Thursday, October 29, 2009


Around the middle of yesterday morning, just as I was finishing up some county Farm Bureau paperwork in my farm office, my phone rang. "Someone stopped by and said we have cows in the road on the other side of the creek," said my father on the other end. "We're heading that way, meet us over there."

So I hopped into my truck and made the quarter-mile westward journey. I went down one hill and as I climbed the next (the "creek" runs between them) I saw a group of dry cows standing in and along the road. Dad and our employees were only about a minute ahead of me but already had the situation under control. I helped them get the cows back into the pasture and reattach the latch to the gatepost.

I know this isn't much of a's not like we had to chase after them in the dark or the rain. No, putting them back in their pasture wasn't the interesting part, but how they got out in the first place.

We currently are pasturing dry cows north of the road and heifers on the southern side, with nothing but a two-lane blacktop and right-of-way separating the two. My theory is that an animal in one pasture started mooing at another across the road. This probably went on for a few minutes until one of the two mooed across something that must have been interpreted as an insult or a taunt. At that point, it became group warfare. More and more animals from each pasture began lining up at their gate and along the fence line, getting as close as they could to hurl their moos at the other group across the road. At some point the dry cows finally had enough of these upstart heifers and decided it was time for a little less moo and a lot more action. They used their weight advantage to put enough pressure on the gate that the latch pulled loose from the post. Once the gate swung open, they "bull rushed" the heifers in the pasture on the other side of the road.

Luckily a passing motorist came through immediately after the cows broke free and was able to inform us before the cows forced open the heifers gate and invaded their pasture. Had that happened, I expect the heifers would have taken a pretty good whoopin'. It also would have meant we would have had to drive them all to our working pen and sort them back out. As luck would have it though, we were able to step in and stop the showdown between the dry cows and heifers before it went to far.

Is this the real reason the dry cows were out? I dunno, like I said it's just my theory. But it's a good one, don't you think?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wednesday Tidbits, 10/28/09

My wife and I left the farm early last Thursday morning (after I fed the milk cows, of course) bound for Indianapolis. The AFBF's Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee was holding it's fall meeting in conjunction with the National FFA Convention. It was my first time to visit Indy and to take part in the FFA Convention, and I was very impressed with both the city and the blue-jacketed youth who were seemingly everywhere. It was great to see all the enthusiasm the FFA members have for agriculture, and I know our industry's future will be in good hands.

As I mentioned, our YF&R Committee met during the trip. We worked together staffing a booth at the FFA Convention's trade show, boxed up food for the needy at a local food bank, and had a great time visiting with each other over the course of four days. I always come home feeling refreshed and recharged after spending time with my Farm Bureau family, and I'm already looking forward to seeing them all again in January.

While we were gone, the farm kept chugging right along, of course. Dad and our employees were able to chop 25 loads of sorghum on Thursday before rain moved in that night and shut harvest for a few days. They "dried off" quite a few of our pregnant milk cows Friday afternoon, and didn't have much to do other than milk and feed through the weekend.

Monday morning we moved into another field and cut 17 loads by the end of the day. It began raining late that night so yesterday was a no-go. We tried to resume the harvest this morning, but the ground is still too slick to operate. We'll let it air out this afternoon and hope we can cut some tomorrow morning before the next round of rain moves in.

On the cow front, we're now down to 181 in milk with 11 more due to dry off this week. We also have a few that should be calving in the next few days, but we'll hit this year's lowest number of cows in-milk sometime within the next 2.5 weeks. We'll start freshening cows and heifers faster than we dry them off once mid-November rolls around, and from there it should be a slow, steady climb back to 200+ cows milking sometime after the first of the year.

Finally, we had our monthly DHIA test this morning. Each of our cows' had their milk production measured, and we also pulled milk samples from each cow to have them analyzed for butterfat and protein composition. We should get a preliminary report back on their production amount this afternoon and the official report with the sample results next week. You can learn a little more about this in our newest MooTube Minute.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The 2009 Fall Harvest has begun!

We had to wait a lot longer than we wanted to, but our fall harvest is finally underway. I cut 13 acres of bermudagrass on Sunday afternoon, most of which was run through our silage chopper and packed into a pit yesterday. It should take us about an hour this morning to finish harvesting that bermuda, then we'll be swapping the head on our chopper to start harvesting sorghum.

Here's hoping for a breakdown-free day!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thursday Morning Tidbits

Just a few quick notes on a Thursday morning:
  • It's probably going to rain for a couple of hours today, but after it's out of here it won't be coming back for a week. Hallelujah!
  • We're going to move several concrete feed troughs out of two different pastures and place them in our milking herd's feeding area. We'll be out of silage within the next couple of weeks and will have to feed more baleage. It's much bulkier and we'll need the additional trough space to handle it.
  • I've uploaded two new "MooTube Minutes" since the beginning of the week. #003 deals with the rain delaying our harvest and #004 is about a cow that calved on Wednesday. Check them out on our YouTube Channel.
  • Did I mention the monsoon is about to end? Again, Hallelujah!
Have a great Thursday everyone, and make sure you enjoy some delicious, nutritious dairy products today!

