Fall is such a great time of the year! Beautiful Nebraska sunrises and sunsets, cool weather, less bugs and flies (thank goodness).
Thanks to the cooler temperatures, everyone is just in a little better mood, even the cows. This is one of the cows favorite times of the year. How do I know that? I don’t claim to be a cow whisperer…. but having worked around dairy cows my entire life their basic behavior tells me as much! The cow’s milk production goes up in cooler weather as she is no longer fighting the stress from heat and flies. Their feed intake even goes up as well, I mean who really wants to eat when the temperature outside is 90 degrees (not me!). Their general demeanor is just better in the fall! This makes it one of the times of the year that the cows require a little less maintenance and attention, not a whole lot less but still less. Which works out because late summer and fall is our busiest time of the year!
Late summer we begin one of my favorite parts of farm year: chopping silage. The smell of freshly chopped silage is absolutely one of the best smells! Silage is an important part of the daily TMR (total mixed ration) that we feed to our dairy cows twice a day, 365 days a year. Silage is a key and makes up over 25% of our TMR. We have a dairy nutritionist who comes out and looks at our feed, analyzes it, and then puts together a recipe for us to feed our cows. The recipe is important because we want each bite of TMR that the cow eats to be a perfectly balanced diet, with each bite having the perfect amount of protein, fiber, fats, etc. So the key to ensuring that our cows are getting the best feed means we also have to focus on growing good, healthy crops and then make sure that we are handling them properly.
Usually in September my dad and brother decide when the corn is at the appropriate moisture level and is ready to be chopped, as you don’t want it too wet or too dry. The process of making silage requires us to use our chopper, which looks similar to a combine but has a different job: to chop up the entire corn plant (stalk, ears and all) into tiny little pieces. The chopper can also be used to chop up alfalfa hay as well, to make haylage. To keep the corn from spoiling or rotting, the silage is then stored in big long white silage bags where we can feed a bit at a time with very little waste. The white bags also help to let the corn silage ferment, making it more easily digestible for the cows along with high in energy. We also chop for other local farmers and ranchers who want to put up corn silage for their cows but don’t have the equipment. All in all we spend anywhere from 3-6 weeks chopping silage for ourselves and others who have asked. It’s a lot of long days, late nights and weekends trying to get silage put up.
We are thankful to be wrapping up the 2017 chopping season, the three week rain delay was unexpected but never complain about moisture! As soon as that’s done, it’s on to corn and soybean harvest! Unfortunately in dairy farming there are only busy and ridiculously busy times of the year. Right now we’re smack dab in the middle of ridiculously busy, but it’s part of the job and part of the fun!