One of the crops usually grown at Sweet Hills Farm is wheat. Here’s a short video of the wheat harvest a couple weeks ago. The combine harvester cuts and gathers the wheat in the field. The heads of wheat are cut off by the rotating header at the front of the machine, then are passed through a series of drums inside the combine to thresh out the chaff (husks) and straw (stalks) from the kernels. The straw is spit out onto the ground in the back, while the chaff is spit out the side. The kernels are stored in the combine until it gets full, when it is then transferred to a grain truck to be taken to the grain elevators at the railroad station. The straw is typically baled for use as animal bedding, and the remaining stubble is either tilled into the ground to add some nutrients in the soil, or is left to provide cover for the next year’s crop.
Combine harvesters are one of the most important technological advances for farmers. The headers can be switched out for different types of crops. Combines enable a single person to perform a huge amount of harvesting in a relatively short period of time.
The red “pickup bin” or bank-bin allows the farmer to dump his grain “on the fly.” He otherwise would have to stop combining, and drive over to the big grain truck and stand still while dumping the wheat kernels into that truck. While the pickup bin adds an extra man’s labor + an extra tractor + the red mobile bin, in the end it adds dollars to the farmer’s bottom line, because he can get his harvest in earlier.
Behind the combine, you will see a trail of wheat stalks. This is the unusable part of the wheat or the “straw.” This straw will be compressed into bales, and sold to farmers and ranchers as bedding for their cows, sheep and pigs. Straw is used the world over as bedding for animals, because it is very absorbent, easy to manage, and very comfortable to lay on. (And actually, if you ever end up sleeping in a barn, it’s not too bad for a bed!)