Author Archives: Scott

This GPS Will Not Lead You to the Closest Gas Station…

Posted on Tuesday, February 23, 2016 by Scott

 

The GPS we have equipped is a case model. Each model provided by the different equipment dealerships can operate off of a variety of satellites, some requiring an annual paid subscription, or others being free with the hardware purchase. However, as with any technology these days, it’s usually you get what you pay for, and the paid subscriptions tend to be more accurate and less temperamental.

 

This fall I used the GPS in order to provide fertilizer amendments to our fields in order to replenish their levels of macronutrients. The fields we applied synthetic fertilizers to regularly receive fertilizer, but still remain deficient in some nutrients. You may ask, do you really need a GPS to spread fertilizer? Well, when spreading manure, it is fairly obvious to see your spread pattern which makes it possible to minimize any overlapping and under-lapping of your spread. This you can do fairly easily by just “eyeballing” it. With synthetic fertilizer, however, you are spreading tiny pelleted spheres of nutrients that are the size of sprinkles on a cupcake. This makes it very difficult to see your spread pattern over your ground.

image2Above is the fertilizer buggy that we rented from the local elevator to spread the fertilizer. It’s  a pretty slick unit. Since the unit is ground driven, once you set it, you can adjust your speed based on field conditions, without compromising your spread or application rate of fertilizer.
image1        In our model, the three green dots indicate that the tractor is directly in line with where it should be for the implement you have it set for. As you deviate to the right, more and more led lights across the top light up red. On the screen it also indicates how many feet off center you are from the projected course. The lights make it easy to quickly reference how you are doing, but the digital readout provides you with the exact amount in case you need to take a closer look. image3

    The same technology can be utilized with tillage. From keeping track of what method, depth, and time each activity was practiced over an entire field; to pairing with proper equipment to “minimize/reduce/strip” till. This technology enables a farmer to a happy medium between fully working their field with traditional methods , and “no-till”. Depending on the soil, cropping practices and annual weather, different fields encounter different difficulties, some of which can be improved or hindered by choosing to til or no-till the field. For example, problems such as compaction can cause emergence issues with crops. This can be combated with a variety of tillage, but tillage could potentially decrease certain benefits that no til can provide (ie erosion control). This is where, in some situations, a practice like strip tilling could benefit a farmer. They could accurately deliver fertilizer in a narrow band of soil where they strategically till (to reduce compaction, promote ability for seeds to emerge). Where the soil has been tilled, and the fertilizer has been delivered, the GPS technology can then enable a farmer to plant row crops accurately and directly into that narrow band. Without touching the soil in between the tilled strips, the no-till zones between can continue to operate as such and combat any potential shortfallings of tillage. I won’t comment too much more on it in this article, because I believe tillage is an essential tool to cropping success in some operations, but thought this was worth mentioning. Below is a very interesting picture of a strip till unit that I checked out at a farm show last week.

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In the past, we’ve also used the GPS in order to control our “auto steer” function which I’ll outline in a an article another time. Due to the complexity and the vast number of differences that each farming operation holds, GPS technology is being applied to many different implements which each farm has, and the possibilities are endless.

Bedding The Cattle

Posted on Wednesday, February 11, 2015 by Scott

Each morning loose straw gets moved from the mow into the cattle pen to provide them with a comfortable surface for the day and night. This process is repeated until the pen gets too full of biomass (manure and straw, this time varies depending on how many steers we have at the time). At this point we move the cattle into the feed alley and barnyard while we clean their pen. Following that, we line the pen with large round bales, cut all strings/net wrap from them, and let the cattle back in. This was my favorite part of working with cattle as a child, and is most certainly still every steer’s favorite activity! They know as soon as we let them in, it’s time for them to do their part and spread out the bales. They do this with surprising speed, running at the bales and breaking them apart with their powerful heads and hind legs.

I’ll get more into alternative types of bedding available in another post. The main focus of this one, I’m sure you will all agree, is the video that follows!

Bales Lined Up and Ready For the Cattle

Bales Lined Up and Ready For the Cattle

The Pen Once It's Scraped

The Pen Once It’s Scraped

Discing Up a Storm

Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 by Scott

So here’s just a quick post. I thought I’d share a video of me discing a field before I put up my post regarding tillage. For those that don’t know, a disc is used for residue management. By mechanically breaking up residue from a previous crop, rate of decomposition increases and it enables more organic matter to be incorporated in the soil. With that, the soil is richer and ready to grow a crop the next season!

