Monday, December 27, 2010

We're still here and busy as ever

After a six week hiatus, I'm finally back on the blog to let you know what's been happening around here.

It's been busy, of course, but we really haven't worked on what I would call any "major" projects on the farm. We didn't finish drilling seed into all of the acreage that we planned to, but we will still be able to plant that ground (probably in February) and have it available for spring grazing. I've applied a couple of light doses of slurry to some of the ground we've planted, and it's looking pretty good. That has been the extent of our field work, but we've spent time working on maintenance and several other odd jobs around the farm.

This time of year, though, almost all of our time and focus is spent on our animals. We've been breeding a group of 14-15 month old heifers lately, and have only a handful left to go. Most of the heifers we bred last spring have now calved and it looks like they are going to make a pretty good group of milk cows. We're currently sitting at 199 cows in milk with roughly 30 more cows and heifers due to calve over the next few weeks.

All of our heifers and dry cows are getting bales of bermudagrass hay in their pastures along with the dairy pellets we feed them. Right now I think we'll have plenty of hay to get through the winter, but of course that could change is spring arrives later than normal. Our milking herd continues to eat a TMR consisting of corn silage, sudex and wheat/ryegrass baleage, and dairy feed. We have fed almost all of our "early" corn and should be fully into our pit of "late" corn by the end of the week. We haven't had it sampled yet, but we suspect its quality will be higher and in return should help the cows produce more milk.

Perhaps the biggest change on the farm is that our milkhand of 10.5 year decided to retire in mid-November, and I'm spending a lot more time in the milking barn because of it. We have since hired someone on a part-time basis to help us milk on the weekends and on T-W-Th mornings. Right now that labor arrangement is working great, but it remains to be seen how we'll handle things once spring rolls around and the fields and crops begin demanding some of our time.

The last several weeks have also been very busy for me off of the farm. In addition to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, I've had quite a few meetings to prepare for an attend. That schedule isn't about to slow down either, as I'll be off the farm all or part of 20 days during a 46-day stretch from early January through mid-February.

Between working more hours on the farm and spending more time on the road, my blogging frequency may continue to be sub-par for a few more weeks. Just remember you can always keep up with what's going on with me and my family farm by following me on Twitter or becoming a "fan" of our farm on Facebook. And just in case I don't talk to you again before the end of the year, I want to thank all of you for your readership and support! I hope each and every one of you has a "dairy" prosperous New Year!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Busy times on and off the farm

It's been a couple of weeks since I've blogged, so here is a quick entry to catch you up to speed with what's been happening.

I took a little break from farming a few days ago to spend a long weekend in St. Louis with other members of the AFBF YF&R Committee. We toured Monsanto's research facility, listened to very informative presentation on the GIPSA proposal and what effect the recent election would have on drafting the 2012 Farm Bill, and of course handled a fair amount of committee business. Several committee members also uploaded farm videos to YouTube, which you can view here. Hopefully there will be a few more added in the coming weeks.

Once I got home, it was back to business. I begin no-till drilling rye and ryegrass on Monday, and by lunchtime Wednesday I had planted 48.5 acres worth of grazing land. Before planting any more, we decided that I should go ahead and fertilize some of this acreage before the weekend. So, I spent yesterday pulling the honeywagon through the fields and plan on doing it again today. If all goes well, I will have covered about 30 acres by the time I shut down this afternoon.

I expect to plant at least 20 more acres within the next couple of weeks, maybe even as much as 40 if we buy some more seed. All in all, we have just shy of 130 acres planted right now. Most of what I had planted prior to this week has sprouted, and the stand looks to be pretty good. The cool nights and warm days have made for great weather to get the crop up and established.

I'm going to sound like a broken record on our cows, but it's pretty much the same story. The milking herd is still hovering around 170 head and production is slowly increasing. We have switched to a newer, less expensive dairy feed formulation, and I think the cows are actually doing better on it than they were on the previous feed. We're breeding several cows a week now, and our conception rate should be getting back to normal now that we're past the heat of summer. We'll also start breeding our next group of heifers in about 3-4 weeks.

Rain and a temperature change is in the forecast for the first part of next week, so I'm not sure how that will effect our farming agenda. I'll also be pretty busy with off-the-farm activities. I'm emceeing our county's Farm-City Banquet on Tuesday night before flying to DC for an America's Heartland advisory board meeting on Wednesday and Thursday.

I hope you all have a "dairy" good weekend!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Making progress

It's been a good week on the dairy farm, and we've made some progress on several fronts.

We are finally having more cows freshen than the are drying off, so our milking herd size is beginning to increase. Milk production (per cow) is also continuing to improve, albeit slower than what we would like. More of our cows are showing stronger "heats" in the cooler weather, and our conception rates are probably on the rise.

The rainfall we received during the first half of the week has really got the first rye and triticale we planted jumping out of the ground. We've also been able to no-till triticale and oats into one field, and I'm currently about halfway through planting oats into 45 acres of prepared ground. I doubt I'll plant over the weekend, and should finish with that job on Monday. We'll still have quite a few acres of grazing land to no-till drill rye and ryegrass into, but we're not any any big hurry about it.

And while this has been a good week, we are still facing some very real challenges. with our feeding program. Our purchased feed costs have continued to rise, offsetting the gains we've made on our milk price. We're currently looking at different nutritional options for both our heifers and our cows, and it might be more profitable to sacrifice some milk production as long as we don't sacrifice overall animal health.

