What Do Pineywoods Cattle Eat?
Pineywoods Cattle have a bio-diverse diet, it is one of the reasons why we chose to raise them. Ozark Akerz is a mix of pastures and forests and the combination of grasses, trees, and shrubs is the perfect combination for them. In fact we stopped rotational grazing, allowing them to eat what they want, when they want (food and medicine), just like their ancestors did.
What do the Pineywoods Cattle herd eat at Ozark Akerz Regenerative Farm? The answer is, all sorts, from Brambles to Walnut. We'll share what we've seen them eat, how they sometimes eat similar to Giraffes, and how our bull Rocky competes with farmer Sue to see who can pull the tastiest kudzu vine out of the trees for the cows. We'll also reveal how their appetite helps us meet some of our regenerative farming goals.
Honey Locust, Kudzu and...Poison Ivy!?
Every year brings with it a new discovery of Pineywoods Cattle eating habits. We still remember the first time we saw them eating Honey Locust. Honey Locusts have huge thorns so just the fact that they will eat them is a surprise. When we got up close, we could see that they use their tongues to gently maneuver around the thorns to get to the tasty leaves. They will stretch their necks high to get some of the tasty and thorny treats, reminding Mike of Giraffes feeding on Acacia trees when he lived in Africa as a kid.
It was equally surprising to see them eating Poison Ivy! Although we still have some big poison ivy vines in the woods, we seem to have much more spreading on the farmhouse side of the fence. Poison Ivy grows along one stretch of the perimeter fence, but not on the pasture side of the fence, the Pineywoods help control it's growth.
In fact, Pineywoods Cattle have controlled the growth of quite a few plants that, if left unchecked, can quickly choke out forests. When we moved here in 2014, the forest was completely choked with many species of plants. It was impossible to walk into it because growth was so dense. One area of the forest was completely covered by kudzu, a fast growing vine. In the early days, we would pull kudzu vines out of the trees for them to eat. On one occasion, our bull Rocky saw the cows eating a long strand that Sue had just pulled out of a tree. He immediately walked to another tree, grabbed a vine and pulled it to the ground. As soon as the vine that Rocky pulled down hit the ground the cows left headed towards it. It was like a silent call went out to them, the cows left Sue's freshly harvested vine, marched straight to Rocky's vine and began munching on it!
Pineywoods Instinctively Graze For Medicine
In addition to grazing for food, Pineywoods Cattle have not lost their innate ability to graze for medicine like they did when they ran wild. We have observed them take a bite of Black Walnut leaves, branches and bark. Black Walnut contains juglone, a natural anti-parasitic. Although we're not sure, we think they also eat cedar and wild cherry for medicine.
On the topic of wild cherry, we have been warned several times to cut them all down because they are poisonous to cows. What we've discovered is that Pineywoods only eat green leaves of wild cherry, they do not eat the leaves when they go brown in the fall. The wilted leaves contain higher concentrations of cyanide. Its as if they instinctively know not to eat after wilting. Not cutting down wild cherry trees also means we are leaving breeding habitat for several species of butterflies, nectar for pollinators and fruits provide food for songbirds, wild turkeys, quail, white-tailed deer and small mammals. Note that most of the Pineywoods breeders we have spoken to have mainly pasture and pines, not hardwood like we have, We have not been able to confirm this instinct for foraging green leaves of wild cherry in other herds.
An Appetite that Helps Meet Regenerative Farming Goals
This varied appetite is helping us reach 5 of our regenerative farming goals:
The Pineywoods Cattle at Ozark Akerz herd have completely rejuvenated the health of the forest
The Pineywoods are an integral part of forest management and conservation. Sunlight is now reaching the forest floor for the first time in decades and we're discovering new biodiversity in the forest each season.,
We are now able to enjoy the forest while walking through it with the herd and we contiue to appreciate the benefits of 800 tons of carbon that the trees capture every year along with the pollutants that they pull from the air. Pineywoods appetite has also dramatically reduced fire danger. By eating and cleaning up the thick growth in the previously impenetrable forest understory, they have reduced fuel that allow wildfires to spread rapidly.
By allowing the Pineywoods herd to eat what they want, when they want (food and medicine) like their ancestors did, the bio-diverse forages help to contribute to their overall health and well being.
Pineywoods Cattle are a regular feature in farmer Mike's art. In the piece above, Mike tries to convey the vast biodiversity of forages that they thrive on. There are so many of them: kudzu, honey locust, muscadine vines, poison ivy, privet, brambles, greenbrier, black walnut, cedar, fescue, wild Cherry, pecan…to name a few.
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