Let it Rain

20 acres planted with soy beans two weeks ago

Sunday evening I walked out into a bean field. I walked 30′ into a bean field before I found any beans. I knew it was dry, everyone did – the next chance at rain was all we or any of our neighbors could think about. We heard all week that Sunday night was our best shot. That evening we watched the weather, anxiously, as they showed the areas expected to see rain – we weren’t one of them. Disappointed, we went to bed.

Tiny soy bean plants i found 30 feet from the edge of the field.

At 1 am Monday morning I woke to thunder and lightening. I listened closely, and yes, IT WAS RAINING! I sat up in bed and checked the radar; I was ecstatic to see that we were catching the tail end of a storm. We prayed aloud thanking God for whatever rain He had provided. It was so dry, any amount would help. I woke up for work at 3:45 am, and I again heard thunder. In total, we got somewhere around .7″ of rain. That takes us to about 1″ in the last 30 days.

It’s too early to be this dry. The thing about farming is, you do all you can. We put down fertilizer, sprayed the weeds, and planted our beans, unsure whether they would even come up. And then we pray. That’s all that’s left to do. Late last summer we all prayed for rain, and we got rain…and wind that blew down corn, and hail that stripped beans. Now – we pray for crops. We pray that the Lord bless us with what we need to get by: to have enough corn and silage to feed our cows and enough beans to pay our bills.

I’m sure my friends who aren’t involved in agriculture grew tired of my constant obsession with rain over the last month. This is the life of a farmer, though. We can’t help it. All of the good business decisions in the world won’t save our crops if the weather doesn’t cooperate. And without our crops, we might not be able to feed our cows. To those of you who dealt with my obsession – thanks for listening. We got what we so desperately needed, and now we hope for a little more, but not too much more… As anyone who knows farmers knows — we’re rarely satisfied with the weather.

Memorial Day Getaway

This weekend we did something very rare – we spent a full day away from the farm.

A few months ago we got an invite from our great friends the Pinkstons to stay at their family’s lake house for Memorial Day. Steve and Emilie live in Indiana (a 9 hr drive), so we really didn’t want to miss the chance to see them while they were 3.5 hours from us. Leaving for just a day and a half takes a lot of planning, but the stars aligned, and we made it happen.

The view from the deck while we sipped coffee on Sunday morning.

Dave is the only one who knows the ration and mixes feed, so he mixed an extra load Saturday afternoon. It’s not ideal to let the mixed feed sit that long, but it’s workable on occasion.  We also made sure that our part time help would be there for every milking while we were gone to assist David’s dad who has been struggling with a shoulder injury. We fed and watered all the calves and the dog before heading out Saturday evening, and we left instructions on how to feed each group or animal for the next 3 feedings.

We made it to the lake a little after 9 pm on Saturday and stayed until Monday morning. Sunday was the first day David hadn’t milked a cow since we visited my family in Illinois for Christmas. After a night and day by the water relaxing, we were sunburnt and a little tired, but it was nice to visit with friends and not worry about the farm, even if just for the day. 

We owe a big Thank You to the Pinkstons for being such amazing hosts.  They have a beautiful lake home, and we had a GREAT time. We also appreciate David’s dad, Jerry, and our employee, Tyler, for making it possible for us to get away. Thanks, all!

Chop It Up

Hondo hanging out the rye about 3 weeks before chopping.

I mentioned in our planting update a couple of weeks ago that we took a break from planting corn to chop rye. Last fall we planted cereal rye for the first time, and we were really pleased with how it grew this spring. At the time we thought this would require about a three-day break from planting, but in typical fashion, it was much longer.

Jerry mowing the rye with the disc-bine.

For those of you who don’t know what a chopper is, it looks a lot like a big, backward tractor. It has different “heads”, similar to a combine, depending on the crop you are chopping. To chop the rye, we first mowed it with our disc-bine (hay mower) and then used a “pickup head” to pick the rye up off the ground and chop it.

David’s view driving the chopper over a windrow of rye.

The chopper passes the rye over a rotating drum covered with knives to cut it into small pieces then shoots it out the back through the snoot into a dump box, wagon, or truck.

The dumpbox after it fell forward onto the chopper.

