Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Smack-dab in the middle of harvest

Life hasn't slowed down on the farm since our hectic "hay day" a couple of weeks ago. In fact, it's done just the opposite. We've come to the point in the year when our nerves, our patience, and our equipment is pushed to the limit. That's right...we're smack-dab in the middle of harvest.

the silage chopper in action
We started chopping corn Monday afternoon of last week on a little 2.5 acre patch near the dairy. The "warm-up" allowed us to see what equipment adjustments were needed before we moved into the creek bottom and started chopping the rest of the corn on Tuesday. We didn't get much of a run on moving day thanks to a slow start and a braking issue with our dump truck, but we successfully chopped roughly 250 tons of silage over the next two days. We should have filled our first silage bunker up on Friday, but several mechanical issues derailed us before lunchtime. We resumed harvesting this Monday, and by late afternoon we had finally chopped enough silage to fill our first bunker. 

a full silage bunker or "pit"
Though there is still 9 acres of corn left to harvest, we are taking a few days off from chopping. We covered and sealed the full silage pit yesterday and cut 15 acres of sudex with the hay conditioner. We'll make baleage out of the sudex this afternoon (that is, we'll bale it at 50-60% moisture and seal each bale with plastic stretch wrap). Lessening the field work for a couple of days is also allowing us to move a few heifers and dry cows to different pastures. I expect we'll be back in the creek bottom tomorrow and should have the corn all chopped by midday on Friday.

"And he takes the tractor
another round..."
Moving forward, our tentative plan is to spend next week harvesting an additional 25 acres of sudex and applying slurry to several different hay fields. The week after that, we'll begin chopping our 90+ acres of forage sorghum. Where as the corn was planted in straight rows on flat ground, all of our sorghum fields are curvy and terraced. In other words, the sorghum harvest won't move along quite as quickly as the corn has.

With feed costs seemingly rising by the day, we're fortunate that we've harvested lots of quality forage for our cows thus far. If we can avoid any adverse weather over the next few weeks, we could be looking at one of the best harvest seasons we've had in quite some time.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hay Day

What happens when you mow down all of your hay with the hopes of baling it over two days? It either rains or you have equipment problems. Or both.

hay tedder
When we ended the day on Tuesday, we expected to start baling as soon as the dew was off mid-morning on Wednesday. By the time mid-morning rolled around, two light sprinkles had already fallen on our 65 acres of mowed hay and the clouds that remained weren't letting the sun shine through. As a result, I spent two hours using the tedder to "fluff" the hay so it would dry off more quickly. The sun finally broke through around 11am and the hay was ready to rake at 1:30pm.  

After two hours, I had 14 acres of hay raked into windrows.  I was only a few minutes shy of moving to another field when I was flagged down by our guy running the baler.

"A belt broke on the baler and another one is just about to."

Thus ended our plans of baling half our acreage Wednesday and half on Thursday.

windrowed hay ready to be baled
Wednesday's late start meant that we would not be able to get to the tractor place in time to get replacement belts before they closed for the day. Instead, my dad hit the road after milking this morning so he could be there when they opened. We expect to have the new belts on the baler by the time the dew dries off this morning, so hopefully we'll be baling by 10am.

When everything is working right, we can average about 20 round bales per hour. With 60 acres left to bale, we're looking at 8-12 hours in the field today depending on the yield, weather, and equipment. If we're REALLY lucky, the baler won't break down, the heat and humidity won't spawn a thunderstorm, and the evening dew won't fall until we have 200-250 bales of hay rolled up nice and tight. Whatever happens for good or for bad, this hay day is sure to be a long one!

UPDATE (12pm): 
Dad returned with the belts at 9am, and I started raking an hour later. Since we had a heavy dew, we decided to let the hay sit in windrows for about two hours before we put the baler in the field. I pulled up a RADAR image on my phone around 11, and promptly called my dad to say we needed to start baling immediately. As you can tell by the picture, there is a very good chance that we will be rained out this afternoon.

UPDATE (6:30pm):
The rain system started to fizzle out and went south of the farm, missing us completely. I don't know if it was due to meteorology or miracle, but either way I owe a moment of prayerful gratitude.

By 2:30pm the baler rolled up all the hay I had raked yesterday afternoon and this morning. We both moved over to our "big" field (26ac) near Mt. Pisgah Church and went to work. We've just finished with that field and are taking a short supper break before knocking out the remaining 15 acres about a quarter mile from the dairy. Barring any equipment issues, we should be finished between sundown and dew fall.

UPDATE (10:00pm):
I finished raking at 8:30, and just got word from my dad that he had finished baling. For the day, we rolled up 200 bales of bermudagrass hay (75 tons) off of 60 acres. We've yielded more tons/acre before, but the sacrifice in quantity should be made up for in quality.

Late this morning it sure looked as if we were going to be rained out, but the weather really worked out in our favor. Time will tell if we can keep that luck on our side next week when we (hopefully) begin chopping our corn for silage.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Crops are growing and cows are calving

It's been a busy past couple of weeks on the farm, both in the fields and in the maternity pasture.

rain falling on a field of forage sorghum
Plentiful rainfall has all the crops colored a nice, healthy shade of green. Our silage corn is right on track to begin harvesting in about 10 days, the forage sorghum is getting thicker by the day, our bermudagrass is ready to cut for hay, and the late-planted sudex crop is off to an impressive start. That's not to say there haven't been a few tense moments, though. Last week we spotted fall army worms in all of our hay fields, but fortunately we were able to spray and kill them before they could do any significant damage. We've also been fortunate to escape any damage from a couple of "high winds" thunderstorms that have passed through (knock on wood...another is on its way).

Ideally, we would be harvesting half of our hay this week, the remainder next week, and begin silage harvest the following week. The rain has forced us to abandon any plans for harvesting this week, so we'll attempt to do all of our haying next week so as not to delay silage chopping.  We're expecting good quality and quantity from both crops, but we can't count tonnage before it's harvested.

As I mentioned, there has been lots of activity in the maternity pasture lately. We have had quite a few cows freshen 7-10 days earlier than their due dates (not uncommon in summertime), and our active milking herd size is now back up to 167 cows.  More importantly, milk production is climbing as we're drying off the stale cows and replacing them with the fresh one. Heat stress will continue to be an issue for several more weeks, but at least the evenings should be a little cooler by the time we start calving our heifers in mid-to-late September.