Harvest, haying, and a summer wrap-up – The Graves Family

A rain gauge with almost 2.5 inches.

A rain gauge with almost 2.5 inches.

Wow! What a summer this has been! The winds have changed for our area. We have received much-needed rain since the last blog I submitted. I don’t know the exact total, but I can comfortably say we’ve received at least 5 inches of rain at our farm, if not more than that. Our neighbors, friends, and family here in the Midwest have received varying amounts from that. Some have been much more than 10 inches this summer! It’s so wonderful to see everything green! Even if it means the thistles, pig weeds, sandburs, and goat-head stickers. It’s been a chore mowing, but watering the yard and gardens has been cut down by two-thirds.

Harvest is a great time for all ages.

Harvest is a great time for all ages.

Harvest began about June 20, and that is the last we’ve started in about eight years. We only had about half the acres of what we cut last year, but thankful for that. One cut we usually have, about 1,000 acres, of our neighbors, went all into wheat hay. We cut another 490 acres for another neighbor, whom we cut about the same last year for him. Our farm had about 1,200 acres that we cut. One field that really surprised us was our big dryland field. It is some ground we rent, and this was the first year it was planted to wheat. The field is 873 acres. That is very large! We spent 3 days with two combines, grain cart, and two semi-trucks staying busy the entire time. The crop adjuster said it was the best dryland he had seen, so we cut it and it made 23.9bu/acre. We had two irrigated fields also, each 120 acres. One made 23.17bu/acre and the other made 30.62bu/acre.

We had extra help the week of harvest from the grandkids this year. They are starting to be old enough to help more and more. Plus, Dalton, my oldest nephew, and Jolena, my mother-in-law, were busy with the second cutting of alfalfa when harvest was going on. I had a neighbor gal come and babysit the kids while I was in the alfalfa field or running after the guys in the wheat field. I don’t think we fed less than ten people for lunch that week.

Cutting alfalfa.

Cutting alfalfa.

At the beginning of June we swathed and baled one circle of wheat hay for our neighbor, and 1-½ circles of wheat hay for ourselves. Our alfalfa has done well this year. We’ve actually been able to swath and bale the corners at all three cuttings. The guys just finished baling the third cutting about a week ago. It took a little longer due to rains, but we were ok with that. Jake and Matt began cutting feed for a neighbor this week. We also have feed we will swath or have a silage crew come and make the feed into silage. The guys will pack the silage into a bunk and we will feed it to our cattle this winter.

A field of milo.

A field of milo.

The rest of this summer has been full of working calves, moving cows with their calves to different pastures, spraying, stacking hay, loading hay, mowing, and working fields. We’ve had some damage from a few storms, but mainly tree limbs breaking. Gary and Jolena were able to take a break and head to Colorado to relax. Jake was able to go with some friends to Lake Texhoma, and even brought back striper bass for us to enjoy. Matt, the kids, and I headed to Oklahoma City the first week of August and had a fun time seeing the zoo and science museum. I was also able to go to the Women in Ag and Small Business Conference, and really enjoyed everything there. The speakers were great and the sessions were very informational.

My garden is finally producing. I didn’t get it planted until the middle of June. I’ve made pickles and pickled okra. We’ve harvested squash, cucumbers, jalapenos, basil, spearmint, strawberries, and okra. I’ve only picked one tomato, but there are many more on the vines.

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Working cattle and waiting for rain – The Graves Family

So, I think it’s been a couple months since I’ve blogged, sorry about that. I’ve had good intentions, but those don’t bring results, do they?

Alfalfa after a hard freeze.

Alfalfa after a hard freeze.

The biggest topic for everyone in the last couple of months has been, in my opinion, the weather. Matt and I get our weather out of Amarillo, TX, along with our local stations. The weather man on one of the stations said it the best when that last freeze came. He called it “weather whip-lash.” What a way to say it! We had three consecutive weeks in April where it would be 80-85 degrees on Monday, and by Wednesday night it would be 29 degrees. Needless to say it did damage our wheat and alfalfa. To what extent is still to be seen. Saturday night, May 18, we received a ¼ of an inch of rain/hail mix. The rain was great, but I don’t think we had enough hail, or big enough, to damage the wheat too much.

Jake pushing the calves, Matt and Gary catching the calf in the calf cradle, and Xander in the background loading the ear-tagger.

Jake pushing the calves, Matt and Gary catching the calf in the calf cradle, and Xander in the background loading the ear-tagger.

