The black and white steer was clearly drinking sap from a maple bucket hanging from a tree pictured in a Facebook post. I thought that my cattle were the only “sap-sucking” culprits but, apparently, my herd is not alone. We had to stop collecting sap in our pastures because the cattle would tear off the plastic sap lines and lick the sweet water flowing from our maple trees.
February and March are when farmers stay up all night to boil sap into thick, delicious maple syrup. It takes forty gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of syrup. Warm days and cold nights in late winter and early spring are required for good a flow of usable sap. In the right conditions, farmers can be overwhelmed with sap. When the sap starts flowing it has to be stored and when storage space runs low it has to be boiled down to make maple syrup. Farmers will literally stay up all night to boil sap and check lines to keep the sap flowing. Last year about this time Jill McCullough from North Family Farm in Canterbury gathered 2,000 gallons of sap in one day. This year, the same trees produced over 3,000 gallons!
People aren’t the only ones who appreciate maple sap. Horses will strip the bark off trees to get to the sweet liquid. Because they only have top front teeth, cattle aren’t as good as horses at stripping bark but they can pull down sap lines and lick the sweetness as it flows from the tap. If a bucket is used to capture the sap it’s even easier for them to drink directly from the bucket.
Many of the maple trees at Miles Smith Farm are on a south facing slope, the perfect location for good sap production. In the past, most of our trees were tapped using plastic tubing with buckets attached to a few isolated maples. I miss the drip, drip, drip sound of sap as it trickled into the metal buckets but because the cattle treated the sap lines like their own personal juice bar we had to stop the tapping a few years ago.
I have a favorite recipe for maple syrup lemonade; add one cup of NH Maple Syrup and a half cup lemon juice (or two fresh squeezed lemons) to two quarts of water and you’ll never want to drink anything else. It’s a heavenly drink. I’m sure my cattle would agree but, for now, their juice bar is “shut off” and they’ll have to do with plain water.
Maybe someday we’ll figure out how to tap trees with pastured cattle but until then I’ll make my maple lemonade with syrup from farmers who are willing to stay up all night to create amazing, healthy NH Maple Syrup.