With every tour of our farm, I spend quite a bit of time explaining silos. What goes in them and why they symbolize dairy farming. I am always amazed at the idea that these folks have driven by and looked at farms their whole life and have never understood or even thought about what goes in them.
    Most of our visitors understand that every dairy farmer works long hours every day. But what they do not know is that when it comes to harvesting feed for cows that will be stored, fermented and fed for the year, the farmer will work even longer hours, far beyond his normal 14-hour days.
    Feed is so important that it can make or break the farm. If we do not grow enough corn, if the weather is too wet or too dry, we may not have enough feed, or the quality will not be the best. Our cows will suffer for the whole year. If we run out of feed, farmers do not get to go to the pet store and buy more feed. They have never thought of all these things. After all, isn’t all this corn just for cows? I then point out the grain bins, that another type of corn is stored dry there. That corn can have many uses: ethanol, animal feed, or even for corn flakes, chips or muffins.
    I help them visualize that our 100-year-old barn was built to hold 35 milking cows, just like all the other barns down our road. There are actually 20 dairy barns on Highway 73 from Interstate 90 to I-94, but now only three of us are dairy farming. The silo that stands by all of these empty barns was filled every fall to feed the cows that were living in those barns. The silos were filled with a blower attached to the power take off on a tractor that is spinning very fast to blow the chopped stalks, leaves, cobs and kernels to the top of the silo through the tube that still hangs on the side.
    I explain the dangers involved in unloading, and working around a blower and PTO. I tell them if the protection shield is removed for repairs and not put back on, it can tangle loose clothes and rip off limbs or worse. I mention the gas that is produced during the fermentation process that has taken many farmers lives, and every one of us farmers knows someone who has died or had near misses with accidents.
    This week, while discussing making corn silage with our guests sitting on a wagon, they were observing the tractor pacing in the field, pulling the chopper filling the dump box while the tandem truck raced back from dumping the load into the bunker.
    The curiosity about the big mounds of white plastic with sliced tires is usually admitted and often it is thought that is where we pile our manure. Yes, I agree when there is a little seepage it can be stinky, but farmers love the smell of feed. We are always smelling it for quality control.
    If there was anyone in my group that had grown up farming, they nod their head in agreement. Fresh cut hay smells amazing. We work on cutting hay right after we are done planting in the spring, and then every 28 days throughout the summer into fall. The hay is put into a bunker and is fermented into haylage. This is the other part of the ration that I compare to an athlete’s diet.
    As September rolls in this fall, and the pumpkins are bright orange, it is time to get moving on to corn silage. We outgrew our upright silos as we expanded our herd of cows, and as we have gotten older, it is too hard to climb up those tall silos. Just as we are getting older the unloaders inside are too, and making repairs is difficult and dangerous too.
    The bunker silos look easier with the tarps draped down the sidewalls, all straight and tight. The kids love to watch the loader rocking back and forth pushing up the load that was just dumped by the tandem.
    Even with the bunkers, accidents happen. As the pile gets higher, it is obvious that it could be tippy for the tractor driver. Hanging plastic and working around tractors moving tires, there is always the risk that something could happen. With farming, there always seems to be a rush to make sure we get it done as fast and efficiently as possible.
    We have had a few breakdowns this fall. Even though we want to be done, we shut off the tractors and truck to make sure the harvest crew gets out for a little downtime to rest and come back refreshed the next day. As we add on more long days, everyone gets tired, and stress and tension can be a factor in making sure we all are being safe and observant of each other. In the end, it makes a huge difference when everyone is here for the next day, safe and ready to roll again.
    After getting the group past the bunker silo, our guests have a new appreciation and understanding of cow feed, filling silos and what harvest is for farmers. Visitors often ask when we will be done, and the perfect reply is Thanksgiving. That is when we give thanks to have made it through the season safely.
    Tina Hinchley, her husband, Duane, and their daughters, Anna and Catherine, milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots. They also farm 2,300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin. They have been hosting farm tours for over 20 years.