We started out using the better of two dump boxes. The first afternoon of chopping, the dump box broke, while dumping. It fell forward onto the chopper. Thankfully, the damage to the chopper was mainly cosmetic. The back end was dented and the snoot was bent, but there was no mechanical damage. If it had smashed the radiator or caused some other more severe problem, it would have cost us days or weeks. In the interest of time, instead of trying to repair the other old dump box, we first borrowed a wagon from David’s cousin Jeff.

View out the back of the chopper of rye-lage filling the wagon.

The wagon was smaller, though, so they were having to stop and dump more often than with the dump box. The rye was also wet, thick and heavy, and the field was rocky. Every time a rock passed through the chopper, they had to stop and straighten the knives. In short, it was slow going.

After a few days, the guys ended up repairing the other dump box, and they finished chopping more quickly by dumping into a truck to haul to the silo while the chopper kept running.

David driving the 4440 with duals over the silage pile to pack the silage.

About half of the ryelage was put in a pile on the ground, and the other half was put in a pit silo, or bunker that has a concrete floor and walls.  We used a tractor and skid loader to pack both the pile and bunker.  After packing, the silage is then covered with a plastic tarp.

After the silage was packed, our nutritionist came to the farm and took a sample of the ryelage for testing.  He and David then worked together to adjust our cows’ ration based on the feed we now had available.  We are hoping to see a jump in milk production because of the ration adjustments, however, initially we’ve seen production drop, so we will be tweaking it further.

#Plant12 Progress Report

Sorry for no post last week and a late one this week. Things have maybe been even busier than usual, apparently. What have we been doing?  Well, we’ve been doing lots of planting!

Crops

About a month ago we borrowed a drill with a seeder from our neighbor to plant oats and seed alfalfa simultaneously. We plan to mow and chop the oats and then hopefully get 2 or 3 cuttings off the alfalfa this year. Also, the alfalfa will come back and should provide good feed for the cows for two more years. We’re really pleased with how it’s growing so far.

The taller, grassy stuff is the oats, and the small round leaves are the alfalfa.

The plan (I should know better by now…) was to start planting corn immediately after we finished the oats, but first we had to get the planter going again. It was ready before the fire disintegrated the monitor and ruined the wiring. We replaced the wiring harness and monitor, hooked it up to a different tractor, and got started planting a couple of weeks ago. We finished about 70% of our corn planting before stopping to chop the cereal rye that we planted last fall.

David’s view from the tractor while planting corn

We haven’t finished the rye yet, but when we do we’ll continue planting corn. Many grain farmers have finished their corn planting, but it actually helps us to have our corn crop spaced out a little bit to give us some time to chop corn silage later this summer. If all of the corn is ready at the same time, and we can’t keep up, it could hurt our feed for next year. We also have a few acres of beans to plant before we officially finish the planting season.

Garden

A few weeks ago, my parents came to visit and help us with some things around the house. While my dad tilled the garden (thanks, Dad!), my mom and I went plant shopping.  We actually went looking for some bushes and annuals, but I also bought most of the veggies for our garden. It took me nearly a week to find time to plant them, but one night after work when we were expecting a rain, I decided I had to get them in the ground. I planted various tomatoes and peppers along with cucumbers, squash and a watermelon plant. I finished just as it was getting dark and had to have David help me water everything while I held a flashlight.

This past weekend I got around to planting the seeds I had bought – onions, radishes and green beans. In a few weeks we will plant more radishes and green beans, in order to stagger our harvest somewhat, and also intend to expand the garden or start a new one to make room for sweet corn. It seems like it takes forever for the plants to start producing, but thankfully, last year we planted strawberries.  They come back each year, and we have really been enjoying them so far this spring. I can’t wait to have more fresh fruits and veggies to enjoy!

The strawberry patch, in the daylight.

Flowers

I mentioned that when my mom and I went plant shopping, our primary objective was to buy flowers and bushes. We bought snap dragons and dahlias to fill in and add summer color to the big flower bed that is home to all of our perennials. We also got a variety of annuals (portulaca, geraniums, angelonia, osteopermum, and several more) to fill in three pots and three other, much smaller, flower beds. We also found a eunonymous bush to replace an azalea that the pets destroyed and a hydrangea to replace a rhododendron that just never thrived and eventually bit the dust.

My mom helped me plant the bushes and many of the flowers. When we finished, we also put fresh mulch down.  Everything looks great freshly mulched and watered.  Now’s the fun part – sitting back and watching everything grow!!

Corn starting to come up.