Corn Silage

November 1, 2012

We finished corn harvest.  The drought and high temperatures resulted in yields a third to a half of normal.  That was on the best acres.  We custom-hired a neighbor to chop the whole corn plant on the worst acres and make silage to feed to the cattle.  Above you can see the machine which blows and packs the silage into a bag.

Silage is any forage which is harvested wet and stored in an anaerobic condition.  After ensiling, the crop goes through a fermentation process resulting in the sugars being converted to lactic and acetic acid.  This results in good feed for cattle.

Most of the time there is enough natural bacteria present to ensure good fermentation.  This year, because of concerns from the drought, we put an inoculate of bacteria on the silage.

One bad aspect of harvesting corn silage, because you remove the whole plant, the soil is left exposed.  Exposed soil is prone to erosion.

The next day I planted oats and rape with my grain drill.  With a little rain, these vigorous crops germinated.  Below you can see the oats on October 1st, next to standing corn waiting to be harvested for grain.

Oats continue growing well in cool weather.  Below is a photo taken November 1st.  When the temperature falls to 20 F, the oats will die.  They will not be a problem when it’s time to plant another crop next spring.


New Truck, New Haybine

May 6, 2012

I made a couple of new purchases recently.  The truck is a 98 Dodge with 4-wheel drive.  I bought it specifically for hauling my animals to the butcher.  It does have a cassette player though, so I found my old cassette tapes and have been rerocking the 90’s.

The haybine is a New Holland 488, made in the 80’s.  A friend found it for me on Craig’s List.  It’s in great shape.

I paid $8000 for the truck and $2400 for the haybine.  The truck gets terrible mileage, less than ten miles per gallon when pulling the stock trailer.

Sixty miles round-trip to the butcher with about one load per week equals 3,000 miles, and maybe another 1,000 miles picking up supplies, means I may only drive it 4,000 miles per year.  If I get eight miles per gallon, I’ll use 500 gallons of gas.  At $4 per gallon I’ll spend $2000 annually on gas.

As much as I think grazing animals are part of the solution to global-warming, using this much fuel to get my animals to the butcher leads me to believe I’m not part of the solution.  But alas, I’m part of a system.

I would love to keep all my animals in one herd, schedule a kill date at my butcher, then sort all the animals I want to cull and walk them to the butcher once per year.  This isn’t the world I live in, though.


New Ritchie Waterer

February 19, 2012

I put a new waterer in this past fall.  One disadvantage to my farm is I don’t have a dependable, natural source of water.  I do have a waterway in my pasture which always flows with water in the spring, dries up during the summer, and is frozen during the winter.

As I wrote in “Sow Housing,” I’m housing different species of livestock together, so it’s convenient to have a heated combination waterer to water both cattle and hogs.  I also have some cows which I wanted to keep separate from their calves after weaning, so it’s also convenient that the waterer has two sides.

What did I pay for all this heated convenience?  $1300 installed.

I put up a temporary fence for the winter so the cows could access the waterer from the yard.  They are being fed hay on the cornstalks.  Unfortunately, the winter has been so mild, the ground hasn’t stayed frozen, so they are damaging a hay field they need to walk across.

Below is a picture of the inside.  The water pipes and heating elements are easily visible.  The thermostat is the round knob towards the top.


2012 Price of Hog Feed

February 6, 2012

I did some figurin’ on hog feed prices.  I like to do this every year.  The current prices I’m using include: corn $.10/lb, soybean meal $.17/lb, pig premix $.40/lb, sow premix $.49/lb.  This is using $5.60 per bushel corn and $340/ton soybean meal.

I put 150 lbs. of sow premix in every ton of sow feed and 100 lbs. of pig premix in every ton of pig feed.

The sow gestation ration uses 250 lbs of soybean meal per ton.  The sow lactation ration uses 540 lbs of soybean meal per ton.  So if you do all the math, gestation ration is $.14/lb and lactation ration is $.15/lb.

The pig rations use anywhere from 250 lbs of soybean meal per ton for the largest pigs to 600 lbs of soybean meal per ton for the smallest pigs.  I adjust the amount of soybean meal based on my feed budget and the size of the pigs.