Whatever happens, we'll do our best to just roll with the punches and make the best of the situation. My family has been able to do that successfully on our dairy farm for nearly 60 years, and I don't see a reason to change that now!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Got fetus?

"Got fetus?"

That's the question our local large-animal veterinarian will be answering when he comes to our farm this morning to check about 80 cows and heifers for pregnancy.

Many of the cows he'll examine were artificially inseminated with Angus semen during the summer. We decided to use Angus from mid-June through August because it was best economical option during what is historically our lowest conception-rate season. We suspect most of the cows are pregnant because we haven't seen them come back into estrus (heat), but we want a professional opinion just in case there are any problems with the cows' reproductive systems.

We AIed the group of heifers in question at the beginning of summer, and they've had a bull roaming the pasture with them ever since. After examining each heifer, the veterinarian will be able to tell us if the size of her fetus matches up with her AI date or if she was likely bred by our herd bull. Any heifers that he calls "open" (not pregnant) or suspects of being short bred (<30 days) will either remain with the bull or will be sent to pasture with the next group of heifers we'll breed in early December.

In other farm news, we dried off 15 pregnant milkers yesterday, dropping our total number of cows in milk to 169. This is our lowest point of the year, but we'll be rebounding shortly as we'll be calving-in many more than we'll be drying off over the next few months. On the forage planting front, I planted rye and triticale on 30 acres of prepared ground last week (see the MooTube Minute below). We can possibly finish planting oats on the prepared ground this week if we get an overnight rain. I don't expect we'll be in any hurry about no-tilling our grazing land, so it will probably be the first of November before we start planting the rye/ryegrass mixture.

If you happen to be in Indianapolis this week for the National FFA Convention, make sure you swing by the AFBF YF&R booth at the Career Show and say hello!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Time to get busy!

I guess the dairy farming life is always busy, but the past couple of weeks have seemed a little slow since we've not had any field work or extra herd work to attend to. That's about to change, though.

Yesterday evening we received about an inch of long prayed for, hoped for, and awaited for rain. With moisture in the ground and 275+ bags of seed in our shed, it's time to get busy planting our cool-season forages. I'll begin drilling rye (AFC 20-20) into prepared ground tomorrow morning, and will also plant a few acres of triticale (Trical 2700) before I finish sometime on Friday. Depending on the field conditions and the timing of the next rain chances, I may begin drilling our oats (Coker 227) over the weekend.

That will take care of all the forage we intend to harvest as silage next spring, but will still leave all of our grazing land yet to be planted. We'll no-till drill in a mixture of rye (Elbon) and ryegrass (Marshall) for our cows to rotationally strip-graze next spring. It's doubtful at this point that we would get any significant grazing out of it before then, so we probably won't plant that acreage for another week or two.

Of course, there's more work to do on our dairy farm than just planting forages for our cows. Our local veterinarian is coming next Tuesday morning to pregnancy check about 40 cows and 40 bred heifers. About a dozen of our pregnant milking cows are due to dry off early next week, and at least half that many dry cows should calve before the end of next week. We'll also be re-grouping our heifers (by size) and moving them to different pastures over the next couple of weeks.

I've also got a very busy off-the-farm schedule lined up. I was in Montgomery this past Monday for an ADA of Alabama board meeting (dairy check-off) and a dairy show at the Alabama National Fair. Next Wednesday I'll be traveling to the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis to serve as a judge at the Extemporaneous Public Speaking CDE Finals, as well as to promote Farm Bureau's Young Farmers & Ranchers Program with a few fellow YF&R Committee members.

Yep, it's gonna be a busy few weeks, but I wouldn't have it any other way!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Still waiting on the wet stuff

We're still facing dry conditions here on the farm, and our fall forage planting will continued to be delayed until a fair amount of rain can fall. The US Drought Monitor currently has us designated as D0, or "abnormally dry". I expect that we'll be bumped up to the moderate drought category next week unless the weather makes a big change.

In the meantime, we're still finding plenty of things around the farm to keep us busy. For one thing, the drier weather has allowed us to do some much needed brush cutting in a few spots. It has certainly improved the looks of the place, and it will give our heifers a few more acres of "clean" ground to pasture on this winter.

And, of course, our cows still demand a lot of our attention. We are currently up to 182 milking, but we'll cut that down this afternoon as we have a few to dry off. Their milk production continues to climb, thanks in part to the improving quality of their corn silage as we get deeper into the bunker. We're also letting our animals graze down the remaining sudex on the farm, with the milking herd spending late mornings in one large paddock and our dry cows picking through a 10 acre field.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It's cooler, but still too dry

The temperature finally started to make a downward turn over the weekend, and it looks like the 90-100 degree days of summer may finally be behind us. The cooler days and night and low humidity should made our cows much more comfortable, which in turn should lead to more grazing and milk production. But the weather isn't all good news for us. Even after this Sunday's quarter-inch, we are about 10 inches year-to-date below our typical rainfall. Right now the weather forecast is calling for 0% chance of rain over the next 10 days. Our summer grasses have slowed/stopped their growth a couple of weeks earlier than normal due to the lack of moisture, and we won't plant our cool-season forages until we get enough rainfall to soften the ground. I've been busy fertilizing some of our cropland, though, and by the end of the day we should have 75 acres needing nothing more than seeds and rain.

