Hiding Under Cow Cake

Patti Oleic
Imlay, SD

I recently hid the Lost Sea wagon under a steel bin that stores 22 tons of cow cake. Patti Oleic explains what kind of cake the cows eat out here in South Dakota Badlands….

Western South Dakota, which mule Polly and I are currently crossing on our Canada to Mexico Lost Sea Expedition, is a land of precipitation extremes.

The land we’re crossing
Badlands National Park, SD

75 million years ago, it was covered in hundreds of feet of salt water. Now it gets by on a foot or less of annual precipitation – often less.

Mule voyaging on an inch of rain per month
Hurley Butte
Outside Interior, SD

After 8 years of drought, the moisture’s returned. Not gentle-like mind you. Nope, where talking Noah’s Flood style, sort of like the ancient Lost Sea’s returning. Example. The daughter of a rancher I stayed with outside Rapid City had her garage knocked off its foundation by a neighbor’s house that came whistling by in a flash flood. A day later, mule Polly and I knocked off early when a flash flood submerged Antelope Creek Road.

Antelope Creek flash floods
Caputa, SD

There was no way to cross the torrent of fence posts, cotton wood snags and prairie grass spilling across the gravel road.

Seems you can’t just have a warm spring rain here in the South Daktoa. That’s how I ended up hiding the Lost Sea wagon under a cake bin.

Right, I’d better explain.

Cake bin?

Yep, it’s what holds cow cake.

Cow cake has nothing to do Betty Crocker triple layer pound cake and even less to do with cow pies. It doesn’t even look like cake. Rather, it resembles an oversized feed pellet, about the size of piece of sidewalk chalk.

Cow cake

It’s made of corn, oats and in the spring, if the grass is really lush, as it’s been this year, supplemental magnesium.

Seems in spring, the cattle in this part of South Dakota are susceptible to “grass tetni”. Grass tetni has nothing to do with rusty nails.

I learned all this from Casey Vaughn and Patti Oleic who hosted mule Polly and me recently. They ranch outside Scenic, South Dakota.

Casey explains.

Casey explains corn cake

“Mostly it affects lactating cows. A cow can only store magnesium for 24 hours in its system. So it needs to get some every day. When the grass is really rich and a cow is nursing a calf, its body can become magnesium deficient.” The cow collapses and only a few pints of magnesium solution, administered by IV within hours of the cow’s sickening, can save the cow.

This time of year, supplemental magnesium added to cow cake helps prevent this condition.

Cow cake is stored in a cake bin. No, it’s not a tin you’d put cookies in. Rather, it’s a giant hopper that rests about ten feet above the ground on steel legs. According to Casey, it holds a “semi load” full of cow cake – about 22 tons. A hole in the bottom of the bin dispenses it.

Loading cow cake from the bin

So how do you feed cow cake?

With a cake feeder, of course.

The cake feeder is a box-shaped contraption mounted on the back of a pick up truck, in Patti’s case, a Ford of indeterminate age. The truck and feeder are backed under the cake bin. The slot at the bottom of the bin is opened and fills the feeder “with about 600 pounds of cake”.

Loading the cake feeder

When the cake feeder’s loaded, Patti drives the the truck out to cattle, pushes a button in the cab, and an auger in the feeder dispenses the cake in a orderly flow of pellets.

Feeding cake

Well, that’s when the contraption works. “It gets stuck lots,” Patti notes “so lots of times I put the cake in buckets and feed it that way.” Each cow gets about 2 pounds of cake. They’re tame enough to be hand fed.

When the cake feeder breaks…

So why hide mu wagon under a cake bin?

To keep the solar panels being smashed by hail.

Badlands hail that pelted the Lost Sea wagon

The evening I visited with Patti and Casey, hail was forecast. Turns out Patti’s cow cake bin was just tall enough for me to park my wagon under. That meant I didn’t have to cover the fragile panel with empty water jugs and the old sail I carry aboard the wagon. I just rolled the wagon under the hopper.

Hiding the Lost Sea wagon under the cake bin
(wagon is yellow figure at 5:00 position)
For a clue on how we got the aerial shot click here….

So did it hail the night I hid my wagon?

Nope, sure didn’t.

Which is a good thing. Right, my solar panel didn’t get smashed. Better yet, and I say this with pride, I get to boast I once (almost) saved my solar panel by hiding it under 22 tons of a cow cake.

Thanks, Patti and Casey, for having your cow cake save my bacon.



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