Posts Tagged ‘iowa farm’

Merry Christmas 2010

Merry Christmas!

From my family to yours, our 2010 Christmas letter:

2010 Family News

Winter Highlights

  • Hazel started crawling after her brother and sister. Russell had a light bulb moment with his speech and shocked all of us (including his teachers) by completing his goals and catching up to “normal” 4 year old.  We cannot say enough good things about the Head Start Program, AEA, and Parents As Teachers, the organizations who played a key role in helping us get Russell all the assistance we could. Out of all of us, Lucy was especially excited to welcome her first two cousins in February.  Brooklyn was born to Becca and Andrew and Abby was born to Kevin and Melissa.
  • Winter was spent catching up from the nasty harvest conditions from the fall.  We did manage to take some time tour a few different cattle farms to take a look at their barns, as a fire last fall burned down a barn on the home farm and opened up an opportunity for us to do some new construction.  We needed to do some research before deciding what to do.

Spring News

  • Justin turned 30 in March and we had a great time celebrating by having friends and family over for prime rib.  We also managed to escape for a (kid-free) night to celebrate our 5th anniversary.  The girls began attending daycare  for two days a week so that Liz could help on the farm and get a little time for appointments and errands without sippie cups and diapers.  Russell continued to blossom in school, and Justin found entertainment in teaching him the names of our different farms and their locations.
  • After a couple of years of challenges, the weather finally decided to give us a break this spring.  We began planting on April 17th and were all finished by May 20th.  We made the decision to build a hoop style cattle barn, along with a new bunker silo and grain bin, on the home farm.

Summer Happenings

  • Little Miss Hazel turned 1.  It was really nice to have a summer birthday party for a change.  Russell attended Vacation Bible School.  He also went to church camp for the first time, Liz went along and they both had a really great time.  Lucy had fun on a couple different play dates with friends.
  • We took a vacation/business trip to western Tennessee and Kentucky to visit the people who buy and start our feeder cattle for us.  It was an awesome vacation, mostly because of the great people we met and got to spend time with.

Fall Harvest

  • The fall weather was as great as the spring weather.  So great, in fact, that Liz was secretly hoping for a rain just to give everyone a break.  Harvest went incredibly smoothly, thanks to the addition of a new chopper and combine.  We completed the construction at the home farm and held an open house to showcase it in October.
  • Lucy mastered potty training and started attending Sunday School.  Russell started his second year at Head Start, and still loves it. It won’t be long before he is smarter than his parents!  Hazel decided that maybe she secretly likes her cousins, as long as Mom isn’t looking or holding one of them. Grandma Bernadine Nieman went on to her heavenly home in October; we will all miss her dearly and cherish the memories that we had with her.

Liz had a busy year, as she was bumped in to the office of County Farm Bureau President a little sooner than expected.  She also started a blog, at where she writes weekly about the happenings with the family and the farm as well as a few recipes once in awhile.  Justin is glad to be free of his school board duties and is simply focusing on keeping the farm running and guiding and supporting his family through life’s ups and downs.

It seems as though this year flew by even faster than previous ones.  We have been blessed so much that it’s hard to imagine what the future will bring.  Our family is growing, healthy, and strong.  Our farm is prospering. Finally, we have a strong faith that gets us through the challenging times.

May your coming years be blessed, and may you find peace in the real meaning of the Christmas season!

Justin, Liz, Russell, Lucy, and Hazel



A Lesson in Recycling: Corn Stalk Bedding

My sister-in-law Melissa took this awesome picture...there is something about cornstalk bales that is really picturesque, don't you think?

We finished up corn harvest this week!  Woo hoo! Let’s go on vacation!


The cattle still need attention….A LOT of attention!  Although all of their feed is now put up for the winter, they still need a stock of bedding to get them through the upcoming cold weather.  They also need their manure hauled out on to the fields and routine health check-ups.  Darn it! I guess Hawaii will have to wait. 🙂

Rolling hills and round bales.

Side note: I can not believe that we are done with grain harvest already!  This time last year we were just wrapping up beans and looking at weeks of corn harvest yet, on top of all the cattle chores that pile up during harvest season.  Farming is incredibly variable.  One year we are setting records on being behind in harvest, and the next we are finished up in record time.  So, although I don’t get to go on vacation just yet… I am eternally grateful for the bounteous harvest, the beautiful weather, and the safety of everyone who helped out.

Sun setting on the bales on a gorgeous late fall day.

So, now that the corn and beans are all put away for the year, it is time to focus on cattle comfort.  Not that we aren’t always paying attention to the cattle, but now we need to make sure they are set for the upcoming winter.

First step, bedding.  Lots of fluffy absorbent bedding. And where best to find this, but in the fields.  Corn stalks, cobs, and husks remain in the field after the kernels are harvested.  Getting them picked up and stored begins with “shredding,” or mowing, to break up the residue in to more manageable, comfy bedding.  Next they are gathered in to windrows with the rake, the same way hay is.  Then the baler, pulled behind a tractor, is driven over the top of the windrows,  picks them up, and rolls them into tightly packed round bales.

