What with the lack of a real summer last year, harvest moved at a snail's pace. We normally are done chopping corn silage in the middle part of September, but we hadn't even started at that time last year. To add to the fun, I had seeded a combination of field peas and oats with my new alfalfa seeding. That combo makes nice silage for the cattle, but it also takes up space in my bunker silo I'd rather fill with corn silage. The proper moisture percentage for bunker silos is about 65 to 70%. For upright tower silos, it's closer to 60%. Silage bags (those long white sausages you see in farmyards) ideally work at 60 to 65% moisture.
As we looked at the bunker silo that was about two-thirds full of peas and oats and covered with plastic weighted down by old car tires, Guy No. 1 and I decided it didn't look like a lot of fun to crawl on top the pile to toss off the tires, roll the plastic back and then slap a new layer of corn silage on top before putting the plastic and tires back on top again. It’s not that we’re lazy. We prefer to think of it as being logistically efficient.
We could make a separate pile of corn silage next to the bunker silo like we had done in the past. Put some ground limestone down on the ground to form a nice base, place some round bales along the sides to act as walls, then dump the silage in and cover it like a regular bunker. Yes, it's more of a Red Green bunker than my standard one, but it could work. Spoilage tends to be a bit higher than in a standard bunker, and quite a bit more than in an upright silo or a sausage silo, but it would be quick and fairly easy.
Then in an uncharacteristic moment of creativity, Guy No. 1 suggested we consider putting up a sausage silo.
I was all for it, but there was one problem. We had made a faux-bunker silo a few years ago and left the round bales of one wall in position when the silage pile had been fed up. The physical layout of silage sausage is such that you need a bit of room to make it correctly. First of all, you need your bag to be clear on all sides. That means you don't really want it sitting next to a dirt embankment of an existing bunker where varmints can burrow into it with ease and abandon. Then there's the fact that your bagger is about 18 ft. wide in the working position. Add in the width of a silage wagon to fill it (roughly 10 to 11 ft.) and all of a sudden you're scraping the round bale faux-bunker walls to get the sausage made. Getting farm equipment stuck in the mud is not good and not fun. Getting farm equipment WEDGED somewhere is much worse. Trust me.
That problem was easy to solve, however. All you have to do is tell Guy No. 1 that you need something destroyed, torn down or removed — and he gets to move dirt in the process — and he's all over that! This project would be extra fun, because it involved using the Ranch Hand's hydraulic hoist under the flatbed to haul and dump all the Clinton-era round bale walls, as well as shuttling all the landscaping when Guy No. 1 would decide to do his own eyeball-laser-leveling of the site when everything was clear.
We got a skid loader a few years ago that's about two or three times as big as our other one and GN1 pretty much uses it as a bulldozer. People come by for tours and see all kinds of piles of dirt around the place and want to know why they are there. "Oh, that. Well, GN1 saw a puddle somewhere, so he re-landscaped the whole area. His A-D-D kicked in before he was done, though, so he never got around to removing the dirt he had piled up. That would be finishing a job. He's not big on finishing anything."
So we got the site cleared and leveled for making some sausage. Next up was the base establishment of the new sausage site, so we had two loads of lime delivered. Once Guy No. 1 got it sculpted just so, we were ready to make some sausage. I chopped a couple of loads of silage to be ready when the bagger showed up. He got there and I quickly discovered that the original design for these machines had to have come from Rube Goldberg. There are a ton of adjustments, positions, jockeying, jacking, hoisting and turning involved to get the machine from transport mode to operational mode. When we finally got that done, we took the giant plastic roll out of the box and slid it into position on the bagger. Call me crazy, but I have driven by hundreds of sausage silos over the years, and I always assumed there was a solid end on them. No, as it turns out, that is not the case. The bag is actually a hollow tube — giant sleeves, as it were — just like the miles and miles of sausage casing you see at meat lockers. We took the end of the bag, scrunched and twisted it together like a bread bag, then took two of the space-age polymer strands of plastic ties and tied off the end of our loaf like we were going somewhere for a long weekend and wanted the bread to be good enough for a lunchbox sandwich the following Monday morning.
We fired up the bagger and I pulled into position with the first wagon of silage. My other misconception was that one guy needed to be at the wheel of the tractor running the bagger at all times. I figured that, as you fed silage into the bagger, it blew it into the bag and the guy on the bagger tractor drove ahead as it filled, so as not to over-stuff the turkey and have it burst open like a balloon . . . or a Suzy-Q (see farmindustrynews.com/jeffryan/1026-large-carb-footprint).
Nope. The bagger pretty much has a couple of rotating augers that run fairly slowly and more or less press the silage into the bag. The tractor on the bagger stays in Neutral and eases ahead as the force of the silage getting packed into the bag propels it forward an inch or two at a time. The guy at the bagger pretty much stands on the ground near the wagon and runs the hydraulic lever to move the intake conveyor in and out of position to meet the wagon when it pulls up and leaves.
I quickly realized that it was going to take a fair amount of time to get everything chopped soon enough to keep the guy at the bagger happy and not make him wait. I hopped in the chopper and kept filling wagons. With the Agri-Speed hitches, both the wagon hauler and I could get hooked, loaded, unhooked and unloaded without leaving our seats. The guy at the bagger would hook up the PTO shaft as soon as the wagon hauler pulled up with another wagon. That meant The Chairman could pretty much stay in the tractor for the whole process.
Sausage silage was suddenly looking very appealing from a staff recruitment standpoint.
I see only one major stumbling block with sausage silage: varmints. It will be interesting to see if they leave the bags alone, or if they decide to rip open the sides to see what's inside. If they leave them alone, perhaps I'll go in search of some new front-unload silage wagons for next year. Or maybe I'll win the lottery and get the cool self-propelled X1114 bagger. It will match up better with the 12-row Krone chopper and fleet of trucks I'll also buy.
Then stand back and let the sausage making begin. Cover your eyes if you must.
Guy No. 2