Monday, October 12, 2009

When will the sun shine?

"Rain." It's hard for me to even type that word these days without a feeling of hopelessness washing over me. Our best laid plans of finally beginning our silage harvest this week have been thwarted by nearly an inch of rain that has fallen since midnight, an inch of rain that is expected to be joined by about three more inches over the next three days.

Our sorghum, which ideally would all be chopped and packed into silage pits by now, is still standing in muddy fields with no expectation of being harvested for at least another seven days. The bottom leaves are beginning to dry, a sure sign that the crop has hit maturity and quality is beginning to diminish. This process is going to speed up rapidly if the crop is frosted on, a real possibility if our coming weekend's low temperatures do drop to around 42 degrees as the forecast suggests they will.

In the grand scheme of things, the rain we're getting is probably needed. If you'll recall I began this blog in 2007, a year in which a severe drought left us with nearly a 30 inch rainfall deficit. Last year's precipitation was about average, and so far this year we're looking at a 20+ inch surplus. Our aquifers needed recharging, and all this rainfall is helping to do that. But since we all live and usually focus on the present, this rain couldn't be coming at a worse time. It's not just because it is delaying and will ultimately limit/diminish our harvest. It's because this is happening in a year where we've suffered through abysmal prices for our milk. And though that price is very slowly creeping up, our cows' production over the last few weeks has been below what we are accustomed to them giving this time of year. Buying additional feed to make up for our silage shortfall is going to be a painful but necessary exercise.

Somewhere in the midst of this "perfect storm" of adversity lies an opportunity and a path towards a successful future. I don't know if that means gritting our teeth and simply riding out the storm or if it means making major changes in the way we manage our farm. Whatever the answer may be, the best option is probably somewhere in the middle ground.

In the meantime, we'll continue to go about our daily chores thankful for the blessings we do have and with a stubborn determination to not allow 2009 to be the year that puts an end to over 55 years of hard work. We WILL survive this rough stretch, and hopefully we'll come out of it even stronger than before. But even though I'm convinced we still have years of successful dairy farming ahead of us, I can't help but wonder, both literally and figuratively, "when will the sun shine?"

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The GDF MooTube Minute

If you've read my blog for very long, you may recall a post from this past April in which I announced my intentions to someday add video blogging to my family farm's online catalog. Most of the roadblocks I outlined in that post are still in place, but now that I have a video-capable cell phone I can upload unedited videos to YouTube. Perhaps you've already seen a little bit of my "handiwork". Anyway, I decided today to go ahead and make a run at the video blogging. The first episode of the "GDF MooTube Minute" can be seen below.

I'm not sure how often I'll upload new episodes, and I imagine that most will be shorter than this first one. I'm still holding out hope that one day the stars will align, broadband will become available in my area, and I can edit the videos then upload them from my computer. Until then, enjoy the first and future episodes of the "GDF MooTube Minute", and don't worry...I'll still occasionally post videos along the lines of "March of the Holsteins" and "Water 'n Poo"!

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Friday morning farm update

This week's weather finally gave us a chance to dry out a little after two weeks of seemingly non-stop rain. And until a rain shower passed through early this morning, the weather has been absolutely beautiful. Sunshine, breeze, and cooler temperatures have been just what the doctor ordered. Our cows have also benefited because they have been able to graze full mornings without the worry of heat stress. They've also started milking a little better after bottoming-out last week, though they still have a way to go to get their production back up to where we want it.

We had hoped to be in the field chopping silage by now, but that hasn't happened. We do think we'll have our silage chopper maintenance completed by the end of the day and hope to get one of our dump trucks back from its tune-up. If weather permits (the forecast isn't great), we'll be running hard on Tuesday. We do know that we'll run out of our ryegrass silage before any sorghum silage we harvest is ready to feed, but we still have plenty of ryegrass and sudex baleage to feed the milking herd.

I most likely will not be directly involved in our silage harvest, or at least in the mornings. I figure I'll be spending my time getting some of our cool-season crops planted. We'll go with a mixture of ryegrass and oats on our grazing land (where our sudex was planted), and we'll follow our sorghum crop with ryegrass in some places and rye in others with both crops to be harvested as baleage or silage in the spring.

Finally, I have a couple of other items of interest. The first is an article by Dawn Kent that originally appeared in The Birmingham News this past Sunday. The article is about Alabama's dairy industry and features some of the management and promotion methods we use on our family farm.

The second has to do with nutrient management. Everything worked out mid-week to give us an opportunity to apply our captured dairy waste as fertilizer onto some of our pastures. The radio wasn't working in the tractor I was applying with I so I had to find ways to keep myself entertained. So, I decided to do something that might entertain YOU, and help you learn a little about nutrient management at the same time. Please enjoy my take on an old Stonewall Jackson classic, a little ditty I call "Water 'n Poo".