Making Hay
Week of November 28th, 2004 | The weather was cold & sunny.

Example of feeding sows in gestation building.

Example of feeding sows in gestation building.

Happy Thanksgiving! This is the time of year that farm families, like us, enjoy gathering with the rest of the relatives and share conversation about harvesting and what our crop yields were. We talk around the Thanksgiving table about the winter months ahead and what will we do next spring. We give thanks for our good health, good fortune, and for our family.

We now have sows in the finished gestation building. It is fun to do chores in the new facility. When we do chores in the morning, we start in the gestation building. First, we open the doors to the gestation pens, let the sows come in, and lock the doors shut. Next, we fill the feed cart full of feed from the bin (auger comes through the wall to the inside). As we pull the feed cart down the alleyway, we use a feed scoop and fill the feeders on the pens full of feed. When all the pen feeders are full, we pull a lever to dump the feed on the cement pad for the sows to eat. It is a clean, dry area. After they are finished eating, the levers release the door and are opened for the sows to go out and be in the bedded area for the rest of the day. We close the pen doors, so the sows don't go back in until the next day to be fed. They sleep and play and run in the straw bedding. The sows drink their water from the fountains that are at the end of the building on the bedded side.

I enjoy using the facility because it is inside and out of the strong winds. I do not have to watch my step during the winter with icy ground. The sows really like being in the new facility, too. The sows are protected with a roof over their head, yet still get the fresh air, sunlight, wind, rain, and snow that they get when they are outside since the hoop building has large ventilation doors.

After we finished the gestation building, we got busy with harvest. As usual, we had all of our soybeans custom harvested. When the operator came to the first field, he harvested all night. There was too much moisture in the soybeans in the other field. This past month, we did get that field combined and now, all of our beans are harvested and stored in a grain bin. We then shipped about half of them to the processor. After the soybeans were out of our way, we started picking ear corn.

Using our ear corn picker, we picked about 50 acres of corn this year. The other ten acres we harvested with a combine since it was very dirty when we tried picking it. The husks stayed on the plant this year, making the ear corn pick dirty (dirty means a lot of husks and stalks). This shell corn went into our corn bin. As I was picking the corn, Dad unloaded. This year, he made some changes in the elevator to make unloading go much faster and smoother. He changed the hopper of the elevator so the tractor does not disconnect form the elevator. Now, we can move the elevator in a very short time. The hopper is a separate unit. The fifty acres of corn filled our corncribs tight full. We were amazed at the yield that our crops produced this year, considering that we had a terrible flood this past spring. Our beans averaged 37 bushels per acre (four year record high for us) and our corn made about 130 bushels per acre.

After we were done with the harvest, it was time for us to sit back, relax, and eat turkey! Dad and I put the lids on the last corncrib we filled, Thanksgiving morning. My sisters, Jess and Jolene were home on Thanksgiving. My grandparents came and we had a feast! My mom made all the food. My grandma brought some kolaches! Today (Sunday, November 28), we are going to my grandparent's house to celebrate Thanksgiving with the rest of my relatives. The food will be great, like usual!

During Thanksgiving break, Dad and I started moving sows inside so they can give birth to their baby pigs in a heated barn instead of outside in the cold, damp weather. We had to move sow huts inside of our north farrowing barn. This took a whole day to move them in, bolt them together, bed them up, get the heater going, and the water running. That evening, we moved nine sows inside. Three of them already farrowed. So, we had to move their piglets with them. They are glad to be inside now!

For our main barn, we are going to try something different this year. We decided to try farrowing pens. Like the gestation pens, the sows are let out so they are not stressed out. While the sow is in the pen, she nurses her young and sleeps. While she is locked out, the pigs stay in the pen (this way, the pigs do not get mixed up with the wrong sow). They have plenty of room to play around. They of course get their food from the mother sow. The sow eats and drinks water while she is out of the pen.

We purchased these used pens from a farmer by St. Ansgar, Iowa. This is about an hour one way. Since our pickup was broke down, we used the semi tractor, pulling our livestock trailer. Since the trailer is bumper hitch, and the whole combination is under the legal weight, I was legal to drive without a CDL (Commercial Driver's License). I drove the whole way there and back. It's good practice for me so I can get my Class A CDL when I turn 18. (I'm 16 years old now.) It was a good day to be on the road because it was cold and it was the first day we received snow this season. (Saturday, November 27) We didn't receive very much, though. After we loaded our trailer up with the fourteen pens, it was FULL. There's a lot of metal in farrowing pens. Farrowing pens have two main parts- the sow pen and the piglet pen. We left home at 9:00 AM and came back at 2:00 in the afternoon. When we came back home, I unloaded the pens and put them inside of the main barn so Dad and I (after school I can help) can put them together so we can move sows in soon. We already have two pens started. We have to build the front doors and the electric hovers, though. I think we can get all this work done in one week's time.

We had a busy month and I can't wait until we get some more work done during December. I look forward to finishing the pens in our barn.

Farm Fact: Pens are used in confinements. The main difference between pens in confinement operations and how we use pens is the amount of time the livestock is in the pen and the access to bedding. Pens with slat floors cannot have bedding. Our pens have solid floors and they are always bedded. A sow feels trapped or caged when confined all her life in a pen. We use our pens for a limited time (approximately an hour a day). We will allow the sow to get out of the pen during the day to walk around, socialize with other sows, drink, eat, and move in different positions. Being in the pen for a short period of time will not cause stress for the sow.

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