Back to the milking herd for a minute. Over the weekend we dipped down to 172 cows in milk, which was probably our lowest point in over a year. We've had a few heifers calve over the past couple of days though and will be up to at least 176 this afternoon. We also have 3 pregnant cows to dry off, but our calvings should begin to outnumber our dry-offs over the next several weeks.

Have a "dairy" good day, everyone!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

It's still summertime on the farm

Even though it is now technically "Fall", the continued dry weather and heat would certainly make a person think it's still summertime. Our milking cows are still coming to cool in the barns by mid-morning, the bermudagrass in our pastures is starting to fade away, and our tall fescue has yet to begin its autumn growth-spurt.

We've decided to move some of our larger animals off of some heavily grazed and drought-stressed land and onto greener pastures...literally. We consolidated a group of pregnant heifers and dry cows (all due to calve after the first half of November) this morning into a pasture that includes a 20 acre hay field that was attacked by armyworms a couple of weeks ago. That bermudagrass won't grow back enough to justify cutting it for hay, but it has thickened up enough to make for some good grazing. There is a 10 acre field of sudex regrowth adjacent to the pasture that will also available for grazing for another 2-3 weeks.

Speaking of sudex, the weather has been ideal for curing it into hay. I mowed six acres of regrowth in a grazing paddock (that hasn't been grazed lately) on Monday and flipped it today with the hay rake. It should be ready to bale early tomorrow afternoon and will be fed to heifers or dry cows this winter.

If the current weather forecast holds we should be getting a break from the heat and maybe a little rain early next week. If so, it will be good for our cows and certainly for our pastures, and it will move us a little closer to planting our cool-season forages like rye, oats, and ryegrass.

Don't forget our Edopt-a-Cow program, and have a "dairy" good day!

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Baler Rolls - a song about baling hay

Yesterday afternoon we baled what will probably be the last of our bermudagrass hay of the summer. With that in mind, I decided I should try to get a few minutes of video before the baler finished it's duty for the season. As I filmed my father harvesting the last few acres, I was trying to decide whether or not to piece the clips together and make another "MooTube Minute", a "Vocowbulary" video, or just store it away as archived footage.

Then, out of nowhere, the old Garth Brooks song "The Thunder Rolls" popped into my head. By now you can probably see where this is going. It didn't take very long for the song title to morph into something else, and by the time I shut off the camera I pretty much knew what I wanted to do with the video clips.

By the end of the evening I had thought up and recorded a full set of lyrics and pieced them together with video clips and still photos related to growing and harvesting bermudagrass hay. The end result is an off-key, amateurishly edited music video called "The Baler Rolls: a song about baling hay."

I've posted a few songs on our YouTube account before. Some are more educational than others, some are sillier than others, but they're all done in an attempt to entertain you. You may not learn much from this or any of my farm songs, but I hope you get a chuckle and will keep coming back to watch all of our farm videos.


Three thirty in the evening, the sun is shining bright. The hayfield’s ready for a baling, the windrows are raked up tight. Veil of dust on the windshield from the hay that’s going in. The tractor runs across the field then turns and comes again.

And the baler rolls. And the baler rolls.

It was only three days ago we mowed the Bermuda down. It dried out just perfectly as the sunlight beat down. It’d probably be a miracle if the equipment keeps working right. But if we can keep it running we’ll be done before tonight.

And the baler rolls. And the baler rolls.

The baler rolls the hay up tight. There won’t be no mold, ‘cause we cured it right. As the year goes on and the days turn cold, our cows’ll eat the hay the baler rolls.

We raise hybrid bermudas: Russell & Tifton 44, two varieties that grow well on our well-drained Southern soil. When they get enough sun and rain through the summer they’ll really grow. We can usually harvest three times and if we’re lucky maybe four.

And the baler rolls. And the baler rolls.


The baler rolls the hay up tight. There won’t be no mold, ‘cause we cured it right. As the year goes on and the days turn cold, our cows’ll eat the hay the baler rolls. Our cows’ll eat the hay the baler rolls.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Summer hay season is winding down

This afternoon we mowed the last 13 acres of bermudagrass we'll harvest this summer. Ideally it would have been harvested about 10 days ago, but silage chopping ALWAYS takes precedence above any other field work on the farm. The hay will be a little on the mature side and therefore the quality will suffer a little bit, but our heifers and dry cows will be happy to eat it this winter. Even without the 50+ acres we lost to fall armyworms a couple of weeks ago, we've had a productive forage season with both hay/baleage and chopped silage.

We still have a little fixing to do before we actually bale this hay. The tractor we generally rake hay with, a Ford 6600 (as made infamous here), will need its radiator repaired if we expect to use it. We also have a torn belt on our baler that will have to be patched or replaced within the next couple of days.

The only other haying I foresee the season is a few acres of sudex we'll probably cut and harvest as baleage next week. After that, all of our field work will probably be focused on our fall-planted, spring-harvested cool season forage crops.

If you would like to watch me talk about this week's haying instead of just reading it above, click "play" on our latest MooTube Minute below.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Our free, fun, & educational Edopt-a-Cow Program is online

Our farm's 2010 Edopt-a-Cow Program is now online with five cows available to choose from. Simply follow this link to the program's page on our website for a listing of the cows and links to their profile pages. Once you've decided which cow to "edopt", sumbit the registration form and we'll email an 8"x 10" photo of your selected cow along with a "Certificate of Edoption".

