Hello, my name is Johan Doornenbal; I'm a 16-year-old organic dairy farm kid in Oregon. Our farm ships its milk to Organic Valley. Here is a story from my experiences. I enjoy photography and took all the pictures that accompany this story.
Spring 2008: "Hey Johan," said my dad, "Let's start making some of our own winter feed for our cows." He wanted to save some money, and we had lots of grass, so we decided to make grass silage, a new venture for us.
There are two varieties of silage—chopped and baleage. Chopped silage is more common. The grass or corn is chopped, put in a big pile, and covered with plastic and tires to hold the plastic down. Baleage is a large bale wrapped in plastic. The difference between silage and hay is that silage has more moisture than hay; the plastic covering or wrap is used to keep the moisture inside in order to ferment the corn or grass into a sort of "sauerkraut" for cows.
We had plenty of grass, all that we needed was the proper equipment. My dad already had two tractors, but nothing else. Equipment costs money, which we certainly didn't have much of. We prayed, knowing God delights to answer prayer.
Jon, a dairy friend of ours, was trading in his fairly new Claas baler in order to upgrade to the latest-and-greatest, so he arranged with the equipment dealer to give us first dibs on it. After the dealer's mechanics had the baler working perfectly, they brought it over to our farm.
We also needed a wrapper, to wrap the bales with the plastic as they were made, as well as a mower. Our friend Matt mowed the grass for us with his very fancy mower. And Jon's friend lent us a wrapper on a "try before you buy" basis.
Now it was time to make the silage. After checking to make sure the grass was dry enough, Carter, our summer college student employee, ran the baler and I ran the wrapper. After working about two hours that morning, I went to my homeschool co-op; that afternoon, I got right back to work again. Carter and I stopped at 11:30 that night—having made, wrapped, and stacked 109 bales. We were done making silage.
Or so we thought. A few days later my dad decided that we should make more silage, so he set aside a few more fields, including one of our next door neighbor Neil's fields. Neil had asked dad to manage his fields, since only a few horses grazed the 50 acres.
Then the problems started. Matt was cutting his own crops for silage, and wouldn't be able to mow any for us for a couple weeks. Another neighbor was making hay and didn't want to do any more mowing. So, no mower. My dad talked to yet another neighbor, Gary, who said he would look around for us. Worried, my dad talked to a salesman, seriously considering spending $18,000 on a new mower.
That same evening, Gary came by to tell us that he had found an old John Deere mower, which a friend of his would lend and possibly sell to us. Once we pumped up the tires and gave it some grease, it ran beautifully. My dad and I were happy, although Carter would have preferred the brand new one!
Getting back to business, we made silage in four more of our fields. Jon called, saying he had an old mower on his new property that we could pick up if we wanted it—he had no use for it. Carter had helped Jon make silage earlier that summer, and said it was a New Holland.
Starting on Neil's field, our borrowed mower promptly broke down. One of the gearboxes was broken. That was a real problem, because the machine was old and a new gearbox would have to be adapted to fit it. We decided to go get the old mower that Jon had offered.
My dad and Carter hopped into the truck to go get it. An hour and a half later, they discovered it was in much worse shape than the one we were using; but it was a John Deere. In fact, it was the exact same model as the one we were using! The gearbox appeared to be intact; but they had no tools to remove it, so there was nothing to do but drive the long distance back home.
The next day, Carter was sent back to the mower with tools in order to salvage everything he could get from it, including the gearbox. But the gearbox dug its heels in and refused to move. Carter called John Deere.
"Well," they informed him, "you need a pickle fork."
Not knowing what on earth a "pickle fork" was, Carter salvaged all the parts he could without the "pickle fork."
That evening my dad arranged for a John Deere mechanic to take the gearbox off the mower and install it on our borrowed mower. We were back in business within 15 minutes after he left. (The mechanic showed us the pickle fork; it's a wedge of sorts, but shaped like a huge fork.)
Finally finishing mowing Neil's field, we began the process of baling and wrapping on Friday. During this time, my younger siblings had been attending Vacation Bible School; the final program was happening this very night. But, I was the wrapper-man, and we still had many bales that needed to be wrapped (I could wrap about thirty bales in four hours), so I would likely be out there half the night and would miss the program.
"Bang!" That afternoon the wrapper got a flat tire. (I don't blame it. It had been bouncing around in bumpy fields for days!) The tire store wasn't able to send out a repairman until the next morning, so my plans changed. I got to enjoy the program after all, and finished wrapping the silage the next day.
We were finally done—309 round bales, several hundred pictures, a very sore neck (stuck in a semi-backward position for a week!), and a lesson in God's provision.
Farm Fact: Grazing cattle can minimize the invasion of non-native plant species.