Tillage…Can be a Considerably Deep Subject

Posted on Thursday, September 12, 2013 by Scott

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     Within the realm of farming there can be a lot of discrepancy amongst the effectiveness of different cultural practices. Things like natural vs synthetic fertilizer; fertilizer application timings; crop protection practices; and even tillage vs no-till. Most practices in agriculture have a ton of hidden variables, and even ones that you identify can change drastically based on said variables, such as weather; soil type; drainage, etc. The consideration of tillage options can be a very tough one because all of the variables at play cause research which can support yield boosts in either direction. Tillage aims to alleviate compaction through physically breaking up the soil. In addition, it aims to encourage the decomposition of the crop residue left behind by harvesting the crop that was grown and harvested there.

     Why do we want to get rid of compaction? Well, the short answer is that compaction can make it difficult for a plant to grow. By making the soil more dense, the plant roots have a harder time initially establishing, as well as growing further into the soil horizontally, and deeper, vertically. This can disable the plant from obtaining the required water and nutrients to grow, and most certainly will at least keep it from reaching its’ full potential in terms of growth and yield. In addition, it can also create an anaerobic environment in which some beneficial soil organisms which help to process nutrients cannot survive in. 

     Why do we want crop residue to break down as much as possible? There are a couple of reasons, not limited to what I mention. So, firstly, with crop residue sitting on top of the soil (corn/soybean/wheat leaves and stocks), water and other nutrients (applied or naturally found there) can be trapped on top of the residue which puts it at risk of being lost to the environment through volatilization and evaporation. Where do we really want it? As part of the soil, broken down and dispersed throughout different soil horizons  so that it is available for the plants to pick up and put towards growth. With this organic matter present throughout the soil, the soil gains structure. In simplistic terms, it acts as a glue to hold different soil particles together, spread apart a little (depending on the particle size), which also allows for water pathways to form throughout the soil. 

     So why doesn’t everyone till as much as possible? Many reasons exist, but I’ll just highlight a few:
-The cost of equipment, labor, etc

-Some land needs coverage in order to keep the soil from being destroyed by the environment! Sounds extreme doesn’t it? Well, an example where this happens is not too far off, in Port Burwell, Ontario. The reality for a lot of farmers is that their land is extremely sandy. This is referred to as “blow sand” by the farmers in this area. Without crop residue or a cover crop (rye, wheat, etc) left on after a crop harvest, the topsoil is very susceptible to blowing away. This is also compounded by the inherent wind risks from this area, being so close to the lake. 

-Repeated tillage to the same depth; in the same direction; at the same angle…it can create a “plough pan” or “hard pan”. This is a compaction but occurring below the soil surface. With the creation of a hard layer, even fields that are tiled to disperse excess water will turn into a pond in a hurry. All of the water becomes trapped above that layer, even if the soil above is structured properly to filter it. While this seems like common sense, it is not realized by all farmers. For example, a farm not too far away from home has been cultivating and ploughing with the same implements very intensively and often for quite a few years, and with this year being as wet as it was, it really showed, placing a lot of their crop in mud pits. My grandpa pointed out to me the frequency in which their land is worked, and suggested that a fix to their problem would be a round of deep tillage. This deep tillage would require a lot of horsepower to cut through the soil so far below the surface, but would aim to break the hard panned soil and allow the flow of water and nutrients to carry through deeper into and throughout the soil profile. 

 

Below are pictures of us working in a customer’s field which was quite a mess this year. It resulted in burying a combine when we advised him to have us wait until the ground was frozen, and he urged us to try prior. Even after things had cooled off, the tractors managed to find some mud! I almost got stuck as well pulling a full load of corn out. The pictures are a little difficult to make out, but I thought I’d include them. This demonstrates the importance of soil caretaking and pairing with the correct cultural methods! Enjoy!

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‘Tis the Season…and So Harvest Begins!

