancher Jonita Sommers – Pinedale, Wyo.

Published by is a visit to the day-to-day lives of America’s original animal welfare advocates and environmentalists.

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