Edopt-a-Cow is free, fun, and educational. Kids really enjoy the program, and many teachers have found it to be a great program to use in their classroom. I hope you'll all consider "edopting" a cow for your kids (or yourself), and please encourage your friends to do the same.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

What's been happening...from harvesting to invasions to football

Things have been busy, busy, busy lately, and when I've had time to blog I've been too worn out to do so. But, the coffee's flowing this morning and it's a few more minutes before I'll be throwing my bacon in the frying pan, so sit back as I give you a quick recap of what's been happening 'round here.

I was in Chicago on Monday and Tuesday of last week for the first ever AgChat Training Conference. I was a co-presenter with Tim Zweber and Patty Leonard in a workshop entitled "Real Life Show & Tell" in which we each talked about some of the things we do (both online and "offline") to promote our farms and industry.

Last Wednesday we began harvesting our bottomland corn. We made pretty good progress through the week, and the only major issue we had was with a flat tire on the dump truck. We weren't the only ones harvesting, though, as fall armyworms invaded the farm and ate up 52 acres worth of hayfield regrowth. We could have sprayed them, but decided it wasn't worth the time or expense considering we hadn't yet fertilized the fields.

Instead of keeping up the momentum and continuing the harvest on Saturday like many farmers would do, we opted to park the tractors so we could go enjoy the opening of football season at Mississippi State. Dad and I took care of the morning milking duties and left the afternoon in the hands of our employees. We enjoyed over 6 hours of tailgating with other family members and friends before moving into the stadium for the 'Dawgs 49-7 romp over Memphis.

Sunday was a Sunday. Milk, feed, church, milk, feed, done.

Things got interesting on Labor Day. While everyone else has been harvesting, I've been taking care of all the other chores around the dairy. By the end of the day, I had two cows and two heifers to calve, I had to throw lots of refused feed out of the cows' trough (front-end of the silage pit stuff...not the best quality), and a cow stepped on my big toe and slammed me against the rails of our catch-pen when I tried to load her into our breeding chute. And to add insult to injury, I returned home to learn that my baby daughter had hidden the remote control for the satellite!

Tuesday was much better. Harvest continued to run smoothly, dairy chores were much easier, and my wife found the remote.

Things slowed down a bit yesterday. We should have finished harvesting, but our dump truck's transmission got stuck in 5th gear on just the second load. We had to tow it back to the shop (loaded, of course), and after attempts to locate a truck-for-hire failed we managed to get it to where it would shift between 2nd and 3rd. They limped along and managed to finish the day with 11 of the approximately 15 loads that remained in the field.

So that brings us to today. Morning milking is obviously already over, and we'll soon be getting back to work. We have to catch one of the heifers that calved Monday, as she decided to break out of the milking herd's pasture and return to where she came from. After that, hopefully dad and the others can get the harvesting finished before lunch while I take care of feeding heifers and doing whatever else needs doing. With any luck, dad and I will leave things with the employees early this afternoon so we can get a jump on ballgame traffic. That's right, BIG game in Starkville tonight...Mississippi State vs. Auburn. Go 'Dawgs!

A couple of links for your reading pleasure:
  • An article from the AgriBank Advocate newsletter about our farm's use of social media.
  • A blog I posted to Farm Bureau's FBlog last night about the most memorable question I've ever been asked about a cow.
Y'all have a "dairy" good day!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Manure in the Moonlight

I pulled my first "all nighter" on my farm last Friday night, spending eight hours applying manure in the moonlight.

Knowing in advance that I would be attempting something I had never tried, I smartly took a little time off from my regular work schedule and caught a couple of naps during the day. I started churning up the contents of our SlurryStore a few minutes after 6pm and was discharging my first load from the honeywagon by 6:30. Eight hours and twenty loads later, I called it a night at 2:30 am. I actually pulled into my driveway as my father was leaving his to go start milking our cows.

There were several reasons I needed and wanted to spread this way. First of all, one of our recently harvested hay fields needed the fertilizer. Also, our SlurryStore was nearing its storage capacity and needed to be drawn down before we dedicated all of our "non-cow" time and equipment to corn harvest. The only access we have to and from our manure storage involves driving through our loafing barn, so by waiting until evening I gave the cows a chance to clear out and return to the pasture once the temperature had cooled. Finally, I really wanted to test out the demo GPS unit the Alabama Precision Ag team had sent me, and what better way than to use it in the dark?

It worked great! I hit my target of one load (3000-3200 gallons) per acre, and completely covered the area of the field I was attempting to apply on. And, of course, I couldn't have effectively (or safely) applied manure in the dark if not for the unit's lightbar guidance and coverage mapping.