Posted on Tuesday, August 6, 2013 by Scott

Besides first and second cut of hay, our first harvest of the year comes with wheat. This is the first of the grain crops to mature and warrant harvesting! We harvest, haul, dry (if necessary), and store/sell all of our wheat that we harvest, plus for customers of ours who pay to have any parts of those done for their fields because they don’t have the equipment needed. Once the conditions are right, and we’re busy monitoring our fields, getting antsy to harvest…the farmers start calling. So, as a rule our customers come first. They let us know when they want us to harvest based on the development of their crop, and the weather forecast. At the same time, we have to use all of the time between customers to do our own if the time is right. However…this usually doesn’t happen until near the end. So two weeks ago we started harvesting for a customer, so naturally I called my dad to get the plan of attack, and headed to the field after work. Here my uncle Graham was running the combine, and my job was to “catch loads” from it, and transfer them into our Freightliner truck as well as a transport truck that the customer owned. The purpose of this is to keep the combine moving as much as possible, enabling him to constantly harvest without stopping to dump off grain when the holding tank is full. This can be tricky at times, catching all of the grain that comes out of the auger while the combine is moving side to side, changing speeds based on how wet/dry the field is and how thick the wheat is in that spot. To illustrate this, I took a video. My apologies it isn’t the smoothest, but if I had held it the whole time, I would have had to sacrifice some steering concentration…and for this job, you need all you can get! Check out the video!

After the combine is empty and refilling, the transferring takes place. I also took a quick video of this part!

The last video I took of this is of my uncle turning around at the end of one of his passes through the field. It still impresses me every time I see how quickly the combine can turn around! What lets it accomplish this is the design of it: the tiny back set of wheels are the ones that turn!

So how did the wheat do this year? Well, depending on location, this may be a sore subject. Unique weather facilitated a growth of certain diseases which are not usually seen to this degree. The main disease was “Fusarium”. The moisture and temperature levels were perfect to promote fusarium growth around the time that much of the wheat in Southwestern Ontario was flowering. Areas like Oxford County were included, and by far and large if wheat in this area was flowering in this period, and they did not put a fungicide on the crop, their wheat went from a potential of grade 2, all the way down to feed grade, or possibly wasn’t even taken based on the fusarium levels. Looking at areas such as Kinkardine though, where the moisture levels are not nearly that of around here, they had little to no problem with fusarium. Normally farmers have a very high concern with the moisture level when they harvest, because they’ll get docked pay to dry it from a higher moisture content to that of what elevators they sell it to want to store it at. However, this year it seems that moisture was at the back of farmers minds, mostly concerned with what grade it received in regards to fusarium. In our case, we got off pretty lucky this year, but a lot of customers we harvested for had a range of grades and moisture content. We ran what we could of our own through our dryer in order to bring the moisture down before we sold it, but not everyone cares to grow that route!

Below is a disease profile from a third year plant pathology class I completed last year.

 

 

Fusarium Head Blight

 

Host: Triticum aestivum, also known as wheat, is part of the Poaceae family.  In Canada, wheat is a very widely grown crop, and can be used and are used for human consumption (durum = pasta, non-durum = milling), as well as animal feed (USDA, 2004). Globally, Canada is a major exporter of wheat (USDA, 2004).

 

Disease: Fusarium head blight overwinters in perithecia in crop residue, as well as on seeds themselves. This means that wheat can be infected as soon as it germinates, or infected later on by ascospores or conidia, from the disease present in the residue, at flowering (Schmale, 2003). The symptoms of fusarium head blight include a spreading bleaching effect on the spikelets (Schmale, 2003). Once this occurs, in moist environments, the head turns slightly pink/red, and later black due to the perithecia being formed (Schmale, 2003). The seeds can be unmarketable, being dry and bleached, and referred to as tombstones.

 

Pathogen: Fusarium graminearum is the fungal pathogen that causes fusarium head blight. This disease overwinters in the crop debris, or on the seed.

 

Method of Diagnosis: An unconfirmed diagnosis was reached by researching common wheat diseases in Canada from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (2005).  It was confirmed that this exists in Ontario by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (2005). Confirmed diagnosis was not gained, however characteristics unique to this disease were visually present, these being that seeds possessed the tombstone figure, being shrivelled, chalky.

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Figure 1 Demonstrates a significantly infected specimen.

