From Empire Farm & Dairy:
By LESLIE SHELDON
COPENHAGEN — Michael Lynch used to have the attitude that once a hay or corn crop came out of the spout of the chopper, his job was accounted for and the forage was someone else’s responsibility.
The chopper mechanic from Croghan, Lewis County, now says he feels the whole process of forage harvest has evolved into a team effort, involving the farm owners, nutritionists, seed salesmen, veterinarians, forage experts and those harvesting the crops.
“I’ve learned every one of those components has to talk and share what they can do and what the other one is looking for to find out how you move forward,” Lynch said. “It really is coming to the point where it’s a team, and the cows either perform well when they get that feed or it was a whole lot of money spent that wasn’t done as well as it could have been.”
Lynch, who has been performing maintenance on choppers for farmers since 2012, attended a bunk silo management workshop on Aug. 22 at Moserdale Dairy LLC in Copenhagen, N.Y.
Moserdale, one of Lynch’s six farm customers, is operated by partners Doug and Patty Moser and Doug’s son, Andrew.
The Mosers have 750 cows, including dry cows, and they farm 1,600 acres, including 600 acres of corn. On the payroll are nine full-time employees, including eight Hispanic workers, and one family member who is a seasonal helper.
Involved in the bunk management meeting were two of the farm owners, the farm’s herdsman, six representatives from Cornell Cooperative Extension, two veterinarians, one mechanic and several area farmers.
The meeting was led by Joe Lawrence, Dairy Forage Systems Specialist with Cornell University’s PRO DAIRY program, along with Ron Kuck, Dairy and Livestock Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County.
Lawrence and Kuck have been working together with bunk silo management for at least seven years.
Lawrence stressed the importance of taking extra time to pack the silage after each load. He covered topics such as the best type of plastic to cover the bunk, the size of the silage particles, and the use of a kernel processor.
“It’s a good refresher,” Andrew Moser said. “You learn what you should be doing that you forgot to do.”
One of those reminders for the Mosers is adding weight to their packing tractor.
A simple thing farmers can do to improve their forage preservation is putting concrete blocks on the backs of their big packing tractors, according to Lawrence.
“It’s a pretty inexpensive way to add a couple extra tons of weight on the back of tractors,” Lawrence said.
Moserdale has a concrete block, but Andrew Moser admitted the farm didn’t always use it.
The cost of a concrete block is under a thousand dollars. Some farmers have made their own concrete blocks at a minimal cost by using excess concrete from another farm project.
Gary Sullivan, a farmer from Carthage, said adding the weight is definitely worth it. He is a believer in taking extra time to pack the bunk. Last year he experienced minimal forage loss.
Sullivan, who built a bunk in 2014, used to pile his forage on the ground and the edges didn’t get packed well. He has also used ag bags, but filling them was a lot slower than piling.
This is the second year the Mosers have used Feed Fresh silage covers, heavy oxygen-limiting plastic that has mesh it it.
Lawrence, however, recommends a plastic that is less rigid. The Feed Fresh plastic has advantages over regular black and white plastic, according to Lawrence, but the rigidity prevents it from clinging tightly to the forage.
Andrew Moser said the farm went to FeedFresh because of its durability. The regular plastic didn’t hold up well in the strong winds they receive at their farm.
Lawrence recommends spending the extra money on a bunk cover that will cling well to the forage.
“The return on it is worthwhile,” Lawrence said. “Of all the fuzzy economics out there, that’s a pretty clear cut one.”
Lynch’s customers are located between Mannsville in Jefferson County and Lisbon in St. Lawrence County, a span of over 90 miles.
“I’m quite fortunate every single person that I deal with, they all talk and share,” said Lynch, who works on the forage choppers year-round. Harvest season for him is typically the end of May to mid-October, and the rest of the year he’s performing maintenance on choppers and getting them ready to go for the spring.
“The only thing that I see that helps (this process) move forward isn’t (just) the theoretical part of talking to Joe and Ron,” Lynch said. “Because I don’t think anybody anymore can say, ‘Oh, do this and you’ll gain 10 percent.’ It’s little, little changes, and I think the difference is the communication of everybody that’s in that process.”