I think all the cows have calved. Jake and Matt brought the first-calf heifers and some young cows in this week and worked the calves. They said one calf had literally just hit the ground when they went out there. The cow was still licking it clean. They left them in the pasture and went back for them later. The cows and calves then were taken up to Kansas to pasture for the summer. We don’t want to over-graze our pastures, so we have some relatives that watch them for us through the summer. I know we lost three calves from the heifers. Two of them got stepped on by the cows during those cold spells when they were all huddling together. It’s sad when it happens but it is rare. The guys will bring the rest of the cows and calves in this week. They will vaccinate, brand, castrate (bulls only), and put in ear tags in all the calves. I think we have around 210 heifers and cows, so the guys have a big job on their hands. And yes, for any of you wondering, we do keep the calf testicles and I do fry them up for the guys. It is not something I grew up doing, so I had to ask around for a “recipe.” So far they’ve been good!

The alfalfa is looking good – a little curled on the top from the freezes, but I don’t think it will affect it too much. I reminded Gary the other day, we actually did our first cutting of hay the first Friday of May last year. Which was the earliest I had ever help cut hay, but it got hot early last year, too. I think the first cutting of hay will be in the next week or two. I saw some blooms on the field next to the house. We have four irrigated alfalfa circles, and the corners are dry-land. Last year we did not get enough rainfall for the corners to be cut at all. They look hopeful so far.

Cattle grazing on one of the Graves' irrigated wheat pastures.

Cattle grazing on one of the Graves’ irrigated wheat pastures.

Some wheat looks okay and some not-so-okay. The yields at the end of harvest will tell us best how much the lack of moisture and the hard freezes have affected it. I did look at a wheat head last week on the irrigated circle and it looked hopeful. Last year we started cutting the last week of May, but I don’t think we’ll start that early this year. The kids and I missed the first week of harvest because we traveled with my parents from Kansas to Iowa to visit both set of my grandparents. Needless to say, that didn’t go over well when the main cook on the farm leaves at a very busy time, ha-ha, but they let me come back without too much grief. We unfortunately will not get to make that trip this month. I am hoping that maybe in September we might get away to see my grandparents.

Gary has been busy spraying and top-dressing wheat and alfalfa. We had the aerial sprayers spray the fields last weekend for weevils. They kids enjoyed the airplane getting close to the house. Jake and Gary also freeze-branded the heifers and the young cows about a month ago. If you’re not familiar with that process of branding, it is branding using dry-ice and not a hot brand. It lasts longer and makes it more suitable to use on cows that you will have for several years.

Jake welding together panels for new corrals.

Jake welding together panels for new corrals.

Matt and Jake have also been busy with moving our feeder heifers off of pasture and taking them to the feedlot. Matt picked out of our home-raised heifers the best ones he liked for replacements for our cow/calf operation. Another 25 head of the home-raised heifers were sold to Gary’s nephew and wife. I’m not sure if they are going to use them in their cow/calf operation or just feed them out. After the heifers were moved that made room for all the calves from the sale. Since January the guys have worked about 475 head of bulls and steers. According to the papers, most of them were supposed to be steers already, but on one bunch 90% were bulls. That made a long day for the guys. The guys cut all the bulls that we put on pasture or feed in the feedlot. That makes for a better-tempered calf and keeps our people safe in the industry. It could be one of us, an employee at the local feedlot, or the individuals at the slaughter house. And it makes for a better-tasting end product, which is beef in your grocery stores. We even test our own product every day. We have one of our calves fattened in the feedlot and then slaughtered to fill the freezer.

The yard-work is in full swing, too. When Jolena’s not at work or helping the guys with endless tasks, she is on the mower. With the addition of her and Gary’s new home almost two years ago, along came more yard to mow. They planted a beautiful yard. I am busy getting flower beds weeded and planting my vegetable garden. Matt and the kids help in the process. We have garlic, onions, peas, potatoes, and strawberries planted. We hope to get the rest in this week.

We are getting over-loaded with pets. We have the five ducks, and then we now have 13 chickens. Twelve of them we bought at Atwood’s in Woodward, and the last chick was brought home from Xander’s Kindergarten class. They hatched out over 140 chicks in an incubator in their classroom and the students we allowed to bring one home if they wanted to. Our recent addition this week has been two litters of kittens given to us by a friend. That made a total of 9 kittens, but we gave one to Matt’s nephew. We tried to give a few more away, so we have a few spoken for now.

Matt, Lisa, Xander, and Keira celebrating Easter at Lisa's parent's house.

Matt, Lisa, Xander, and Keira celebrating Easter at Lisa’s parent’s house.

