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Life on the family farm under an open heaven: An overwhelming success

Tom Heck for Progressive Dairyman Published on 24 May 2019

Springtime on the farm is always a wonderful season, as the earth comes alive again, and the old winter is finally behind us. It’s exciting getting out in the fields and working the land and putting the tiny seeds into the ground, anticipating a bountiful harvest later in the season.

We don’t always get the harvest we hope for, but once in a while we get far more than our wildest dreams.

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Such is what happened many years ago on my parents’ dairy farm. Their farm had a lot of very steep, hilly land on it we had to keep in hay almost constantly. It also had some nice rolling land and some flat land. Since we didn’t have much level land, that always got planted to corn.

We had one 12-acre field that was flat except for one small sandy knoll in it. The rest of it was a sandy loam soil that grew beautiful crops of corn always. Well, the 1980s came along, and one year the government came out with the PIK program that paid farmers to leave half of their corn ground to lie idle in order to raise the price of corn. My dad signed up for the program, along with most other farmers.

One of the requirements of the program was that you had to put a cover crop on the land and clip it once or twice during the growing season. My brother and I suggested to my dad that we put that 12-acre field in the program since we had never had it out of corn for all the years we had owned it. My dad thought it was a good idea, so we did it.

For a cover crop, most farmers seeded the land down with a small amount of oats; it was cheap and met the program’s requirement. But we got talking and said, “Why not put a little alfalfa seed in with it, and then that will put nitrogen in the soil, which will be beneficial since we plan on putting it back into corn the following year?” Pa didn’t really want to stick extra money in it, so we told him to go into town and buy one 50-pound bag of the cheapest alfalfa seed he could get. And so he did.

Well, it came time to seed the field down, and so we set the grain drill down to just 4 pounds per acre. We got the whole field seeded down with one bag of the cheapest alfalfa seed we could get. If I remember right, I think it was Vernal. And then we clipped it during the summer.

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The next year came, and we hooked the plow up to the tractor to plow it under. We got out there – and we couldn’t do it. That field had the most beautiful stand of alfalfa on it. We didn’t have another field on the whole farm that matched it. We ended up putting some other ground into corn instead.

We ended up leaving that field in hay for a number of years after that and took tremendous crops of hay off of it. What an overwhelming success; we could hardly believe it.

Over the years, I have bought a fair bit of alfalfa seed; normally, the seed salesman will recommend seeding it at 15 to 25 pounds per acre. When I tell them about my dad’s field years ago, they always respond, “Well, if you had a real good seedbed, you could do it.”

Well, I always try to have a real good seedbed, and I always go for 10 to 12 pounds per acre to be on the safe side. And I’ve always had excellent stands of hay. I was blessed to read an article by Dan Undersander of UW – Madison in 2017 telling that 10 pounds of live seed per acre was plenty adequate with good seedbed preparation.

It’s nice in farming, and in life, when something turns out far better than we would ever dream possible. Like my dad’s hayfield. But I know one thing that has far exceeded that in my own life; that’s in following my Lord and Saviour all these years. It’s far above and beyond what I could have ever expected. That doesn’t mean life is always easy, or a bed of roses, but walking with Jesus every day, through it all, is the greatest life possible. I wouldn’t trade it for all the riches and pleasures in the world.  end mark

Tom Heck, his wife, Joanne, and their two children own and operate a 35-cow dairy farm in Wisconsin. Email Tom Heck.  Order his book at Tom Heck.

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