After all the math, the cheapest ration for the largest pigs is $.12/lb and the most expensive ration for the smallest pigs is $.15/lb, with the in between rations falling in between.

There are more expensive rations for smaller pigs, but with my new farrowing system I plan to let the piglets nurse longer, thereby eliminating the need for the more expensive starter pig diets.

These rations are near the historical highs, but not quite as high as last year.  I think these prices are the new normal and we will learn to live with them.

I plan on experimenting with more grazing and feeding forages and alternative feedstuffs this year.  I’ll have feed and production records to analyze next year at this time.


Farrowing in Hoop Building in January

January 22, 2012

Splitting up farming with my parents means I needed to find a different way to farrow.  We used a combination of crates and pens in a heated farrowing barn on my parents’ farm.  It worked well.  Last year we average 10 piglets born alive and 9 piglets weaned per litter.

I was excited to try farrowing in pens, because it’s a new challenge, and because I don’t like crates.  Crates do save piglets from crushing, however, so the question is, can I raise enough piglets this way to be economically viable?

Pictured above, I built ten farrowing pens in one of my hoop buildings so each sow and litter could farrow in privacy.  I used a combination of round bales of bedding and wire panels.  I used the bedding bales to make the pens larger, and to have dry bedding accessible at all times.

I didn’t think it would work very well to farrow in an unheated barn in January.  But I didn’t have many due to farrow, so I thought I would try it, so I could learn.

The first gilt farrowed two weeks ago when the temperature was in the 20’s.  The air temperature in the hoop building is about ten degrees warmer than outside.  She and the piglets did fine.  She had eleven born alive and one stillborn.  You can see the dead stillborn piglet mixed in with the placenta in the picture below.  The gilt laid on four piglets during the first 48 hours.  The younger the piglets are, the more vulnerable they are to crushing.  The remaining seven piglets are doing well.

The next two gilts farrowed during an extremely cold time.  Temps were around zero F with below zero wind chills.  Those piglets didn’t do well.  18 out of 20 piglets froze or were crushed in the first few days.

Two more gilts farrowed last night.  Temps are in the 30’s.  They are doing well.

Pictured below is a behavioral trait I want to select for genetically.  Instead of just flopping down and crushing piglets, the gilt scoops out a bowl in the straw with her snout, kneels on her front legs, thereby extending her udder all the way down into the straw, then lies down.  Very few piglets will be crushed this way.


Best Laid Plans

June 14, 2011

We built a small corral at the intersection of four pastures.  It’s way out back, and we never had a good way to catch a cow that needed help out there.

I checked the cows late one afternoon.  A cow was trying to calve, and looked like she had been straining for awhile, but nothing was showing.  We gave her an hour and checked her again.  Sure enough, one foot was sticking out, but not the other one.

We decided to get her in.  We were excited to use our new corral.  Two ATVs, a jeep, low-stress stockmanship, and we had her in the corral, barely.  She was starting to get hot.  She circled the corral a few times, charged at the gate I was standing by, put her nose over the top board, and jumped and pushed.  Once the board broke, her body weight broke down the wire panel, and she was over and out.

“Well, she’s on her own now.  No sense getting killed over her.”

The next morning, Dad drove back from checking the cows.

“Is she dead?”

“No, and she’s got a live calf, runnin’ around healthy.”

“Do you think we were just too early?”

“No, I think the calf got straightened out when she jumped the fence.”

Dad smiled.


New Manure Spreader

April 8, 2011

We purchased a new manure spreader from Studer Super Service.  It’s a Kuhn/Knight Slinger 8114. It’s basically the newer model of our twenty-year-old spreader we junked this winter.  I want this one to last twenty years.  We paid $14,500 for it.

The auger on the right moves the material backwards as the auger on the left moves the material frontwards and to the side-unloading door.  The beaters, pictured below, sling the manure into the field.

I’m excited to use it.  We have two hoop buildings to clean out, and several hay feeding areas.  I want to cover the corn fields with a light layer of manure before corn planting.  April is going to turn into May, fast.