Monday, August 29, 2011

Farming Science

Farmers as scientists ….How you might ask, read on if you are curious.

Late summer after the corn kernels are starting to dent and the moisture or milk stage in the kernel is half way down the kernel, John cuts and puts up silage to be used as feed for the cows this winter and next spring.  Silage starts out as just a pile of finely chopped corn, green stalks, leaves and cobs.  Some changes take place in this corn pile to make the stalks, cobs and leaves palatable and nutritious to the cows.  The cellulose in the corn breaks down into a digestible form during the fermenting process that takes place in the pile of chopped corn.  The chopped corn has to be piled, packed, cut into small size pieces and the moisture content just right to make this all happen the way it should.IMG_4079The first step in this process is the chopping of the corn.  John has the help of a couple of guys to put up the silage each year and the driver of the cutter drives along and cuts a few rows of corn that is then blown into the dump wagon he pulls behind the tractor and chopper.IMG_4049
We have an old farm truck to haul the corn from the field to the pile.  The truck pulls alongside the chopper and the dump wagon dumps the newly chopped corn into the truck.
This truck is not used for much anymore and is retired most of the year but it is the only one that the special end gate was made to fit many years ago.  When this truck finally dies John will have to figure out something else. 

The truck brings the corn to the pile and dumps it all at the base of the pile.  You can see the end gate swings open to let the corn spill out onto the ground.IMG_4075
John drives the tractor with a blade on the loader front and pushes the corn up the pile distributing it along the pile.  The tractor driver pushes all the corn from that load up building the pile higher and higher and by the time it is packed the next load is delivered.  Silage can not ferment correctly if it is not packed really well to get as much of the air out between the pieces.  Oxygen left in the pile will change the end product and it will not be as good a food product for the cattle.  The tractor is very heavy and does this packing with dual wheels as John drives back and forth and back and forth over the pile.  Here are two really good articles that explain the science of the process if you want to read more.  Silage Fermentation and Preservation by North Dakota State University and Corn Silage by the University of Missouri
IMG_4063 IMG_4023
IMG_4013 IMG_4012
The three guys work for about a day and a half to get enough silage for this winter and next spring.  Our cows will be foraging in the harvested stock fields this fall and early winter until about a month before they have their new calves then they will be brought home and kept in the lots and fed the silage.  They really like it even though I think it kind of stinks!

I get nervous each year when they are putting up the silage until the job is done.  I nag John to wear his seat belt in the packing tractor as the sides of the pile are a little soft and I worry that the tractor will tumble down or go over the end of the pile as it grows higher.  There are roll bars built into the tractor cab so that should protect the driver if the seat belt is in use.  I have not heard of any accidents like that recently but remember as a child that my dad and uncle talked of someone rolling a tractor off the side of a silage pile as it was being packed – don’t remember much more than that but remember the man was injured.  I guess that made an impression on me way back then so think of that every year.

John has tried to advise me a little on this post to get my facts right.  Even growing up on a farm and living on a farm my whole married life I am not the “farmer”.  I do understand a lot about farming but don’t want to pass along misinformation so had him read it before I posted.  I had to chuckle as he had a much more detailed explanation of the process that the corn goes through to make silage but I decided to just write the basic steps and let you read more if you want from the links I posted.  After all I am sure most of you are not going to run right out and make a silage pile for yourselves.

Until Later,


ann hermes said...

That is very interesting. It's a giant compost pile for cows. I am a city girl, but my niece married into a dairy farming family in Wisconsin. I like visiting, except for the flies :)

Lynn said...

I guess you could call it compost but the corn does not rot but ferments sort of like sauerkraut.

Mary L. said...

Great post! Are you going to AQS in Des Moines? I'll be there on Saturday.

Quiltin' LibraryLady said...

I could swear that old truck is the same one my Dad bought when I was a kid on the farm. LOL My brother still has it but I don't know if it still runs or not.


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