Monday, September 30, 2013

2013 Silage Harvest: Week 5 Recap

Last week's harvest yielded several tons of sorghum silage per acre, but there's not a whole lot else worth mentioning (maybe that's a good thing). We got a good day in Monday, skipped Tuesday, had another full day of harvesting on Wednesday, and then finished filling our second pit up on Thursday afternoon. We covered and sealed that pit Friday morning, and since then we've only chopped enough sorghum to feed our cows each day.

Ten more "full" days of chopping should see us finish our harvest, but those ten days could easily be spread over three weeks. We had intended on moving into our bottomland this morning, but over an inch of rain quickly washed that thought way. Most likely we'll chop next to the dairy for the next two days and move to the creek bottom on Thursday...IF it doesn't rain anymore.

chopping sorghum on a cloudy morning

Saturday, September 21, 2013

2013 Silage Harvest: Week 4 Recap

Our silage harvest continued on this week, chopping two rows of sorghum at a time at the slow but steady pace of two acres an hour. By the end of the week, three more fields had been harvested and our cows have roughly 180 more tons of feed ready to ensile. Most of our BMR-90 sorghum variety is now "in the pit", with just over an acre's worth left still standing in a field where we planted one row of that variety along with three of BMR-108 Leafy. The yield per acre wasn't quite as good this week, mostly attributable to drier conditions at planting. Dry weather and another week of maturity also impacted plant moisture at harvest, dropping the sorghum from 68-70% moisture down to 62-65%.

Even though we had a good run this week, we weren't immune from breakdowns and maintenance downtime. Our silage wagon needed a couple hours of welding done to it Tuesday morning to patch up cracks in its frame and bed, and a snapped driveline on the chopper cost a half a day's worth of chopping. We also had to start using a different tractor to pull and power the chopper on Friday as our JD7810 needs a new internal bearing around its PTO stub. We hope to have that tractor fixed and back in the field by the end of next week.

Here are a couple of photos from this week's action:

looking back at the dairy over a field of BMR-90 forage sorghum

chopping the first few rows of our BMR-108 Leafy forage sorghum

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Bad, BAD Bull Run

We are in the midst of a bull run. A bad, bad bull run. I am talking about a bull run of epic proportions.

#113 with her newborn bull calf
To clarify, a "bull run" is what we in the dairy business call a string or streak of bull calves being born as opposed to heifer calves. This is not a great situation for farms like ours that depend on homegrown heifers to be the future of our milking herds. It's not a big deal in the short term because you generally expect that your bull-to-heifer ratio will even out over time, but a run like we're on can be a little unsettling.

So how bad is our bull run? We've had 35 calves born over the last 37 days. Only five of those have been heifers, three of which are Holstein/Angus crosses that will be sold for beef. We've had bull runs before, but nothing like this. Luckily we have built a good local demand for our bull calves, but I'm ready to see our own calf barn start filling up again.

All bad bull runs come to an end, of course, and the law of probability says that we should have quite a few heifer calves born from the group of 25 cows currently in the maternity pasture. Here's hoping we go on a "heifer run" and get back to normal sooner than later!

UPDATE: A cow gave birth to a heifer calf late this morning...I guess I should have blogged about our bull run sooner!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

2013 Silage Harvest: Week 3 Recap

Much like last week, our silage chopper was in the farm shop more than the field during the first part of the week. We anticipated being down for a day to replace a set of bearings, but we found other parts that needed replacing as well. It was Wednesday morning before we finally had the new parts in and the chopper all put back together. Since then we've chopped 18 of our 50 acres of BMR-90 forage sorghum, which is yielding an estimated 7-8 tons per acre. Barring any more major maintenance issues [knocking on every piece of wood I can find] we should finish chopping this particular variety next week. We will then move on to our final silage crop of the year: 100 acres BMR-108 Leafy forage sorghum.

