Yesterday, we started chopping our corn. Tim loves this time of year, because it is the closest he gets to being a crop farmer and experiencing the fall “harvest.” Harvesting crops is a lot of work and a lot of worry (not sure why Tim loves it so much). Tim is constantly checking the moisture of the corn before we harvest. We need it at 65% moisture/35% dry matter so that it ferments in the silagebags correctly. If it is the wrong moisture we run the risks of either mold or toxicity. Weather is also a worry. If the weather is too wet, we cannot get into the fields when we need to. Frost will instantly drop the moisture in the corn, so we need to be ready to go if that risk presents itself.
When the corn is ready, it is go time. There is no sitting around and waiting; we chop until we drop (or until it is done, something breaks or it rains). When we started last night we knew that there was the potential for rain. Our harvest crew worked from 1:00 p.m. until 5:00 a.m. this morning. At 5:00a.m. it was starting to rain, so the crew took a recess to get some sleep. At 11:00 a.m. we attempted to get back out there, but the rain changed our plans after about two wagon loads. As I type this, Tim is waiting to try again this afternoon. He estimates that we have about 8 hours left of harvest.
*update: The guys tried again at 3:00 p.m. and got another 10 acres chopped before the chopper broke. The guys fixed the chopper but found another broken part and called it a day (at 9pm) as it started pouring rain while repairing. It is still raining here, so Tim is all worked up. We will get back to chopping when the fields have a chance to dry out.
We grow about 30 acres of corn and harvest another 20 acres off a neighboring field. We chop the corn as silage, which means we harvest the entire plant, vs just the grain. We use the silage as a complementary feed to our hay and other grains we feed the cattle. Corn silage is high in fiber and energy without adding much protein. The cattle receive their protein needs from the hay we feed them.
Corn has gotten a bad name in recent years. There is a huge difference in feeding corn as a portion of a mixed diet, vs straight corn. There is also a difference in using corn in a crop rotation vs corn planted year after year. To those naysayers that think a cow is not “suppose” to eat corn, let me remind you that corn, and all other grains, are technically grasses. The trouble is when you feed only the seeds (ie grain) that is solely a starch and no other foods in the mixture. By feeding the entire plant, like we do, we are feeding our cows a very nutritional and natural food.
On our farm we have a four-year rotation. We plant corn on the first year, harvest it and then plow up the field. On the second year we plant alfalfa with a clover and grass mixture under a cover crop of barley/peas or oats. We harvest the cover crop the first year and then harvest hay for two full years. Including corn in our rotation helps break up weed and pest living cycles. It also allows us to turn the soil over to compost the top layer before we plant to corn again.
In this video you see the tractor pulling the chopper and wagon through the field.
After the wagon is full, it is brought back to the farm-yard and unloaded into the silage bag. These bags act like large Ziplock bags and allow the feed to ferment correctly while locking in the nutritional value.
Here are some more pictures from the silage harvest. Thank you to Danny, Brent and Cody who are our custom harvest crew. These guys never grow tired and work insane hours. It is a good thing their wives and fiancé are very understanding women.