6 Stripping Shanks

On the sixth day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me
6: Six stripping shanks

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5: Fiiiiiiiive commodity baaaays
4: Four milking shells
3: Three shifts of milking
2: Two orange tractors
1: And a twinkly-light laden faux tree

Something about the word “shank” makes me feel cool and dangerous. Like a stocky gangbuster out in the prison yard. Or a villain in a James Bond movie. But though this apparatus looks like it could be a torture device from a Bond flick, it serves a more wholesome purpose on our dairy: to help prepare the soil for planting corn. After all, this is a family show.

You might remember that the Dairy Man changed our field prep practice this year from disking to strip-tilling. I promise it’s not as dirty as it sounds. The strip-tiller machine has six rows with six shanks to churn up the soil. DM hooks the machine to a tractor and drives up and down (and up and down and up and down) the fields, creating perfect rows for our little corn babies.

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photo

Strip-tilling works for us because a lot of our fields are sandy and hilly. It helps to eliminate soil erosion by only churning up strips of soil (as opposed to the entire field) and leaving organic material behind. This gives the corn plants an existing root structure to grow into and keeps more nutrients in the soil.

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So there you have it. Strip-tilling is thrilling stuff. And my apologies to the wayward Googlers; but trust me, stripping is far more interesting on a dairy.

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Strip it Down, Paint the Town

The Dairy Man is one of my blog’s most avid readers. He also takes personal responsibility for the content.

In that vein, DM is appalled that I haven’t talked about corn planting yet. I was so busy thinking about friends and dreams—silly me—that I forgot to mention that we just wrapped up one of the biggest jobs of the year!

Consider me repentant. So. Let me proclaim this from the mountaintops. As of three weeks ago, OUR CORN IS IN!

For you city folk, this means that our yearly crop of cow food is well underway. Every inch of the green stuff will ultimately be harvested for corn silage in the fall.

Last year was my first planting season, but this year I was almost prepared for the craziness. For two long weeks, the Dairy Man started at 7 a.m. and ended at 11 p.m. He was delirious with sleep deprivation and was always covered in dust. I saw him at breakfast and through a bleary half-conscious fog when he climbed into bed. The lack of quality time with my friendly farmer directed my attention into other pursuits. I read a lot, got completely caught up with The Office, and took long walks with Jersey the dog. I changed my cooking criteria from “will this taste good?” to “will this reheat well?”

It was a lonely few weeks, but I’m not a newbie anymore. I knew it would end … eventually.

Believe it or not, this year’s planting palooza was even a little crazier than last year’s. Over the past 365 days, we’ve gone from 600 to 1,000 acres. (More bovine mouths to feed, dontcha know.)

This year, in order to speed up the way we prepare the soil, the Dairy Man went from disking to strip-tilling. My apologies to those who googled “strip teasing,” and found this post.

If you’re a farming greenhorn like me, you’ll need a definition of tilling before we talk about stripping. Tillage is the preparation of soil for planting. This process is implemented by machines agitating the dirt by digging, stirring, and overturning. Tillage dries out and turns the soil as well as creates an optimum seedbed for our corn babies.

The Dairy Man’s tractor even has a GPS system with auto-steer to create straight lines and parallel strips for the rows.

All corn rows are perfectly planted 30 inches apart. It certainly beats sitting out in the field with a yardstick, eh?

Last year we tilled our fields with a chisel plow and a disk. This year, we switched to strip-tilling.

The Dairy Man had three big reasons for the change.

  1. We have quite a bit of sandy and hilly ground. Strip-tilling helps to eliminate soil erosion (via wind or water) by only churning up strips or zones of soil, as opposed to the entire field. You can see the organic material left behind in the rows in the photo above.
  1. The ground holds more moisture because not all of the soil is turned over.
  1. It’s all about speed, baby. Strip-tilling is a one-pass system. Our chisel plow only tills 5 acres an hour (plus we still have to disk at 10 acres per hour). The strip-tiller tills 12 acres an hour. Boo-yah.

Based on the size, scope, and soil of our two dairies, strip-tilling was the obvious choice this year. Well … obvious for the farmers. Obviously. Between you, me, and the kitchen sink, I didn’t notice that the machinery looked a little different this year until the DM pointed it out. Whoops.

After the ground was tilled, the planter came through and spread its seed.

And there you have it. It would be terrible to let the excitement of stripping (again, my apologies to the wayward googlers) pass me by.

I expect to see 32,000,000 leafy corn stalks (32,000 seeds per acre x 1,000 acres) grow and mature in the coming weeks and months. The country is blooming and the Dairy Man couldn’t be happier.

As for me, I’m enjoying the brief reprieve before another round of haying. Oof. I’d better order some more books.

Fast food.

For many, “fast food” evokes images of golden French fries, drive-thru windows, and a frighteningly deranged clown. Though I’m editorializing on that last one; this gal is not a fan of clowns. All that makeup? Creepy. You never know what they’re thinking. But I digress.

But for a farmer’s wife, “fast food” can mean things entirely different.