So as of right now, the hay field's bermudagrass is green, the SlurryStore is half-emptied, and I'm buying into the thought that GPS technology is a viable tool for even small dairy farms like mine.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

More forage, and GPS-guided fertilizing

We're still building up our forage inventory, and have recently harvested 22 acres of sudex (sorghum-sudangrass). We started Monday of last week by mowing the 10 acre patch across the road from my house. Three straight days of rain showers meant that it took us that long to get all of it baled and silage wrapped, but in the end we were left with 114 bales of "baleage". They will be on the high end of the moisture scale thanks to rain and very little sunshine between mowing and baling, and I'm estimating that they'll average somewhere between 1600-1750 pounds each. We cut an additional 12 acres this week, but the stand wasn't nearly as good. We yielded 68 bales on that acreage, but the moisture level was much closer to the 55% we prefer. You can check out this video from last year to see a bale of sudex being silage wrapped.

We've also cut 25 acres of crabgrass this week. That's right, crabgrass can make a pretty good forage! This is a "volunteer" crop that has established in one of our fields over the last few years. We typically plant this acreage in cool-season crops and use it for grazing in late fall and spring, and we opted not to plant sudex on it this summer. We've had some great drying weather this week, and we'll begin baling it tomorrow afternoon.

I'm also fertilizing our harvested fields, and I'm doing so with the aid of a demo GPS unit thanks to the Extension Service's Amy Winstead and the Alabama Precision Ag team. I applied 16 loads of dairy slurry ("Water 'n Poo") today on the first sudex field we harvested, and the GPS was a big help in making sure I got full coverage with the right overlap widths. The real test of the system's guidance (or my reliance upon it) was going to be tonight when I intended on spreading in a bermudagrass hay field after dark. Alas, a slow leak on a rear tractor tire progressively got worse this afternoon and forced me to postpone any further fertilization until the tire has been patched.

In other news, the weather has been great this week considering it's still August: low humidity, low temperatures in the 60s, and highs only in the low 90s with a nice breeze. The cows are much more comfortable, are eating more, and hopefully will be producing more milk than what they have been lately! Our intentions are to begin harvesting the last of our corn silage next week, and I'll be off the farm Monday and Tuesday attending a conference in Chicago.

Have a "dairy" good week, everyone, and don't forget to raise your hand for chocolate milk!!!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hay & Grazing Update

We finished baling our hay early Friday afternoon without any further mechanical or weather issues. We had a light yield this time, thanks mostly to the lack of July rainfall. Taking our superb first cutting into account, though, our hay inventory is about where it usually is in mid-August. We'll get our bermudagrass fertilized soon and will hope to be cutting it again in late-September.

Our next little bit of field work will involve harvesting a 10 acre field of sudex as baleage. We'll mow it, "green" bale it the next day, and then silage wrap the bales.

Speaking of sudex, we planted this crop in a few grazing paddocks and turned our milking herd into one for the first time this summer. It gets too hot too early for our cows to both graze and eat TMR, and so far we've opted to keep feeding their TMR twice a day. At their current low level of milk production, though, we're going to try to give them a heavier evening feeding and graze them from 5:30-7:30am. We may still see a further drop in production, but grazing may still be a more economical choice with the price of feed increasing lately. Time will tell.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Hayfield Follies

Harvesting our "second cutting" of hay isn't exactly working out as planned.

Over the weekend, the local extended weather forecast was calling for hot, dry weather, with only about a 20% chance of a passing shower Monday and Tuesday. With that in mind, we figured we could mow, rake, and bale all of the 60 acres that was ready to harvest by the time the week was over.

Mowing went by without incident. We finished cutting the bermudagrass on Tuesday, and planned to begin raking and baling mid-morning the next day as soon as the dew dried off.

Then the rain clouds came. A little better than a quarter-inch fell Tuesday evening, and I was not feeling too great about our plan.

Thankfully though, there wasn't a cloud in the sky Wednesday morning. I started running the hay tedder through the first field we had cut around 11am, and by 1pm the hay had dried out enough to rake and bale. We were 2-3 hours behind due to the previous day's rain, but no big deal. Everything was working great...I had moved into another field with the tedder while one of our employees raked and another quickly rolled up 25 bales.

Then our luck started to turn sour.

As I finished tedding the second hay field, I noticed that one of the implement's tires was on the verge of blowing out. I called my dad at the milk barn to tell him I could ease it into the next field, but it couldn't make the trip back "home" until the tire was changed. That's when he told me we had bigger issues; namely, a belt had broken on the baler.

Dad headed to Columbus to get it repaired, and about three hours later he and I were back in the hayfield. Everything ran smoothly for a while until the dew started falling around sunset. The ground was still a little moist underneath the windrows, and the dew dampened the hay just enough to make us shut down for the evening.

This morning we got an early jump on it, sending the rake out at 10am with the baler following a half-hour behind. Once again the job started off good, but an hour into baling we had a minor problem with a sprocket. I took over the baling duties once that problem was fixed, but twenty minutes later a chain jumped off and caused another chain to break. After an hour spent at the shop, the baler was once again ready for action. One bale later, a small chain on the other side of the baler slipped off it's idler sprocket. That would have been easy enough to correct in the field if not for the fact that the idler came apart while getting the chain back in place. Back to the shop!

Dad and one of our employees repaired the problem while I went to help our milk hand finish milking duties. The baler was back in the field by the time I finished milking duties, and luckily there have been no mechanical problems since then. We shut down for a while to rest and eat supper, then I raked for a while until dad returned to bale just about sunset. With the ground now dry, the dew shouldn't be much of an issue until later tonight.