 

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Figure 2: Left: Infected seeds, “tombstones”
                Right: Infected vs healthy colouring (Schmale, 2003).

Literature Cited:
Canada. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Crop Profile for Wheat in Canada. Apr. 2005. Web. 30 Nov. 2011. <http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/collection_2009/agr/A118-10-16-2005E.pdf>.


Canada. Government of Manitoba. Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives. Province of Manitoba – Province Du Manitoba. Web. 30 Nov. 2011. <http://www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/crops/diseases/fac12s00.html>.

Schmale, D. G., and G. C. Bergstrom. “Fusarium Head Blight.” The Plant Health Instructor 10.1094 (2003). Welcome to APSnet. 2003. Web. 30 Nov. 2011. <http://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/intropp/lessons/fungi/ascomycetes/Pages/Fusarium.aspx>.

United States of America. USDA. Foreign Agricultural Service. USDA. 4 Oct. 2004. Web. 30 Nov. 2011. <http://www.fas.usda.gov/remote/canada/can_wha.htm>.

Hot Topic…How to Keep Your Animals Cool in the Heatwave!

Posted on Tuesday, July 23, 2013 by Scott

     In light of the constant and extreme heat we received recently, we were asked what impact the heat has on our livestock; and how we try to minimize this impact. So, in response I talked a little bit about how we help to keep the cattle as comfortable as possible, and decided I’d share my quick answer on here!

      The set up we have for our cattle is designed to keep them cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and somewhere in between in spring and fall. With the ability to open and close areas to promote airflow or conserve heat, combined with access to a shaded but open barnyard and always accessible constant refill water bowls, the cattle practically take care of themselves. However, in times of extreme heat, such as we’ve experienced lately, the only way to keep them from getting uncomfortable is to keep almost everything the same. The only thing we change is our management practices. While double and triple checking the water and airflow in the barn, we try to keep their activity to a minimum so that they don’t get overheated or stress out. For this, we make sure we refrain from bedding them with round bails (they love this, but it becomes a game to them to roll them around with their heads and spread it out) and instead spread their bedding for them with loose straw. Secondly, we do not ship or sort any into different pens during this heat. While we always try to minimize their stress, these activities unavoidably will temporarily get them excited, cause them to move more. While these things are unlikely to harm the cattle by themselves, in weather like this they react very much like us to heat stress. It’s not going for a run, or going to the gym that is likely to cause a case of heat stress, it’s the combination of a lot of different things the body can usually handle easily, but fails to in the extreme and muggy heat.

     After this answer, I was asked for some info on our farm just to give readers a better idea about the scale of cattle operation we have. So, I responded that our farm name is TDS Farms Ltd and we house the cattle with my grandfather (Robert Snyder) in his barn with his cattle as well. Together, we have approximately 250 at any given time. We buy them in young, raise them until finish, and ship them.

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It’s Been a (FILL IN THE BLANK) Spring

Posted on Friday, July 5, 2013 by Scott

     We’re here! It’s officially summer! We made it through “spring”.

What does spring mean to you? April showers bring May flowers? Or maybe: cool weather, cooler nights? But not too cool, just cool enough to make it bearable to sling seed bags around; toss straw down from the mow to the cows; or take advantage of the fresh air with the use of a cab-less tractor. That’s typically what I expect. However spring, as of late, varies greatly from everyone’s “average” or “typical” years, and it doesn’t stop there. It is not uncommon for neighboring counties to experience opposite types of weather daily. This is why I empower you to fill in the title of this post based on what you’ve experienced!

I’ll share with you what I’ve seen. Two springs ago, we experienced all the things I mentioned spring entails, with the addition of a tonne of rain. Last spring included a March and April that was significantly hotter and drier than average in most of Southwestern Ontario. With these polar opposite springs, we were due for a mellow, average, (dare I say perfect?) spring…and what did we get? Both prior springs in one!

