Bedding shortages around here became so bad that the attitude was, “Who cares about the corn, just get me the bedding.”
    We finally baled about two-thirds of what we needed hours before this last snowfall hit. We had many acres ready to bale about a month ago when we combined high moisture corn, but the custom baler was broken down. We had more acres of corn to combine after that, so we were not too worried. That was a mistake because we have had rain or light snow every 3-4 days since then. In hindsight, I should have found a different baler or bought my own. Not that I really had any spare bodies able to run a baler and do a good job.
    I was thinking back on how we bedded heifers years ago before round bales. Once again, I remembered small square baling up the slough bottoms in late summer and that reed canary grass was so rank we used it for bedding. The good oat straw bales were reserved for the milk cows and the baby calves. The last 10 years, the slough bottoms have been full of water virtually all year around. We also only bedded the few heifers we had back then for only 90-120 days in the dead of winter, because they were on pasture or a dry lot that was actually dry. The last few years, the dirt dry lot has totally been a wet, muddy mess.
    Beside square baling reed canary grass for bedding, I also small squared corn stalks once I had a baler that could do it. It was a Massey 124 that ran plastic twine, and it could handle stalks quite well. We would go behind the combine with a side delivery rake to make a windrow. We made sure to do it on a sunny breezy day. Then we would quickly try to bale all the racks full before the early sunsets of late fall. If I was stacking bales on the rack, I had to wash the dirt out of my eyes so I could recognize my own kids. If we were short on oat straw, we would use those corn stalk bales in a little bedding chopper to bed the 80 tie stall cows. Talk about flying missiles of kernels, small rocks and cobs.
    The cows would get pretty excited the first few days we did it, but after a bit they kind of liked chewing on something different. I will never forget the first time I hired a guy to come and round bale stalks for me. Round balers were just getting popular. He had just bought his first baler, and neither of us knew what we were doing. At that time, I did not farm much ground and what I did farm was not the best ground. We had combined 70 acres of corn on some of the hilliest ground in Nobles County. It was a horribly windy, but sunny cold day when he came. The plan was I would rake about one windrow in front of the baler so the windrows would not have time to blow apart. I was on my little no cab 165 Massey, so I was in coveralls, mittens and a parka which made side and rear visibility a problem for me. He baled and released those bales on those hills in that wind, and I could not see them come rolling at me.
    We had a problem. We soon figured out we needed to quarter turn the baler before releasing the bales in certain locations.
    The last 10 years or so, we have baled enough corn stalk or bean straw bales to easily supply our needs for our two heifer lots. Soybean straw bales have worked excellent for us when we had those acres close enough to the feedlots. Sometimes I think soybean straw keeps the heifers a little cleaner. We like to bale fields close to the feedlots as it really cuts down on the labor and equipment needed to transport the bulky bales. This year we hardly grew any soybeans because of feed needs and low soybean prices. By having plenty of available bales, we also use them as windbreaks for the feedlots until early spring. In addition to the outside stacked bales, we always kept an old shed full of emergency bales in case we ran short. This past spring and this past fall were so wet that we used up all those emergency bales before this winter even started. The good part of that is we finally cleaned up some bales that were really showing their age and could not be called round bales anymore. They were totally egg shaped and barely held together with loose net wrap.
    To get through this winter with our limited supply of bedding will require money and extra effort. We have spoken for 400 bales of Prevent Plant oat straw that needs to be trucked in from 40 miles away. I also bedded the heifers one night last week when I was totally out of bedding with a poor quality hay bale. It went through my bedding chopper fine, but it was very dusty and too finely chopped for bedding, but it worked. Last night it was snowing heavily, and I bedded the heifer shed after dark with a fresh new bale of corn stalks. It was such a good feeling to watch those heifers run into the shed and immediately start laying down happy and contented.
    Vander Kooi operates a 1,800-cow, 4,500 acre farm with his son, Joe, and daughter-in-law, Rita, near Worthington, Minn. Send him feedback at Follow him on Instagram, @davevanderkooi.