I'm back home now, and as far as I know dad must not be having much trouble with the baler. We should have 15-20 acres remaining tomorrow if he can bale tonight all of the hay that's already been raked. Barring any major breakdowns or rain (there's a chance tomorrow afternoon), we SHOULD be finished with our "second cutting" by this time tomorrow evening.

I'm not going to count my hay bales before they're rolled, though!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

GDF Vocowbulary - TMR

I posted a new GDF Vocowbulary video to our YouTube channel tonight. This one focuses on TMR, which stands for "Total Mixed Ration".

As I mentioned in the video, our cows are currently getting 40 pounds of rye silage daily, half in the morning and half in the afternoon. They are also getting 15 pounds of dairy feed in each TMR batch, bumping their total daily intake up to 70 pounds of TMR. While this is certainly more than you or I would eat in a days time, this is actually a little bit on the light side for our cows.

The heat and humidity takes a toll on our cows' appetites during the summer, so they don't eat as much as they do during most other times in the year. As we get into the milder temperatures of mid-Autumn, their consumption will increase and by wintertime they will be eating between 90 and 100 pounds each. Most of the 20-30 pound increase will be made up of extra forage fed as part of the TMR or grazed.

The rye silage and pre-formulated dairy feed will continue to be our main ingredients for a few more weeks. Before long, though, we'll replace the rye silage with two other forage ingredients: rye baleage and corn silage. Between now and next summer, dry bermudagrass hay and sorghum-sudangrass baleage may also make their way into the TMR.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

It's hot, but we're still farming!

As you can see by's forecast on the left, it's going to be another HOT one here on our dairy farm. Looking at the extended forecast, we're not going to get much of a break, either. We should cool down to the mid-90's (yeah, BIG change) by the end of the week, and right now we have small window in which we might get some rain either Friday or Saturday.

Regardless of the terrible heat, dairy farming is a 365 day a year job so we'll be right out there in it doing the best we can. Our cows, fortunately, have been getting enough relief from the fans and sprinklers in our barns to keep from showing too many ill-effects of the heat. Sure, their milk production has dropped, but we have yet to see any health problems we can attribute directly to the heat. We are sending a half-dozen cows to the stockyard this morning (dairy cows provide beef, too!) and should be milking 194 this afternoon.

Our corn silage harvest continues and is hopefully nearing completion. We'll be servicing our harvesting equipment first thing this morning before moving it to the final 22-acre field remaining to be cut. A field that size could be harvested in just a few hours with the right equipment, but it'll take our 2-row chopper close to two full days to harvest the terraced, contoured field. Hopefully the old thing will hold together so we can be finish sometime tomorrow afternoon. Once we've finished with the corn we'll jump right into 50+ acres of bermudagrass that's ready to be made into hay.

If you would like to see our silage chopper in action, check out our latest MooTube Minute. Try to stay cool, and prayers for rain would be greatly appreciated!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Corn silage harvest is underway

We started harvesting our "early" corn for silage yesterday, chopping about 8 of the roughly 75 acres we intend on harvesting over the next few days. July has been very hot and dry, and as a result our corn started drying up faster than what we had hoped for. The yield and quality look to be adequate after one day of cutting, but I can't help but wonder "what might have been" if the weather had been more favorable over the last few weeks.

And though it may be too late to help our early corn, the good soaking rain that finally fell last night will really help out our "late" corn in Yellow Creek Bottom. It hasn't tasseled yet, so it still has the potential to grow a little more. Our pastures and hay fields will certainly benefit from the moisture as well, and the latter should be ready to harvest for the second time as soon as we finish chopping silage.

Our cows have backed off on their milk production but are still performing better than what they typically do this time of year. Our milking herd is down to 196 cows, and I don't expect that we'll make it back to 200 for at least a month. We'll be weighing and sampling our cows' milk tomorrow morning.

Finally, I had the pleasure of having an old high school classmate stop by with his family for a quick visit yesterday (I strongly encourage you to check out Zac's blog). His daughter really seemed to enjoy the cows and calves, but the best part for me was that I got to do a little educating when he and his wife asked questions about organic milk, hormones, and antibiotics. It just goes to show that there's always an opportunity to share your story and help others understand what you do.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cows, crops, and links for 7/8/10

Summertime in the Deep South can be mighty tough on farmers and dairy cows alike due to the heat and humidity, but the first few days of this month weren't quite so bad. The air was drier and the nights were a little cooler, and our cows responded with their highest average daily milk production since mid-May. Now that the heat index is starting to creep back up, I'm sure our production will come down a little bit. Even so, the combination of keeping the cows cool (they have access to fans and sprinklers most days from 9am-6pm) and providing quality feed will help them make it through the summer without too much heat stress.

Speaking of quality feed, our forages are looking pretty good. They could use some rain, of course, but we've gotten enough timely showers over the last few weeks to keep anything from "hurting" for water. Our bermudagrass hay fields have all been fertilized and are growing nicely. Our early corn is pollinating and will probably be ready to chop for silage by the end of the month. Our bottom land corn is knee-to-thigh high and looks really good. And the sorghum-sudangrass (sudex) that I planted last week looks to be nice and thick. I've got a few photos below for your viewing pleasure.

And finally, here are few links for you:
Have a "dairy" good day, folks!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

GDF "Vocowbulary"

I often forget that some people may not fully understand some of the words or phrases I use when talking about my family's dairy farm. With that in mind, I've decided to start a new video feature on our farm's YouTube channel: GDF Vocowbulary. I plan on making this a weekly series, and I hope it will help explain some of the terminology we use when talking about our farm or industry.