Going from April ice storms which knocked out power and kept farmers off the land all the way to frost(s) in late May…I was very surprised to be wearing my snowboard toque at work one day, to transitioning to my Bravo ball cap, shorts, t-shirt, and sunglasses the next. Luckily a lot of corn didn’t show lasting damage because it was very young (before 6 leaves) and ended up growing out of the damage. Below is a picture of our corn that has nicely surpassed the regular indicator of a decent corn crop for us: “Knee-high by the first of July”. Photo courtesy of my sisters and their knack for photographing the crops in creative ways!
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     Were other crops effected by a wonky spring? From what I’ve seen at our farm, and in my travels, the answer is area dependent. Some wheat or corn may have been nearly drowned out but the hot days following were enough to help some fields out and bring some of the plants back a bit.

It also made it difficult for farmers to time cutting and bailing their hay depending on when they wanted to harvest (from my understanding: dairy farmers typically harvest quite a bit earlier). A neighbour had a struggle to get his hay bailed after we had cut for him, because just when he’d almost have it dried enough to bail…the rains set in. Repeatedly flipping it to dry it and keep it free of disease, he ran into rain after rain after rain until we finally bailed it at much lower quality than he strives for. This is because the longer it lays cut out in the field, the more nutrients it can lose. This is the farming: you win some, you lose some. However, ours turned out quite alright.

Using the hay field that we have for the past number of years as hay again, I was slightly worried about it when the chance of a good spring was still present. Why you may ask? Well, typically this field would have been turned over to a new crop in the past couple years, but we just haven’t found time. So, combined with the nature of this spring…my concerns were, lets say…warranted. However, we hit the weather just right when we cut, enabling us to bail it on the Friday, load all 165 bails to one side of the field for a farmer to pick up in the next couple of days before the forecasted rain came on Monday-Tuesday. All in all the yield of the hay turned out well, and plans to put hay in the field against the house next year is in motion. This is slightly exciting because the last time it was in this field, as my dad would say, I was “knee-high to a grasshopper”, and consequently cannot recall!
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First bail onto the wagon at the neighbors…                                                                                                               Full load…plus a bonus

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Well-deserved photo op? I’d like to think so                                                                                                                Surprisingly good turn-out on our “aged” hay field!

Planting in Progress

Posted on Friday, June 7, 2013 by Scott

 

     So I’m sure you’ve all seen farmers out in the field planting in the distance. Maybe you’ve watched them on your way to work, and then later in the season you notice what that particular crop is,  and how it develops.

However, with the variety in the different types of machines, different crops, or even mixed crops, with only this limited exposure, it may be kind of hard to keep straight or notice which machines match which crop.

I took a couple pictures and videos earlier in the planting season and thought it might be beneficial to give our readers a closer look at some of the machines in action, along with the farmers, to show how they keep the process of planting rolling.

Many of you may have seen the seed bags we load into our planters, but may have wondered if there are any more efficient ways to load up planters for bigger fields.

Below is a picture of our soybean bean drill, along with a video of us planting with it in my grandfather’s field down the road, and a picture video of us loading it with seed for the 50-60 acres we planted there this season.

For bulk orders for our own land, we order the seeds in crates or “totes”. These, for comparison sake, are approximately the size of a smart car. From here, we put them in a bin we bought which we can lift in the air with another tractor, and open a chute to let the beans flow into the planter. This saves a lot of manual labor, as well as the packaging that would be used to deliver the same amount of beans if they were in bags (big or small), because these totes are reusable. The video below shows my dad moving the seed with the tractor, me directing it in one of the bins evenly, and my little cousin getting his first attempt at recording video on my first smart phone. Enjoy!

 

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Planting: Age-Old Process…Changing as Quick as the Weather!

Posted on Wednesday, May 15, 2013 by Scott

‘Tis the season…to plant! With weather as hot as we experienced recently (before this crazy cold snap), the ground was able to dry up enough for farmers to get on it with their planting equipment!

We chose to start by planting a mixed grains and grass crop for a neighbor dairy farmer, using our new bean/grain drill (planter). While I’ve seen this planter in action before, I had never seen such an interesting mixed crop grown by a farmer.

A lot of farmers grow single crops in each field, but there is some benefit to be had by planting many all together, and using it as a mixed feed source for livestock like this particular farmers’ dairy cows. His mix consisted of several grain crops: barley, wheat, etc; a couple of grasses: including alfalfa; and finally a pulse crop: peas.