Fast food means picking up a sub sandwich, driving to the field that the Dairy Man is planting, parking on the side of the road with my flashers on, and waiting until he finishes his row and meets me at the car. From that point on, the Dairy Man has approximately five minutes to stuff his face, ask me about my day, and generally just make sure I feel  loved and remembered before he climbs back into the tractor.

Fast food means thrusting a sandwich and a handful of baby carrots to the Dairy Man over the threshold of our back door (so he doesn’t have to take off his manure-spattered boots) and waving as he runs back to the tractor. The tractor, by the way, is parked in my driveway, lights a’flashin.

Fast food means scarfing down a meal together at the kitchen table in one of the Dairy Man’s brief breaks between loads of hay. Etiquette goes out the window as we rehash our days through gaping mouths full of leftover chicken. If we’re lucky, we will use plates. But sometimes it’s just much easier to eat straight from the tupperware.

Sometimes I dream of leisurely French meals. Six courses, good wine, sparkling conversation, an entire evening dedicated to the art of dining. I would bask in the hors d’oeuvres, delight in the cheese plate, rejoice in the main course. I would use words like “divine,” “glorious,” and “resplendent.” I picture myself wearing some sort of elaborate hat. But alas, when I shake myself free of thoughts filled with truffles and caviar, I am square in rural Michigan. The corn must be planted; the hay must be harvested; and my job is to simply make sure the Dairy Man eats something between lunch and bed. Right now, we live on fast food.

And as long as our fast food doesn’t include a Mc-Anything, I feel ok about that. This season, like most, won’t last forever. For now I will simply work on my speed and agility in meal preparation and wait for a day with plates, napkins, and a beginning, middle, and end.

And that is finger-lickin’ good.

Our first planting season.

Early last week the Dairy Man sat me down. He took my hand and said, “Well, it’s been fun. We had a great winter and I’ll always remember the time we spent together. But now it’s time to plant. I’ll see you in a few weeks.”

Yes. Sometimes the Dairy Man likes to be dramatic. But after we had a good chuckle, the basic point was still there. He was kidding, but not really. Spring is here and the busy season is off and running.

I wasn’t really aware that we were ever in a “slow” season, but normalcy for farming starts a lot higher than the rest of the world. 60+ hour work weeks are the norm. Busy season means getting up really early, staying out really late, and working like a madman to get as much done as possible before the rain comes. My Dairy Man, his father, and/or my future brother-in-law have been known to still be in a tractor at 11 p.m. at night.

This is my first planting season and I’m still adjusting. I find myself secretly hoping for rain so that I can see my Dairy Man for a few precious minutes. But it cannot rain. We will lose time, or the corn will get into the ground too late and the whole season will be thrown off.

In this small farming community, it seems like every farmer and his brother is driving some type of machinery down a road or through a field. The town is buzzing with activity. On my drive to and from work, a glance to either side of the road reveals fields speckled with shiny metallic tractors and the air is thick with the scent of … fertilizer.

My Dairy Man and his father farm over 600 acres between our two facilities. Every square inch is planted with corn to be ultimately turned into feed for our cows. I don’t claim to be an expert on the intricacies of planting (just when I was finally getting the whole cow thing down, we started an entirely new aspect of farming!), but I’m trying to learn just what my Dairy Man is doing out in those fields all day.

One night I decided to find out. After work, I changed my clothes, pulled on my rubber boots, and set off to find the Dairy Man. I located him in one of the barns and sweetly coerced my way into a ride-along. We climbed into the big red truck and set off to check on the fields.

This particular night it was his father and future brother-in-law sitting in the tractors. Here is my FIL working the ground.

Conversations with the Dairy Man (and extensive research on Wikipedia) tell me that there are four main stages to planting a field: 1) fertilize, 2) chisel plow, 3) disk, and 4) plant.

Fertilizing is an easy one to understand. We have many cows. Those many cows produce manure. That manure is stored in pits (like the nearly-empty one below) during the winter and spread on the fields in the spring as fertilizer. How very green of us, eh? Though anyone who lives near a farm will tell you–it stinks to high heaven.

This particular night, I was able to witness the disking portion of the planting process. Now, at long last, I know what this spidery thing actually DOES. Step #2, chiseling plowing, involves another piece of machinery to turn the soil. Using a disk harrow (below) finishes the top of the soil for planting. Not exactly a plow pulled by oxen, is it? Modern farming is big, intense, and involves a lot of giant toys. The Dairy Man still spends hours working the land, but his tractor has air conditioning and satellite radio.

Once the land has been properly fertilized, chiseled, and disked, it’s planting time. Within a few short months, this entire field will be bursting with leafy waves of corn.

So, there you have it. Apparently planting corn does not involve throwing handfuls of seeds into an open patch of dirt. Who knew? Though that does explain why I haven’t seen the Dairy Man for more than twenty minutes per day in the past week. It hasn’t been easy being a planting widow, but I know that this craziness won’t last forever. And a long hug in the morning can get me through just about any kind of craziness.

(And yes, I am aware of just how awesome my rubber boots look with shorts.)