Simplifying the Cow…Mr. Miyagi Style

Daniel LaRusso was an idiot. He was an immature, hot-headed show off and he should have known better than to repeatedly pick fights with the Cobra Kai. But as the movie progressed Daniel grew up a little because of Mr. Miyagi. What did Mr. Miyagi do? Well, most importantly, he filled an emotional and developmental need in Daniel’s life. But in terms of karate training, he focused on what was important…simple things: belts hold pants up, hard work pays off, stick with it to the end (or <squish> just like grape). Daniel [Spoiler Alert!] was “the best around (Nothing’s ever gonna keep you down!)” because Miyagi required and enabled mastery of a few simple things: block punches, block kicks, punch with balance and a use a special, secret move that “if do right, no can defense”.

So, for the sake of my growing children, let’s break this farm thing down to simple things without secrets so if do right, no can go broke. It’s going to take me more than 90 minutes to teach my children these lessons – lessons I am still learning – but we will begin at the beginning. What is the essence of cow? More simply: What is cow? More simply: Cow?

It’s not about breed. It’s not about color. We are looking to add value to captured sunshine and enable future sunshine to be captured even more efficiently. We use cows. We can make fat cows. We can multiply our cows. We can multiply our cows and make the multiples fat. The cow is a leather-bound sunshine assimilation unit that tastes great with onions and mushrooms. That is cow.

I have seen unhappy cows. Hunched up, head down, shaggy, covered in mud and manure, ears drooping. Sometimes because of mismanagement, sometimes because they got a bad start in life, sometimes…who knows. I have one of those and she’s heading to the meat cutter. This is not cow. It just looks like cow.

WhiteCalfA happy cow is clean, her coat is laying neatly (though may be a little fuzzy in winter), her eyes are clear, she is not hunched up and ears are not drooping (unless she’s a brahman). If she is not grazing she is laying down in a dry, clean place chewing her cud. This is cow.


It takes grass to make cow and we want to make cow with grass…not with diesel fuel.  Grass makes cow. [I could be saying “beef” but saying “cow” seems more Myiagi and keeps the lame analogy going.] If you don’t have grass you can’t make cow. You only need sunlight and rain to make grass but having cow helps you make more grass and do it more quickly. And more grass means more cow…and more grass, if do right, means no can go broke. Quality forage is a science of its own but let’s keep things simple. How much grass does it take to make cow? It takes enough grass to fill this hole behind the rib and in front of the pelvis on the cow’s left…and keep it filled every day. How do you measure each day’s pasture? You offer enough pasture to fill that hole, little enough that the majority of what is left gets trampled and manure is scattered about. We line up a couple of parallel fence lines and move the cows throughout the day until they are full (there are more advanced and seasonal fencing techniques but let’s keep it simple today). If we are on the ball they will have enough fresh pasture overnight that they still look full in the morning when we come to move them. It’s no big deal. Fill that rumen. If it’s not full, give more pasture. If you miss today, do better tomorrow. Easy peasy.


Let’s add a little complexity. Cows need more than full bellies. They need a balance of protein, energy and fiber. It is good to look at the side of the cow. It is better to look behind the cow. Look at the cow pat. Does it look like a stack of cookies? The cows need more protein. Does it spray out from the cow when she coughs? She needs more fiber…or she needs wormed (sell her). If it’s nicely piled up with a dip in the center the cow is getting what she needs. There are times when the grass is too lush and you will need to fill the cows up with dry matter (hay). There are times when the pasture just doesn’t have the protein the cows need and you will have to provide some level of supplementation but we’re getting away from simplicity. Graze tall, diverse swards a little at a time and things should be fine here in Illinois…especially if they can reach the lower limbs of trees.


There are a few other things cows need like shade (hugely important when it is above 80 degrees!) and salt but that’s a good start. We will spend the rest of our lives learning about cattle and grass but if you only learn a few things, know how to keep them full and how to read manure. Understand what we have them for. They are pretty, yes, but that’s not why. They are fun too but that’s still not why. We have cows because we have grass…and because we want more grass. We are grass farmers. Cows fertilize, cultivate and harvest our fields.

Look at the rumen, look at the manure, buy a belt to hold your pants up and face down adversity. You’re the best around. Nothing’s gonna ever keep you down.

For another look at cow simplification, Hubert Karreman listed 5 (6) preventative measures for animal health in a recent Agricultural Insights Podcast:

  1. Don’t exceed the land’s biological carrying capacity
  2. Offer high-forage diets (75-80%)
  3. Offer good Grazing
  4. Ensure fresh Air
  5. Provide dry Bedding
  6. Give access to sunshine

At this point you’ll have to subscribe to hear that podcast but I think it’s worth it. I haven’t read Mr. Karreman’s books. If you have, let me know what you thought.

4 thoughts on “Simplifying the Cow…Mr. Miyagi Style

  1. I like Hugh’s style…especially the pressure point charts. He’s more dairy oriented though, and the metabolic needs are different for a dairy cow than a beef cow. Jane like Hugh. Beef cows not so much.

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