For the first lesson, I chose to explain what "dry cows" are. I've got a whole list of words and phrases I can focus on in upcoming lessons, but I really want to choose the terms that you are most interested in learning more about. If there is something that you would like to have defined or explained, please let me know via this blog, my Twitter account, or our Facebook page and I'll make sure to prioritize it for a future video.

So sit back, hit the "play" button, and learn a little bit more about dry cows. I hope it's helpful, and please share it with your friends!

Monday, June 21, 2010

a hay update

We've spent several hours in the hay field lately, so I thought I would give you a quick update on our progress.

Our first bermudagrass hay was cut two weeks ago, and at the time it looked like the weather forecast would be favorable to bale it two days later. Well, things changed, and what started out as a "30% chance of isolated showers late Wednesday" became a half inch of rain at 8:00 that Wednesday morning. That was followed by another 3.5 inches that evening. We did get the hay dried out and raked at the end of the week, but my dad didn't get halfway through baling it on that Saturday before a belt broke on the baler. We got it fixed the following Monday, and wound up with 96 bales off of 17 acres. Not bad considering the conditions.

We put the mowers back on the tractors last Thursday and set out to cut another 18 acres. The hay would have been ready to rake and bale Saturday afternoon. But again, dry hay on the ground is a great magnet for rain. We dodged the big rains and didn't get much more than a sprinkle, but it was enough to keep us out of the field that day. So, while I spend Fathers' Day afternoon in the milking barn, my dad spent it in the hayfield with the rake and baler. By the time he was finished, he had rolled 147 bales (nearly 3 tons per acre). I haven't gone back into my files, but I think that's the most that field has ever yielded on one cutting.

So, coming into this morning we had 243 bales from 35 acres, with 40 more acres to go. We got the hay mowers rolling about 10:30 this morning and covered all the ground by 5pm. The three fields we cut today have some spots of invasive crabgrass which won't dry out nearly as quickly as the bermudagrass, so we'll have to "fluff" it with our hay tedder tomorrow or Wednesday before we rake it. Hopefully for once we can avoid the rain until we have it baled later this week.

And THEN maybe we'll get some rain to get it all green and growing again!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Become a "Friend of Elsie"

June is Dairy Month, and becoming a "Friend of Elsie" is a great way to help us celebrate!

When you visit, you'll find lots of good stuff, including a Father's Day-themed bl0g post I wrote as well as lots of recipes.

I'm partial to the Fast Fiesta Cheeseburger...great for tailgating!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

At the Youth Leadership Conference

I'm at the 4-H Center in Columbiana this weekend attending the annual ALFA Youth Leadership Conference. The state's Young Farmers Committee is responsible for facilitating two of the workshops: Ag Jeopardy (pictured) and Addressing Misconceptions About Agriculture.

Many of the delegates do not come from an agricultural background, and most will go into careers outside of agriculture. We hope that our conference will help them develop into stronger leaders in whatever fields they choose to enter, but we also recognize we have an opportunity to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of agriculture.

The continued success of American agriculture doesn't just depend on production and profitability, it depends on the public allowing us to continue farming in a way that's productive and profitable.
Building relationships and sharing information about our industry with future leaders is one more step we can take today to make sure we'll still be farming tomorrow.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Multiple-task Monday

We were all over the farm today. After we finished with a few basic duties (milking, feeding, cleaning, etc.) we started gearing up to attack the day on multiple fronts. With no morning dew and no rain in the forecast for the next several days, I was able to get an early start in the hayfield to mow our first bermudagrass of the summer. I cut about 16 acres today, and might have cut a few more if not for a nagging hydraulic problem that was slowing me down. I'll fluff the cut hay tomorrow and it will probably be ready to bale on Wednesday afternoon, Thursday at the latest.

Meanwhile, the local co-op delivered a fertilizer buggy for us to pull across our creek bottom fields. Our thought was to have one of our employees spread while a second followed behind with a disk to incorporate it into the soil. Unfortunately the fertilizer kept bridging up and wouldn't spread consistently, so they lost a good bit of time trying to fix that problem. They ultimately worked between 18-19 acres, leaving roughly another 25 to go. My dad moved the planter down to the bottom and planted 7 acres after all of the afternoon milking and feeding chores were finished. We'll have the co-op send in a spreader truck to finish the fertilizing tomorrow morning, and barring any problems the disking should be completed by early afternoon and all of the corn should be in the ground by the end of the day.

We may not have covered as much ground or moved as quickly as we would have liked today, but we made progress towards harvesting hay and planting corn. All-in-all, I guess I'd have to say it was a pretty good day.

Mustache Time

Ever year in celebration of June Dairy Month we hold a Milk Mustache contest. We'll take entries throughout the spring then select three finalists in early June. We named this year's finalists yesterday.

Making the selection was very tough due to the many quality entries, but, just like good cream, these three rose to the top. Anyone who "likes" our farm's Facebook page can help us pick a winner by simply clicking "like" under the photo you think is the best. Fan voting is open through Sunday, June 13, and we'll announce our 2010 winner on the 14th.

Click here to vote!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Heifers...always getting into trouble!

