On a warm or sometimes crisp, golden September day, I would rush off the bus from elementary school, change and head outside because it was silage-making time on our small dairy. The air was fragrant with the best smell of fall as our neighbor chopped our fields of corn and my dad operated the blower to fill our small stave silo that would feed our cows for the rest of the year. A small outside open silo was also filled with green chop for use while the silage in the larger silo fermented. My job was to stomp on top of it to pack it down. It was always an exciting time.
    The fermentation of forage for dairy cows has been going on in this country since the late 1800s when a farmer in Maryland followed the example of Goffart, a French farmer who wrote about preserving corn fodder, emphasizing filling the silo rapidly and keeping it air-tight during storage.
        “The word silo comes from the Greek word ‘siros’ which means a hole or pit in the ground for storing corn. It is known that the Greeks and Egyptians were familiar with ensiling as a technique for storing fodder as far back as 1000 to 1500 BC. In parts of Northern Europe, grass was being ensiled in the early 18th Century, but it was not until the latter part of the 19th Century that it became more widespread,” according to an Israeli website, Food Technology Information Center.
    I guess if our family has always taken silage-making for granted as a normal fall activity, we can be forgiven. It has been around awhile.
    On the Annexstad farm, how we ensile and feed our cows has evolved through the years and our farm’s facility changes. We have switched from harvesting into forage wagons, blowing silage into upright silos and feed delivery using silo unloaders and mechanized feed bunks to bagged silage, and now to today’s bunker silos with concrete pads and walls, plastic coverings and a tire shooter to place tires for covering the bunkers. Silage is added to the TMR mixer with a loader tractor and delivered via the drive-by mixer into a feed alley of a freestall barn.
    Our children’s childhood memories of silage making days involve riding in the chopper while their dad or uncle, Mike, chopped, riding briefly in the packing tractor that drove over the silage pile in the bunker, and the ultimate job of helping to cover of the bunker with OTB film, silage plastic and tires.
    “I remember that the bunker silo seemed a lot bigger when I was younger, and it was much harder to lift the tires to cover it with,” Matthias told me.
    Leif remembered riding in the chopper and one time getting a small lawn mower tire stuck on his head when he and Matthias were goofing around on top of the bunker.
    Emily recalls that the most fun was working with all of the people who would help us chop, pack, truck and cover the bunker silo. In the collection of helpers over the years, there were employees’ curious friends and families, our veterinarian and his family, our feed nutritionist, the kids’ friends, our relatives and many others we could tell stories about.
    Thankfully, our kids have almost always helped to round out the dedicated crew to do the critical, important and very timely job of covering our bunker silos with plastic and tires. It is often a job to get done now: because it is a hot windy day, or because it is getting dark and buggy, or because a storm is coming. There is a process and it takes time, muscle power and a lot of helpful hands to pull over plastic and place the tires. We all enjoy the sense of accomplishment when the job is done.
    When silage making is happening, I sometimes think about how to explain the process to others. One teacher several years ago, after reading one of our kid’s how-to paper about covering the bunker silo, had a lot of questions at the parent-teacher conference.
    When school kids come to the farm, we conduct a hands-on lesson of mixing up a ration with small amounts of each ingredient to show them that our cows eat a cow salad or cow casserole.
    Other dairy farms do a great job of posting pictures of their silage making process online and some have used #cowchow to showcase their experiences in an educational way for their followers. It is fun to see how dairy friends are coming along with their harvest and view their victorious crews standing in front of or on top of their masterpiece after the bunker is covered or the bags are finished. Maybe this part of the silage-making rite will be reminisced about 50 years down the road.
    Jean dairy farms with her husband, Rolf, and brother-in-law, Mike, and children Emily, Matthias and Leif. They farm near St. Peter, Minnesota, in Norseland, where she is still trying to fit in with the Norwegians and Swedes. They milk 200 cows and farm 650 acres. She can be reached at jeanannexstad@gmail.com.