St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Beware of Falling Silage

   Hans (his Swedish parents pronounced it “Hons”) was a strapping farm boy of 16 years old.  Like most farm boys, he was big, strong, and as dense as a dry oak board.  He began helping on the farm as early as he could remember, and gradually he stumbled his way into greater and greater responsibility, primarily by way of learning from his mistakes.  

   Each day, it was Hans’ chore to throw down silage for the 20 cows in the barn.  Hans fed them hay each morning from the big haymow above.  In the late afternoon, he pitched corn silage from the silo down the chute and carried it to each cow, topping it with grain (ground corn and oats to add extra protein).  Then, after the evening milking, more hay.  Cows spent most of their lives eating, first packing it down as fast as they could swallow it, then leisurely lying in their stalls chewing their cuds.  

   Lars’ silo was12 feet in diameter, starting with a pit 6 feet in the ground rising 14 feet above the ground for a total of 20 feet of storage space.  
A silage fork, a short-handled fork of some dozen closely spaced tines that was prone to get the corn silage cob disks stuck on the many tines requiring constant cleaning. 
 Silage was not terribly heavy and in mild weather, could be pitched down quickly.  

The 12-foot diameter, 12-foot tall silo with metal chute in byegone days. Note the tree inside!

The cows got hay 2x each day, breakfast and the late evening snack.  Winters added corn silage in the pre-evening milking period.  The cows got silage, the farmer ate supper and then milked and fed hay.  
By February throwing down silage was much more work.  The frigid weather froze the silage from the concrete wall inward nearly a foot and a half.  Further in the natural fermentation and insulation kept it loose and easy to pitch out.  Hans knew he was expected to use the grubhoe each day to keep the frozen edges even with the rest of the silage, but that was a lot of work.  “I’ll just wait, and soon there will be a thaw and it will come down easy.”

All through January he let it build and now it was 9 feet higher than the center--and tapering inward as he went down leaving him less and less room to swing the pick and pitch with the fork.  
Feeding grain after hay.    Water cups are shared every 2 cows.  Stanchions are homemade  of 2x4 wood.  The door at the end is to the silo room.  Opposite end was the haymow chute.  Early fall it appears by the fly ribbon over the cows head.   Water gravity fed down from a big tank overhead the cows, but still in the main barn where it wouldn’t freeze in winter.
Realizing that he was soon going to be squeezed in the doughnut hole, he planned Saturday to catch up.  But how to do it?  Not enough ledge of frozen silage to stand on; too high to attack with the pick from the top, he decided to begin at the bottom and hollow it out, working his way up.  

Three hours into the job, and with the south side cleared back nearly to the concrete, at the bottom, Hans took a break.  “Another 20 hours like this, and I still won’t be done,” he moaned to himself, beginning to understand why Lars told him to keep it level each day.  
It was a warm day sunny day--one of those February days that promise spring is not far off.  Although no sunlight reached into the silo, it penetrated the concrete warming the outer edge of the silage.  
 Hans sat down to rest, and leaned back in his hollowed out cave and promptly fell asleep.  He awoke briefly to complete darkness with a crushing weight on his chest--breathing was impossible.  As consciousness left, he saw Lars may have been right this time.  

Moral:    Learning from your mistakes is not always the best way.