11 (Thousand) Sliced Tires

On the eleventh day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me
Eleven (thousand) sliced tires

tires

Ten mooing neighbors
Nine essential nutrients
Eight loads of sand
Seven bales of hay
Six stripping shanks
Fiiiiive commodity baaaays
Four milking shells
Three shifts of milking
Two orange tractors
And a twinkly-light-laden faux tree

When we chop corn each year for cow food, DM has two options for storage: ag-bags or silage packs. Ag-bags are easier to seal and maintain; packs are more space efficient. We utilize both methods of storage, but I’m partial to the pack. Maybe it’s because Dairy Man won’t let me climb on the ag-bags. I’m all about storage methods that allow me to scurry around on them like a mountain goat.

IMG_0099

After we’re done building the pack, we cover it with huge sheets of plastic and thousands of sliced tires. Though I enjoy talking about “sliced tires” and imagining them on a pastrami sandwich on rye, DM would prefer I use their proper name: tire sidewalls.

IMG_0813

Tire sidewalls are sliced tires used to hold the plastic down on our silage pack, thus preventing oxygen from seeping into the valuable cow food. The slices come from the sides of old semi truck tires. Semi tires suit our purposes better than car tires (or rubber inner tubes, which, I admit, is what I first thought the black circles were when I first saw a silage pack) because they are heavier and cover more surface area per tire. We don’t use full tires because they hold water and are clumsier to handle.

The tires are ultimately tied together with bale twine to keep them from sliding down the pack. It also makes a perfect stairway for MFW mountain goats.

IMG_0765

In addition to creating a delightful farm jungle gym, sidewalls are an effective and cheap way to keep our cow food fresh and tasty throughout the year.

Advertisements

7 Bales of Hay

On the seventh day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me
Seven bales of hay

hay field

Six stripping shanks
Fiiiiiiive commodity baaaaays
Four milking shells
Three shifts of milking
Two orange tractors
And a twinkly-light-laden faux tree

Ok, ok, there might be more than seven bales in this picture. But you get the idea. Let’s say the Dairy Man gave me seven.

Hay/grass/alfalfa silage is one of the key ingredients in our cow food ration. Depending on heat and rainfall, the Dairy Man and his father cut hay 3-5 times per summer (approximately every 30 days).

The cutting process has five steps:
1. Cut hay
2. Wait for hay to dry
3. Rake or merge hay using a big machine (helps it dry out)
4. Bale or chop hay
5. Load chopped hay into Ag-bags OR store bales in the barn for immediate use

DM, hard at work

Wet hay loses any nutritional value, so it is vitally important for the Dairy Man to work like a madman once the hay is cut to make sure we get it in before it rains. So, for several days every few weeks during the summer, DM is unloading trucks of hay silage every 20 minutes from dawn till dusk. Why can’t we just cut hay once per year, you ask? Well, as explained in this brief interview with the Dairy Man, we have to cut the hay before it blossoms. Once the stalks start to bloom, the plant starts to allocate nutrients towards seeding and reproduction, thus depleting the nutritional value of the hay.

I don’t particularly enjoy haying season (it’s hard to scarf down dinner and tell DM about my day in 20-minute intervals), but it’s a necessary process to make sure we have enough delicious food for the bovines in the upcoming year!

And you can’t beat a pretty hay field.

cut hay

Corn Harvest In 6 Steps

Well, it finally happened. I dug my fluffy winter coat out of storage yesterday. Alas and alack; it’s cold in Michiganland. I know this weather is nothing compared to what I can look forward to in December, but I’m waving the white flag on sandals, short sleeves, and coatless workdays.

The cool fall air signifies the end of a lot of things: corn harvest, watering the grass, suntans, dinner on the deck, shaving my legs. It also signifies that I absolutely must fill you in on the corn-ish happenings around the farm in the last month or so.