Yesterday I walked out into the pasture behind our tractor sheds to herd some heifers towards our working pen. As I was getting behind them I started hearing a strange banging noise coming from the lean-to they often use for shade. Upon further investigation, one of the heifers had somehow managed to get herself upside-down in an empty water trough. After snapping a quick picture, one of our employees and I pushed the trough over so she could roll out of it.

Luckily we found her pretty quickly. She was trying to get out but could not, and in that position she would have began bloating before very long. She definitely got herself into an emergency situation, but we got her back on her feet before any damage was done.

By the way, her id number is 911. I think we'll have to keep a close eye on her over the next few years!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Scattered thoughts on a foggy Wednesday

The fog started rolling in a few minutes before 6:00 this morning, a sure sign that it's going to be another muggy day here in northwest Alabama. Though it won't be terribly comfortable, we already have three hours of work under our belts this morning and might as well go for 8 or so more!

We'll have one tractor back in the cornfields this morning trying to clean up the weed problems while I "burn-down" a couple of other fields in preparation to no-till plant some late season silage corn. We have enough seed to plant 45 acres, which is how much acreage we have in Yellow Creek bottom. However, it looks like we'll never get all of that acreage dried out before our corn planting window closes. So, we'll plant as much as we can in the bottom then finish out in a couple of our upland fields (17 acres worth). Hopefully we'll be able to use most of that seed in the bottom and can go back to our original plan of planting sudex on those two other fields.

Speaking of sudex, we'll probably be drilling that into our milking herd's grazing pastures next week. The ryegrass has just about played out and the cows are making their final pass through each of the paddocks.

So last week was mostly focused on herd health, this week is on weed control, next week should be planting, and the week after that? Harvesting bermudagrass hay, hopefully!

Quickly, a couple of words about Alabama politics. John McMillan and Dorman Grace, the two most qualified GOP candidates for Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries, are headed towards the Republican Party's July run-off ballot. The winner of that election will go on to face unchallenged Democrat Glen Zorn in the November general election. Also, congrats to fellow young farmer Clay Scofield for pulling in the most votes for the GOP's nomination for State Senate District 9's seat. Best of luck in the run-off, Clay!

Have a "dairy" good Wednesday, everyone!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cleaning up the Cornfields

This morning I took a tractor for a spin through a cornfield, driving down the rows while spraying glyphosate (RoundUp) to kill weeds. We have broadleaf signalgrass pretty much everywhere, with spots of johnsongrass, cucklebur, and morning glory scattered here and there. All of these weeds compete for the same moisture and nutrients that our corn needs, so by killing them we expect our corn to be more productive and ultimately provide more nutrition for our cows.

Our method of spraying our corn isn't terribly fast or efficient. We're using a three-point hitch sprayer assembly with a 200 gallon tank and a 12 foot (4 row) boom. We have a spray wagon with a 300 gallon tank and 30 foot-wide coverage that we typically use for all other applications, but its tires are likely to down an unacceptable amount of corn as we pull it across our curvy, terraced fields. It sure would be nice to have a high-boy sprayer, but I don't our less-than-200 acres of cropland is quite enough to justify buying one of those babies!

If you'd like to take a look at our fields and see the contrast between where we got partial and no control with our pre-emerge application, you can do so in our latest MooTube Minute.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Saturday morning breakfast bites

Good morning, everyone! I've been in from the dairy farm just long enough to eat a bowl of cereal (w/ milk, of course) and think I'll be able to catch you up on the latest happenings before I fall asleep in my office chair. So here we go...

The big news in the dairy industry this past week related to the release an undercover video filmed at a dairy in Ohio. Over the course of about a month from what I understand, one of the employees filmed another engaging in numerous acts of animal cruelty towards the cows and calves on the farm. Many of my fellow farm bloggers have expressed their disgust and outrage about the malicious treatment of the animals seen in the video. Many of them also point out that the person filming should have reported the employee in question sooner or at least stepped in to stop the abuse. Considering the video was released by a veganist animal rights group, I guess the videographer wanted to gather as much footage as possible to advance their agenda. The cows on that farm must have been considered "collateral damage" in their wider war against animal agriculture. I won't go much more into this because, as I said, several other like-minded folks have done an excellent job expressing their emotions on this issue. There's simply no excuse nor room for animal abuse. None. Period.

On a more positive note, it's been a fairly productive week on our farm. We've finished giving annual vaccination boosters to all of our animals, and we had the veterinarian over yesterday to determine pregnancies on about 100 head. Among the cows, 42 of 60 were pregnant which isn't bad considering several within the group have been historically hard to breed. We didn't fare as well with the heifers though, as only 19 of 36 were pregnant by AI breeding. These percentages are much lower than our last herd check, but if you average the two together I guess we'd be coming out about normal.

Finally, I had a neat opportunity this past Thursday evening as I was invited to deliver the commencement address at Lamar County High School's graduation ceremony. I was amazed at how many people were there for a class of only 45 graduates. I shouldn't have been though, because people in small communities really feel connected to events such as this, even if they don't have a friend or family member directly involved. I don't think it was the best speech I've ever written and my delivery had its share of flubs and flat spots, but it was well received and that's what matters. If you have 11 minutes to kill or need a cure for insomnia, you can download an mp4 audio file of the speech here.

Don't forget...there's only one week left for you to enter our annual Milk Mustache Contest!