What do Dairy Farmers do in the Winter?
So often everyone thinks the winter is a vacation since we aren’t growing or harvesting crops. Obviously since we’re dairy farmers we still have lots of work year around. But we don’t quit thinking and talking about crops just because nothing is growing. Since we are feeding our harvest all year long we are constantly evaluating it. In addition, this is the time of the year to make our plan for next year. With help from my brother Kevin, I am going to share how farmers prepare for the growing season.
All winter we have been planning what we will plant where, how much of each crop we will harvest, how we will fertilize the crops, and keep pests out. The first piece of this puzzle is determining out how much we need to grow to feed the animals next year. We look at how many tons we harvested last year and predict what we might need this next year. It is always better to have a little extra than not enough.
On our farm we regularly rotate our crops to keep our soils healthy. This means we don’t grow the same crop on the same field year after year, just like you wouldn’t eat the same thing for every meal for weeks or months at a time. By rotating our crops, we break up the natural cycle of diseases and pests that prey on our crops. This not only leads to higher yields on our farm, it also keeps our soil nutrients from becoming depleted as not all crops require the same amount of the different nutrients. Protecting soil health by rotating crops is an important step in making sure the land will be in good shape for the future generations of farmers to continue doing what they love.
Part of taking care of our land means we monitor it closely and make decisions based on what it needs. We work with several professional agronomists to test the nutrient levels in the soil on our farm. They take soil samples in a grid fashion, breaking large fields into smaller blocks with a GPS reference point. With this information, we make plans to apply the nutrients our crops will need in each section of our fields at a variable rate based on the sample grid. This helps in preventing us from over-applying nutrients because when it comes to fertilizer, more is not always better.
We also need to purchase our seed. We work with several local salespeople and discuss what varieties of corn, hay, wheat and beans will work well with our soil and needs. We look for seed varieties that have tolerance to diseases common in our area and have traits that will make excellent cow food. Farmers are also trying to guess how the growing season will be and pick a variety that will also thrive in that kind of a growing season. When these are decided we put our order in and seed is set to be delivered in the spring.
Even though snow is on the ground, it doesn’t mean farmers are sitting there twiddling their thumbs. A lot goes into a growing season and now is when it all comes to fruition!