May means planting season for farmers
May is here. And with May comes planting season. Planting season brings the infamous “window” of time my dad and other farmer friends always talk about. I truly believe farmers are the most anxious around this time of year, as waiting for Mother Nature to open her window is incredibly nerve wracking. If we don’t get the correct amount of seed in the ground in a timely manner, the crops will not grow correctly to produce the yields we need to feed our cows for the rest of the year. And that window doesn’t stay open for very long! Grandpa always said, “A cool, wet May is a barn full of hay!”
The planning for planting season starts long before May, though. After harvest in the previous fall, soil samples are taken using GPS coordinates to determine what parts of a field may need particular nutrients, as compared to other parts of a field which might need none! This allows us to customize nutrient needs according to the goals we have for the crops we’ll grow the next year, including yield goals, or how much crop is grown.
During the winter we conduct the cropping plan and order seed and fertilizer from seed companies using the sample information from our fields along with looking at what has worked in past years and on other farms. Finally, as the snow melts we begin to tune up the planters, spreaders, sprayers, and choppers to make sure all the oil is fresh and equipment is ready.
When everything is prepped for the season, we begin our work in the fields. Some fields already have crops on them from last fall. These are called cover crops and act as absorbers of leftover nutrients from last fall while keeping the field from eroding or compacting. Some examples of cover crops are rye, clover, and oats. We use cover crops often on our farm as sustaining the soil quality for future generations is very important to us. After tilling, or mixing, the plant back into the soil, we prepare the seed bed by supplementing nutrients in order to meet pH and potassium needs of the field by using soil samples from the fall.
Finally, it is time to plant! Let’s say we are planting a corn field. We apply a small amount of nitrogen with the plant for it to get a good start to life. After that we would apply an herbicide before the plant germinates to keep the weeds out and eventually add a bit more nitrogen to keep the plant growing.
Around this time we also harvest the first crop of hay. Alfalfa is only planted about once every five years as it is a perennial and gets harvested three or four times a summer around our area, every 28 days in a normal growing season. The grassier hay is for our younger cows and our hay that is higher in potassium is for our milking cows.
We also grow wheat, soybeans, and sorghum on our fields. I think you can begin to understand how busy this time of the year is!
All of this work is an important effort to feed our most important ladies, the cows. An average milking cow on our farm usually eats around 110 pounds of feed a day, which equates to her producing around 10 gallons of milk! It is truly amazing how she is able to turn a TMR (total mixed ration, the feed she receives) that consists of alfalfa, grass, corn silage (the whole corn plant chopped up), corn grain, supplement concentrates made up of multiple by products (cottonseed from cotton, canola meal from canola oil, distillers grain,etc), and lots of vitamins and minerals into the freshest, healthiest, most natural product available – milk!
Lindsay is currently studying at Siena Heights University in Adrian, MI. She will graduate in the spring of 2018 with a bachelors degree in Biology and a minor in Environmental Science. She grew up on a 560-cow dairy farm in Scottville, MI owned by her parents, Burke and Lisa Larsen where she still manages to work while being four hours away. Her future plans include continuing in the dairy industry where her passion lies.