Thus, before I launch into a late-fall tirade of apple cider, football games, and pasty white Dutch skin, let’s take a look in the rear-view mirror to corn harvest. I give you:

Corn Harvest in 6 Steps
Step 1: Accept sleep deprivation and bad wife-ery
Step 2: Bring in the harvester and chop! that! corn!
Step 3: Build the pack (and fill the bags)
Step 4: Cover the pack
Step 5: Harvest shelled (high moisture) corn
Step 6: Take a nap

Step 1: Accept sleep deprivation and bad wife-ery
My Dairy Man gets in around midnight each night during corn harvest. Between you and me, I don’t even notice anymore. During my first corn harvest, I would abruptly spring into consciousness as soon as the DM got home. This year—my third corn harvest—I found it startlingly easy to go (and stay) asleep without the husband next to me. Some call it bad wife-ery, I call it a coping mechanism. After over two years of marriage in the shadow of farming, I’ve gotten pretty good at sleeping through late nights, 3 a.m. phone calls, and power outages. As for the Dairy Man? He entered a zombie-like state somewhere in the second week of harvest and didn’t snap out of it until late September.

Step 2: Bring in the harvester and chop! that! corn!
Imagine that last part being as exciting as “move! that! bus!” It’s Extreme Home Makeover: Cornfield Edition. Each year we hire an outside company to chop our corn. Max the friendly chopper and his intrepid crew drive a machine called a harvester through the fields. Trucks follow along to collect the chopped corn.

A forage harvester (a.k.a. silage harvester, forager, or chopper) chops the entire corn plant into silage. Corn silage is just a fancy way to say “chopped up corn.” And I realized this year that a lot of farmers put silAGE into a siLO. Whoa. Do you think that’s where the word “silo” came from? I think yes. Silage in the silo. Don’t underestimate the gravity of this realization. When I finally figured it out, you would think I had invented butter. It was like the day I realized cows give milk because they’d just had a calf. Earth-shattering stuff.

Anyway. The chopper mows down the corn and blows the silage into trucks. The trucks drive from the field to the dairy and dump the silage on the PACK.

Step 3: Build the pack (and fill the bags)
After the trucks dump their loads of silage, tractors are waiting to push the piles up the pack (how’s that for alliteration?).

We squirrel away corn silage in two ways: giant packs and tubular ag bags. Ag bags are easier to seal and maintain; packs are more space efficient. This year we put up two large packs AND filled a bunch of ag bags. We like to keep things interesting.

Last year I explained the process of packing corn silage. Each pack this year contains almost 7,000 tons of silage and took approximately a week to build, compress, and cover.

Can’t get your head around 7,000 tons? For reference, the average adult blue whale weighs around 150 tons. Just imagine 46 blue whales flopping around behind our dairy. Now there’s a mental image not often associated with dairy farming. I’ve included this artistic and highly-scientific diagram to help you make the jump:

Between packs and bags, we put up approximately 16,000 tons of corn silage this year, or 106 whales. (No whales were harmed in the making of this example; we released them into Lake Michigan.)

Corn silage from harvest 2012 will feed our bovine ladies for the next year. And parents complain about the cost of feeding their kids. Geeze. You can’t buy Canned Cow Corn at Costco.

Step 4: Cover the pack
After a pack is built and compacted, we cover the entire monstrosity with huge pieces of thick plastic and thousands of sliced tires.

The tires hold the plastic down and ensure that no moisture or oxygen gets into the pile. They also serve as stepping stones if certain modern farm wives decide to climb to the top of the pack. King of the mountain, anyone? Just don’t fall into the manure pit.

We will uncover the pack bit by bit over the next year to feed our ladies.

Step 5: Harvest shelled (high moisture) corn
This step is currently in process on our dairy. A few fields have purposefully remained unscathed during Corn Chop 2012.

The corn stalks in these fields are left to completely dry out and the Dairy Man goes through a few weeks later to harvest shelled corn. While corn silage is comprised of the entire corn plant, shelled corn is just the kernels. Both silage and shells are used in our feed rations. And both types get tracked into my house on DM’s boots. I promise to drop some thrilling shelled-corn-knowledge on you in my next post. BAM.

