Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mangel Wurzels

By: Marieanne Coursen, Agricultural Interpreter
This time of year our farm animals rely on feeds we have stored away for them. Horses, cows and sheep do occasionally paw through the snow to eat the grass underneath, but mostly they look to us for their sustenance. This usually means dry hay and grain, but in addition, the nineteenth century farmer often fed pumpkins, cabbage and root crops to the animals.

My favorite root crop grown for livestock is the mangel wurzel.
Mangel wurzels are a type of beet with a red or yellow root the shape of a large, fat carrot that sticks halfway out of the ground. The leaves can be fed fresh to the animals through the summer as long as they are not entirely removed until just before the roots are harvested. The roots are supposed to be able to grow as large as 2 to 3 feet long and 4 to 8 inches in diameter! The ones I have grown have never been more than about eighteen inches long and maybe five inches in diameter.

They are harvested in the fall and stored in an environment where they won’t dry out or freeze, either underground (in a simple hole or a root cellar) or in a protected heap on top of the ground, called a clamp. My mother told me that on the farm where she grew up in Germany, a small farm building had a cellar under it where all the root crops were stored, and she would have to go down and bring up baskets full to feed to the animals. In England it seems to be more common to store them in heaps above the ground.

The general rule is to wait until after Christmas to feed mangel wurzels. Apparently a change occurs in storage that makes the root less likely to cause scours (diarrhea). The watery, juicy nature of the root makes it very appealing to cows, sheep and horses, especially after eating dry hay for so long. We have a nifty chopper to break up the root and make it easier to eat.
Chickens enjoy them also and I like to hang one in their house for them to peck at:
I have tried storing the mangel wurzels two different ways. Here at the museum we dug a hole in the ground one fall and lined it with straw. We threw our mangel wurzels in and covered them with straw and dirt and a wood cover. In January, I dug them out and found they had kept very well. They were not frozen or rotten so this method was successful as far as quality went, but I did find it extremely inconvenient to get them out. This year I decided to try the “clamp” method. I was not completely confident it would work since it is colder here than in England but then again with global warming maybe it would be OK. This time it was at my home farm. In September I made a pile of my mangel wurzels on top of a bed of straw:
I also added rutabagas and turnips, and I covered the pile with straw and dirt. After heavy rains and colder than normal temperatures this fall, I thought my crop was doomed. Well, I am happy to say that I opened the end of my pile after Christmas and found the roots in good condition. The pile seemed to have a frozen skin on it of snow, dirt and straw that was not difficult to break through. I was able to get to the roots easily and close the clamp back up by putting the frozen clumps back over the hole. It seems to work like the “Ag-Bags” that farmers store silage in.
So far I have only found a couple of turnips that rotted and they were at the bottom. I have not gotten to the mangel wurzels yet since they are at the back of the pile, but I am optimistic that they will be fine.

Root crops have never been as popular in America as in Europe for a livestock feed. Most of the information to be found about root crops like mangel wurzels comes from England where they are unable to grow corn well. Nevertheless, root crops do make my life as a small farmer more interesting and satisfying, and hopefully the animals in my care enjoy the added variety to their diet.


Sharon said...

how much do you feed? Are they a treat or part of the main diet?

blog team said...

Marieanne says this about how much mangel werzels to feed the livestock:
I have only fed roots as a treat beside the normal feed. For my cow, I chop maybe a half dozen turnips or rutabagas at a time or one to three mangel wurzels depending on their size. When I had rabbits I would give them each a thick slice of mangel wurzel and of course the chickens just get a whole root to peck at along with their regular food. I have never had enough to feed in large quantities.

The following is an excerpt regarding mangel wurzels, from a book called The Pedlars written in 1826:

"When the roots are given to cows, or other cattle, they should be well washed and sliced. Half a stone is enough for a small beast and from ten to fourteen pounds for a large one, two or three times a day, giving hay between each meal to prevent its disagreeing with them.
About a pound of mangel-wurzel sliced thin, sprinkled with salt, to a gallon of water, which is boiled in a covered vessel till it becomes quite soft, is excellent food for calves. The liquor strained off and cooled, is given with advantage to a calf when about ten days old, in the proportion of half a pint to every meal of milk; any you may go on increasing the quantity till you give a quart at a meal. The calves seem very fond of it, and thrive well upon it."

A stone = 14 lbs.

Another source, Feeding of Livestock ,written by Stephen John Watson in 1949, says 40 to 50 lbs. of mangel wurzels can be fed to cattle, 5 lbs. or more for fattening pigs. The Department of Agriculture in a report from 1862 recommends from half a bushel to a bushel each day for a milk cow. Both sources also say mangel wurzels are good for sheep but don't give a quantity.

And again, most sources say not to feed until after Christmas.

Anonymous said...

There is a wonderful BBC documentary called The Victorian Farm in which they refer to Henry Stephens "Book of the Farm" as their true guide. In that book, Stephens states that mangels are an excellent source of nutrition for pigs, sheep, cows and horses and should be shredded before feeding. I'd love to try to grow them and one can see they need quite a bit of room in the field. Thanks for a great post! Beth

Joshua said...

This is amazing! I cannot believe I have never heard of these before. Now I have to try and grow these this year.

Cathy Mason said...

I first read about mangel wurzels in Thomas Hardy's novel, "Tess of the D'Urbervilles." Tess was a farm laborer and had very hard work chopping the mangel wurzels. The novel also has a lot of information about dairying in mid-19th century England, including on superstitions surrounding butter making, how (as I remember)it was thought bad behavior on the part of milk maids could prevent the butter from setting.

Anonymous said...

Can you tell us a good source of mangel wurzel seed?

blog team said...

Our farmers typically order mangel wurzel seed from Johnny's Seeds or RH Shumway's. The mangel wurzels featured in this post are the Mammoth Red variety.

whisperingsage said...

I found these while researching beets for gallstones. I also have livestock. The beets are high in oxalic acid. Is there any differences with the Mangle wurzels, how is their oxalic acid levels? And the leaves?
I am always researching feeds for my goats and sheep and am disturbed to find things like clover having too high estrogen (causing infertility and estrogen issues in sheep).

Anonymous said...

I'm reading "Saint Joan of Arc" and she longs for the days of milking cows and "slicing wurzels!" Now I am edified!

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