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.
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:
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.