By planting multiple crops together (which all provide different nutrients), the cows can get a balanced and healthy supply of vitamins and nutrients all in one serving. For example: the grain crop wheat provides a superior source of protein and a faster rate of starch digestion in livestock; the grass alfalfa is high in vitamins A, B, C, E, and K; and finally the pulse peas provide a concentrated amount of both protein and energy.
 

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Second planting duties kicked off with planting corn on our home farm. I got some practice planting here with our new planter that is equipped with some technology that is brand new to me! This includes GPS and auto steer. I knew virtually nothing about them, but after a weekend of planting with my dad, they became quite simple and made all the work we do much more efficient!

What are these technologies you may ask? Well, GPS is similar to what everyone would recognize in their car, but with some modifications. By linking to a satellite, the GPS records all of the places seed is planted in the ground. By planting around the outside of the field, it creates a digital image of the shape of the entire field. After planting up the field once, it is able to tell the auto steer function where the tractor and planter need to be in order to space the seeds evenly on every pass a planter makes…up, down, up, down…up and down the field. When half way through turning the tractor around to go down to the other end of the field, I activate the “auto steer” and the GPS directs it, turning the wheels, lining it up!
    
While many people, including my dad, say things like “GPS and auto-steer take the farming out of farming”, just a weekend of this made me realize that’s not quite it. Do they make planting easier? Yes! Tons! But keep in mind…it’s taking the easiest part of planting (driving relatively straight in line with what you’ve already planted), and eliminates human error. This means that all of the land used to plant crops is used as efficiently as possible! Even with this to make planting easier, the farmer is still needed to monitor different processes (seed, fertilizer, air pressure, fuel etc levels) and to perform some manual tasks, that are also some of the most demanding, such as lifting and dropping the planter down at the right time, turning the whole rig around, changing the fertilizer, fuel, and seed bags, which vary but are typically in the ballpark of 60 pounds.?

Overall, what this weekend taught me is the new role technology has is in agriculture. It does not replace the farmer, but just helps them do a more efficient job. While learning how to use these, it actually got me excited to be able to use these on my farm. Surprisingly enough, this level of control even urged my dad to tell me he wants to do a better job of keeping records of what we grow and how we grow it, so that we can continually improve our practices!

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Our 12 Row Corn Planter                                                                                                                                              Our GPS. Green = Planted; Light Brown = Unplanted; Purple = Drive Lines

Taking a Break on a Snowy Day…By Splitting Firewood

Posted on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 by Scott

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     So life on the farm changes in accordance to the weather, which I’m sure you agree, is quite a bit, quite often. So being late April, it’s time to prepare for planting. However, waking up to snow, most of those preparations must wait! So what did we do? Got our corn seed delivered, as scheduled, but since we couldn’t get on the snow-covered land…we went with our ever present plan B: Firewood. 

 

    In order to keep our forest floor clean of large debris, it’s essential we remove any dead trees that are prone to fall during a storm. On top of that, there is bound to be some wood from trees that we miss, that does end up on the ground! Other than that, the forest needs to be kept at a certain density in order to promote even and full growth of all the trees. If the seedlings grow too close together, they choke each other out, and don’t reach their full potential. By removing some trees, maintaining a certian density, it allows the ones around them to grow big and healthy. From collecting all of this wood, we cut it into 12” and 16” inch lengths to prepare for splitting. By splitting it into smaller pieces, piling it under shelters which have air access from the fronts and the backs, the wood can dry enough to be burnt as fuel for heating a house. The drying process with our shelters takes anywhere from 8-12 months at most, dependent upon the type of wood. With the rising oil, fuel, and natural gas prices, the demand for firewood has been increasing in recent years. Typically, customers have told us that they are relying a little more each year on wood for their fireplace in their house, in order to rely less on natural gas, offsetting their heating bills to some degree.

 

     Wood isn’t always in the best condition, however. If it’s any that we collected that was fallen down, it may have started to rot a bit, which customers don’t like. Since this still produces copious amounts of heat when dried and burnt, we cut it into four foot lengths, split it, and dry this for a year. After a year, it’s ready to use in our outdoor wood furnace. This system is something I was unaware of until my dad invested in it, and accomplishes some pretty important things for our farm.
More pictures of cutting/splitting/piling to come, along with a post about our furnace, and its’ capabilities!