Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bad Monday, Better Tuesday (so far)

Monday wasn't the best day for our farm, at least as far as the spring forage harvest is concerned.  We were able to chop, haul, and pack 16 loads of oat silage yesterday with no problems save a couple of minor chain issues and a flat tire on the dump truck.  But then, with several acres of oats on the ground ready to be harvested, the chopper's day was ended when a universal-joint cross broke on the drive shaft.

We hitched up the hay baler and bale wrapper a couple of hours later to finish the day's job.  Dad and I were making pretty good progress when one of the baler's roller chains broke after 29 bales.  We didn't have the parts we needed in our shop to fix it, so we parked the equipment for the night with 3-4 acres of oats still on the ground.  

Things started to improve for us this morning, though. The rain we were expecting this morning never fell, so Dad repaired the baler and sent one of our employees back to finish the job.   Meanwhile, a Select Sires rep came to the dairy to evaluate nearly 50 of our young cows for their Select Mating Service.  He told us this was one of the best groups top-to-bottom that we've had and we should expect big things from them over the next few years.

So here we sit at lunchtime on Tuesday feeling pretty good about the day.  The cows are getting their last hour of grazing in and I'm about to head to the field and wrap the 40+ bales that were rolled up this morning.  Milking will start up around 1pm and should be about finished by the time the next predicted rain gets here mid-afternoon. The weather could get pretty rough over the next 36 hours, but hopefully we'll get through it without any damage.  And with over 30 acres still left to harvest, we'll be keeping our fingers crossed that the coming storms don't keep us out of the field for several days like last week's storms did.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day

Today is Earth Day, the day when presumably more people give thought to what they can do to improve the natural splendor and conserve the precious resources of our planet.  Do farmers and ranchers celebrate Earth Day? For me and probably lots of others, it' s just another day. After all, our way of life demands that we take our stewardship responsibilities very seriously EVERY day, not just when the calendar says April 22.

Yes, farmers and ranchers are working hard to save the planet every day of the year.  We are doing our part to sustain our planet's resources while producing the crops and livestock needed to achieve and sustain a healthy, happy human existence.  A combination of new technology, old fashioned work ethic, and a strong sense of duty allow us to do so more effectively and efficiently year after year.

Do we all agree on the technologies and methods that are needed to best protect our planet while producing for its population?  Nope...we all have our own opinions, viewpoints, and strongly-held convictions.  We are all human, and none of us are perfect (that's why "Good Friday" happened).  But our humanity compels each of us to do the best we can with what we have and strive to improve our operations at every opportunity. Why? Because we live here too, and clean air, clean water, fertile soil, and abundant resources are just as important to us and our families as they are to you and yours.

So as you marvel at the beautiful, complex, magnificent, fragile, unpredictable planet we call home, please remember the positive contributions farmers and ranchers are making to ensure that future generations will enjoy the same beauty and bounty we enjoy today!

I'll leave you with a video message I made on Earth Day 2010.  It may be a year old, but the message is still (and always will be) the same...WE CARE!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Spring Harvest Update

the hay conditioner (foreground) cuts and crushes the rye before it is
chopped by the forage harvester (background)
We started harvesting our spring forages this week.  Harvesting is pretty labor-intensive,  as it involves cutting the crop with a hay conditioner, chopping it with a forage harvester, hauling it from the field to the silage pit in a dump truck, then packing it into the pit with the loader.  Plus there's the small issue of having to work around cow milking, feeding, and other everyday dairy responsibilities. 

So far, we've been able to manage and have been lucky to escape with no equipment issues more serious than chains jumping off their sprockets.  After two full days of chopping, we have all 22 acres of our rye packed in the silage pit.  I'll have a more accurate gauge on the yield after a forage test, but I'm estimating the 42.5 wagon loads we harvested totaled around 140 tons (just over 6 tons/ac). 

mowing down the next day's chop
as the darkness falls
Rain showers and thunderstorms are expected to pass over the farm today, so instead of harvesting we'll work on the equipment (sharper knives, tighten chains, etc.) and take care of some other tasks around the dairy. We'll get back in the field as soon as we can, though, which may mean we'll be doing more than the normal milking and feeding this weekend.  We have between 45-50 more acres to harvest (with an additional 10 we may harvest or graze), and I figure we would need four full days of good running to get all of it in.  At some point we'll  transition from silage to baleage and use the hay baler and bale wrapper instead of the chopper.  We'll make that switch once our silage pit is full (best case scenario), we have a major breakdown on the chopper (worst case scenario), or we have to shut down the harvest again on account of rain.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Forage Thinking

My dad and I made a quick swing around the farm yesterday to check the progress of our various spring forages.  The result: time to get the harvesting equipment ready.  It would be ideal if we could start the harvest this week, but that's unlikely to happen.  We already have our monthly DHIA test scheduled for tomorrow morning, and our local large-animal veterinarian is coming by the farm tomorrow to pregnancy check 80-100 cows and heifers. With all that going on, it would be nearly impossible to get our chopping equipment in the field this week, but we hope to be hard at it by this time next week.

Our 20+ acres of rye will be the first crop to harvest.  And even though we won't be able to harvest any this week as silage, we may be able to go ahead and harvest about half of it as baleage.  That would involve mowing it down with our cutter/conditioner and then baling it green and plastic wrapping it the next day.  Once we finish with the rye, we will move on to about 6 acres of triticale and just over 40 acres of oats. Our cows recently grazed a 10 acre field that was split between those two crops, and hopefully it will have enough re-growth to cut and chop by the time we finish harvesting the other fields.

Beyond the harvest, the cows are continuing to strip graze rye and ryegrass and should be able to continue doing so for several more weeks.  We've made it through the winter with a fair amount of bermudagrass hay to spare, so we'll probably use a lot of it in the cows' TMR feed over the next couple of months (though we'll likely carry a number of bales over into next season in case we don't produce enough new hay this summer).  We will probably plant our corn silage crop in the Yellow Creek bottom towards the end of this month or the first of May. We expect to follow our spring forages with a BMR variety of forage sorghum, which we'll plant in late May or early June.  Sudex for grazing/baleage and teff grass for grazing/hay are other crop options we are also considering for this summer.