Step 6: Take a nap
When the corn is harvested, the cover crops are planted, and all of the cows are starting to grow their furry winter coats, reacquaint yourself with family, friends, and puppies. At long last, my Dairy Man will slip into hibernation. Winter is almost here.

Aw, Shucks. Wrapping up a Corn(y) Harvest

Please forgive the title. It’s early and I’m a few cups (ok, a few thermoses) of coffee away from a sharp sense of humor. For now, it makes me giggle.

Anyway. Corn.

In farming, there are essentially two periods of complete insanity each year. Sure, there are little sprinkles of craziness between the two, but planting and harvesting (in my mind, at least) are the busiest times of year on the farm.

We (again, I’m using this pronoun loosely) plant corn every spring. The process typically takes a few weeks and the days are long, long, long. The Dairy Man will spend hours upon hours in a tractor. I see him for brief meals on the go, or I don’t see him until he’s crawling into bed. So, that’s spring. After a summer of basking in the sun and growing tall and leafy, our corn stalks are ready to be harvested in early fall.

Two weeks ago we wrapped up the corn harvest. Excuse me for a moment while I pop a bottle of champagne and do a slightly awkward happy dance.

Finishing corn harvest is a significant milestone. At this point, things really slow down for farmers (with the exception of one more hay cutting). I’ve always loathed the cold and snow of winter, but I do enjoy the moderate reprieve in the farming lifestyle that comes during the colder months. Things move a little more slowly. The days are shorter and a “dawn till dusk” workday is inevitably truncated. I eat carbs, wear thick sweaters, and actually get to spend evenings with my husband.

As we entered our second harvest as a married couple, I started to get flashbacks of this time last year. These flashbacks, naturally melodramatic and a little bit whiny, reminded me of a time when I barely saw my husband, ate my meals alone, and did all of the housework by myself. These were the dark days of a newlywed country transplant. It’s a good thing the Dairy Man had the sense to marry me before corn harvest. I was already locked in. But I digress. This year I had the benefit of a toughened psyche thanks to 12 months of farming fun. When the Dairy Man said, “Well Jess, we start corn harvest tomorrow,” I knew what to expect.

With my commute and work schedule, I wasn’t able to get as many in-action harvest shots as I would have liked, but I did get a picture of THE PACK. Well, more specifically, it’s one of THE PACKS, but this is the biggest by far.

All 700+ acres of our corn is harvested for cow food. Corn is just one of the many ingredients that goes into our feed rations, but it is by far the biggest component. Unlike sweet corn, which is grown for biped consumption, our corn grows all summer long and is harvested right before it dries up.

During corn harvest, a machine called a chopper drives through the field and chops up the corn, stalks and all. This product is called corn silage.

When you harvest corn, you have two options for storage: in ag bags or in large packs covered by plastic sheets and tires. The Dairy Man and his father used both methods of storage this year. Ag bags are easier to seal to ensure that the corn silage doesn’t get moldy, but packs are more space-efficient. Since we had a LOT of corn to put up this year, we went with both.

The process of bagging corn silage is essentially identical to that of bagging hay. Trucks drive the silage to the bagger and the Dairy Man makes sure the bags get loaded properly.

Packing corn silage, on the other hand, involves making a huge pile of corn and driving over it with a tractor to pack it. Hence: the pack. Once the pack is finished, the farmers cover it with plastic sheets and tires to keep out any trace of oxygen.

One night I had the opportunity to ride on the pack with the Dairy Man. And, oh dear, I was bored after about 30 seconds. Basically the Dairy Man drives up and down, up and down, up and down the pack ALL DAY LONG. Backwards, forwards, backwards, forwards, backwards, forwards. Talk about seasickness. The reason they undertake this monotonous task is because the pack of corn has to be tightly compacted in order for the corn silage to be preserved over the next year. So they drive on the pack. Up and down. Backward and forwards. All.day.long. My husband is a better man than I.

Though, I must say, the view from the top of the pack wasn’t half bad.

Corn harvest is finished, but our cows will be chowing on the silage from these bags and packs for the next year. And really, it’s all about the cows.