The author and her husband, Duane, own and operate a 550-cow dairy in Cochranville, Pa.
With chopping season comes many days of trucks, tractors, and wagons driving in and out of our farm lane in a continuous cycle of unloading and reloading. The corn silage pile grows, and after every year, I feel so blessed when I see the depth and width of the feed that the cows will eat over the next year.
I hear from my California friends that their chopping season lasts all year long. My dairy industry “brother,” Brad, is chopping every day and gives his cows fresh feed in that manner. Because of the four seasons, we do not have an opportunity to feed fresh chopped forages every day. We store our acres of corn silage in a trench and cover it with plastic and tires.
Since it only happens once a year, chopping season is a big deal. When my grandson’s teacher recently asked the class about the four seasons, Wyatt told her the seasons are winter, spring, summer, and chopping season. For a young boy who is enthralled with equipment, it is more like a holiday than work.
There are multiple considerations when we are chopping our corn, some of which we can control and some of which control us. Weather and the development of the cornstalk is not under our direct control. Equipment and timing of harvest are critical decisions we must make.
Machinery needs to be checked, tuned, and primed for the extra workload. Employees need to mentally prepare for the hours it takes to run at a fast pace, either running a tractor, truck, or, maybe the most important job of the day, keeping their eyes on the cows and calves.
Personally, I need to mentally prepare for the meal plan and to keep the cooler stocked with drinks. I also prepare myself for the level of dust that I know will infiltrate every crack and corner of the farm. From the cars to the house to the office to our clothes — dust is everywhere.
We do not have farm lanes with macadam, but we try to put a layer of crushed stone around the farm. Over time, the stone wears through, and when the equipment is driving back and forth from the trench to the fields, the dust is intense.
It always amazes me how quickly and how fiercely the dust comes. It creeps into the barn office and settles in the computers and printer. It gets in the vehicles, even with the windows closed.
A few harvests ago, we were having trouble with one of our computers, and it surprised me because it had been recently purchased. After taking it to a repair shop, the repairman asked about the type of environment our computer sat in. There was a thick layer of dust inside and around all the little wires that are necessary to keep the computer running. I got a good lesson on air blowing the computer from time to time.
I believe this was also the year that I drove up and down the farm lane with the water tank to try and settle some dust. When doing this, I need to be careful that I am not creating puddles, though. That brings a whole new set of issues.
Rain is always a bittersweet wish around this time. A rain shower gives everyone a break from the long days and evenings. It gives the dust an opportunity to settle, and it naturally rinses off the vehicles.
In years that the dust is thick, I find myself thinking about the Dust Bowl era. Even though I am fed up with the grit and grime, I know that my annoyance is not anywhere close to that historical time period.
A few years ago, a novel about the Dust Bowl era caught my eye. It was titled “Out of the Dust” by Karen Hesse. Hesse won the high Newberry Medal Award for her historical fiction novel. I decided to give it a try, and I enjoyed the book immensely. Hesse’s novel gave an accurate and emotional account of the Dust Bowl era, and in her beautiful prose, she showed me what it must have been like to live and farm through that disaster.
The learnings of our forefathers that we took from that Dust Bowl era are deep, and conservation changed practices for the better. I know that what we learned from that time period came on the backs of farmers and animals, and I certainly am not making light of that situation. Rather, it helps me to look at my dust dilemma with a fresher and more positive perspective.
I am assured that nothing outweighs the overwhelming blessing of having months’ worth of cow feed in the trench. Some years it is larger than others, but the pile is always there.
Yes, chopping season is intense. However, the true celebration comes on the day the trench is finally covered, the crop is curing, and everyone can take a deep breath. Fall is around the corner. Cooler weather and a slower pace will soon be here.