Here are a few photos from this week's harvest:

a half-harvested sorghum field

our BMR-90 forage sorghum is averaging 7-8 tons/acre

the BMR-108 Leafy variety is about a food shorter than the 90 but much more, well, leafy

Friday, September 13, 2013

I'll have a burrito with extra salsa, hold the bull****

I had every intention of taking a nap during my lunch break today, but I made the unfortunate error of clicking a link to Chipotle's new video promoting their "Scarecrow" game.


Once again, a restaurant chain is vilifying and grossly misrepresenting the way that most farmers raise food. I guess they have to manufacture enough contrast to make what they sell appear to be the far superior (both nutritionally and ethically) food that it really isn't. But I have to hand it to them, it's a good marketing strategy that really strikes an emotional chord. If I didn't know anything about agriculture and was willing to take their word for it, I'd probably buy in to their message.

Milking time at Gilmer Dairy Farm
I could probably spend two hours angrily pounding out a thorough rebuttal, but I have dairy cows to tend to and a crop to harvest this afternoon. While I'm doing that, I would encourage you to look around this blog, my farm's website, and our YouTube channel. You can follow me on Twitter, too! Then check out a few of the many, many other farmers who are sharing their stories over the internet and social media. Once you do, I think you'll see that modern agriculture and the way we go about the business of producing food looks nothing like the horror story Chipotle and others (I'm looking at you, Panera Bread) is trying to scare you with.

In closing, I have heard that Chipotle serves some really tasty Mexican food. I might give them a try someday and order a burrito with extra salsa...but only if they'll hold the bull****.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

2013 Silage Harvest: Week 2 Recap

Downtime for repairs/maintenance and a few herd-related issues limited our harvesting time this week, but I did manage to finish chopping all of our corn by the end of it. The yields weren't quite as good this week, but we still averaged a very-good-by-our-standards 11 tons of corn silage per acre on our terraced fields. The smaller of our two main silage bunkers is nearly full, needing only a few loads of sorghum to "cap it off". Speaking of sorghum, I chopped about two acres of our short-season BMR following the last of the corn. It's too soon to get a handle on how it will yield out, but we should have a pretty good idea by the middle of the coming week.

view from the front window of my "mobile office" during silage harvest

Friday, September 6, 2013

Enjoying the sunrise

One of the many perks of living and working on a farm is the opportunity to enjoy the beauty and serenity of God's Creation. And in my mind, the transition from a sky full of stars when we begin our milking shift at 3am to the sunrise when we break for breakfast three to four hours later is simply amazing. Here are three photos I snapped this morning at approximately 5:45, 6:10, and 6:30.

photo taken from outside the milking barn before I fed the cows @ approx 5:45am

photo taken from our milking herd's pasture @ approx 6:10am

photo taken from my back yard after we finished milking cows @ approx 6:30am

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A laborious Labor Day

There's an old saying that farmers celebrate Labor Day by laboring. And like every Labor Day I can remember since finishing college, that is exactly what we did yesterday.

113 needed help delivering her first calf
It started off like any other Monday morning. Dad and I had the cows in the barn and milking by 3:30am, and our farmhands came in at 7:00 to clean the barn and feed all the heifers while we were on our breakfast break. Our plans from that point on were to spend a couple of hours doing maintenance work on our silage chopper before sending it out to harvest any more corn, but those plans got put on hold thanks to heifers having calving difficulties.

While feeding the cows and heifers in our maternity pasture, we found one heifer that had calved overnight, another in labor and having difficulty, and a third that just didn't "look right". We successfully helped the second heifer deliver a healthy bull calf, but we weren't as fortunate with the third. The calf she was carrying had already died, making for a slow, difficult delivery process. The heifer made it through the delivery with flying colors though, and we had three "first timers" going through the milking barn yesterday afternoon.

The rest of the morning was spent doing maintenance work on some of our milking equipment and our silage chopper. The original thought of spending two hours on the chopper was only about half what we needed, and it was not ready for the field until the afternoon milking was nearly completed. In the end, I only chopped enough to feed to our cows last night and this morning, and we called it "quits" for the day a few minutes after 4:00pm. Yesterday was a holiday after need to work too late!