Here is a nice video on YouTube from “Mrflyinpig” that shows how the corn residue is collected by the rake and baler. :

Well, now we have a field full of round bales.  They are no good to us sitting out in the field, so we must haul them in.  This is done by putting a skid loader in the field, and one at the farm we are hauling in to.  We haul the bales a couple different ways.  Lately we have been using pick up trucks and flat bed trailers.  We have also used tractors and special bale hauling trailers.  The skid loader picks up the bales and stacks them a certain way on the trailers, which then take them out of the field and in to the farm to be unloaded.

Picking up a bale with the skid loader.

We have bales coming out of our ears right now!  They are all over every farm we have cattle on.  Neatly lined up.  We even have a bunch of them lined up along our driveway to serve as a snow fence over the winter. So, even while they wait to be used, they can serve a purpose!

The trailer waits to be loaded up with bales.

The skid loader putting a bale on the flat bed trailer pulled by the pick up.

Look close and you can see my little helper in there...don't worry, we were hauling in on the farm, no roads.

Couldn't this be an ad for Chevy? I can almost hear the old.... "Like a rock" theme song!! This truck and trailer is all loaded and ready to take the bales in to the buildings.

Recycling is not only is good for the planet, it makes good economic sense too!  The nice thing about using corn stalks as bedding is that they will be “enriched” by the cattle’s manure and then returned to the fields we took them off of.  I know I have written of this before, but I’m going to do it again.  I am continually amazed by the cycle of life and the bounty we can take from the land we are stewards of.  The land grows corn.  The cattle turn the corn in to meat, and in the meantime produce by-products (a.k.a. manure…which is NOT a waste product, but a precious commodity!) to enrich the land for the next crop.  The longer I am here, the more involved I become with the farm, and the more that the reality of the next generation sinks in… the more I appreciate this.

So, after the cattle “enrich” the bales, they are hauled right back out to the field to provide fertilizer for next year’s crop so we can do this all over again.  Have you ever thought about how farms recycle? Or am I the only crazy one?

Anatomy of a Corn Plant

Hard to believe these huge corn plants were just tiny seeds only a few months ago.

If you’re like me, and you live in Iowa, chances are you take for granted all the corn fields around you.  Have you ever really considered what goes on from the time the seed corn is planted until it is harvested?  I know I never did, until recent years.  I mean, really, is it not absolutely amazing that one tiny little seed planted just three months ago is now around 8 feet tall and nearly mature?

Little baby corn plants just popping out of the soil.

Have you ever wondered how that happens?  I mean, it is simple biology, so here is your lesson for the day:

Corn seeds are planted in a row no more than 2 inches deep and spaced about 6 inches apart.  The rows are 30 inches away from each other.  Depending on the soil temperature, the corn sprout will emerge anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks.  As the plant grows over the next several weeks, it will add leaves and begin to develop an ear until it puts out a tassel. The tassel is the bushy top of the corn plant.  At this same time the ear will put out its silk. Both the silk and the tassel are considered part of the flower.

Russell is pointing to the silk. It is called silk because it consists of silky strands that stick out of the top of the ear.

The tassel on top of the plant contains pollen to fertilize the silk, which forms kernels on the ear.

Tasseling and pollination are critical times in corn development.  The tassel contains pollen that must make it to the silk in order to fertilize the plant. Each strand of silk must “catch” a pollen grain from the tassel to form a kernel. So, the number of  pollen grains caught by the silk, equals the number of  kernels formed on an ear.  This determines the yield. Corn plants usually fertilize other corn plants in a field (the silk catches pollen from a different plant).

Russell helping me show a close-up of the tassel.

A corn plant will only release pollen under ideal conditions.  Usually only during a few hours of a day, for a few days.  It can’t be too wet or dry or too hot or cold.  That’s why farmers can be so nervous during the growing season.  So much of their income depends on circumstances out of their control!

After pollination, it is now time for the corn plant to begin forming kernels over the next couple months, called the grain fill period. The kernel goes through a few stages.  These stages are basically based on the moisture content, size, and starch content of the kernel.  Once the kernel is fully formed, and contains about 30 percent moisture, it is considered physiologically mature, or black-tipped.

After the corn is mature, it is essentially dead, and farmers now begin the waiting game for it to dry down.  Ideally, we like to harvest our corn once the kernels are below 20% moisture.  How long it takes for corn to dry varies wildly, but dry corn harvest will usually begin around the second week of October here in Iowa.

Tall green corn and a bright blue sky... a sight to behold for a country girl!

See, fascinating, huh?  This was a hard post to write, as it would be very easy for me to get way too technical.  There is a lot of research and science that goes into field corn production.  Thanks to genetic technology and other advances, today’s farmer feeds 155 people.  That number is double what it was in the 1970’s.  I wonder what farming will be like in another 40 years?

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