Xander is finished with school. He had his Kindergarten graduation May 17, and had a great time! He has started his first year of T-Ball and is enjoying it! Keira and Xander started up their Harper County Round-up Club play days last Monday, also. It’s going to be a busy summer, as usual! We also have some very exciting news! I’m expecting Matt and I’s third baby! I am almost through the first trimester and so far so good!

Today, May 20, is nice and cool and it’s even sprinkling a little. The guys are bringing in the rest of the cows and calves and it’s so loud from the cows and can’t hear myself think!

Snow and all that goes with it – The Graves Family

We received a blizzard! Monday, February 25, was so bad that Gary and Jake were not able to get out. Once it stopped snowing they were able to feed and check the cattle the rest of the week. They said it was slow going. Jolena was able to stay home, because her office was closed due to the blizzard.

Xander and Keira at Magic Kingdom at Disney World

Xander and Keira at Magic Kingdom at Disney World

Matt, Xander, Keira, and I had left the countryside for a little city life. We had been planning this trip since November, and somehow it landed on the week of a blizzard. Our destination was Orlando, FL, and we enjoyed it a lot. We took the kids to Disney World Magic Kingdom, Gatorland, and Melbourne Beach. Our flight was early Monday morning from Wichita, Kansas, and it only drizzled a little. Tuesday we were under a tornado watch in Orlando, and we heard reports of Tampa receiving damage from that storm. It only rained on us, thankfully!

We came back to reality on Friday, March 1, and we were glad to see home. It was a great trip, but it made us very thankful for our country life!

Saturday, we jumped backed into it all and had two extra kids for the weekend. I was so thankful for the warm weather, even with the snow on the ground. It made it really fun for the kids to play and have snowball fights. Matt and Gary fought the mud all day, but got around to all the cattle to make sure they were doing well. Jake headed to the state basketball games to watch his brother.

We received 81 head of steers the first week of March. I pushed the cattle while Matt and Jake tagged and vaccinated them Thursday, March 7. Gary and Jolena headed for snow skiing in Red River, NM, with the rest of the family, which included their daughters, Jennifer, her husband Steve, and their children: Dalton, Ethan, and Ali; and Julie, and her two boys, Rustin and Tayte. They came back Sunday, March 1.

Xander and his first "tractor"

Xander and his first “tractor”

Xander got his first “tractor” this week. Matt bought an old lawnmower from our neighbor and took the deck off of it. Xander has been pulling a small disk around with it. The disk is the same one Matt used to pull around with a 4-wheeler when he was Xander’s age.

Keira and I went to Atwood’s in Woodward, OK, and bought some ducks! This will be fun! We have five and they all have been named: Mohawk, Rex, Cinderella, Stripes, and Baby. The names might be altered a little when we know if they are male or female.

Matt went to Stevens’ Bull Sale on March 9, at Carmen, OK, and bought new bulls. Gary sold our current bulls to a neighbor. He wasn’t able to bring them home because they had received rain the night before. Jake fed all the cattle that day with a little help from his brother, Trevor, and Chad, Matt’s brother-in-law. I spent the weekend visiting my parents in Ingalls, KS. The kids and I had not been to see them since Christmas. Keira and Xander were very excited about seeing Nana and Papa and had a blast playing with her cousins Carson, Brie, and Bradie.

New calf following it's momma

A New calf following it’s momma

Another 127 head of mixed bulls and steers came Tuesday, March 12, and they will get tagged and vaccinated before the week is out. Jake hauled two loads of big square corn stalk bales yesterday to Buffalo Feeders. Matt hauled two loads of corn to Ashland Feed and Seed yesterday. The guys worked some kinks out on the Rogator sprayer yesterday, and Gary started top-dressing the wheat today.

Xander had his spring program at Laverne School last night and did a great job! So did all of the elementary! Laverne is celebrating their 100th birthday this month and they are having some events on Saturday.

More calves have been born! I think there are over a dozen total. Thanks to the moisture, the wheat looks very good!

Fun and work in the snow – The Graves Family

Yay! Snow! We are so excited to get moisture. I think we received about a foot of snow. It was slow going for the guys Thursday morning, and it will be very muddy once it warms up, but it’s so much better than choking on dust all day long.

Spraying on the Graves farm.

Spraying on the Graves farm.

Gary, Matt, and Jake have been busy this week with feeding all the cattle, moving and sorting cows, finishing up spraying and harrowing the alfalfa fields. Monday, Matt and Jake moved the heifers here to the farm. They will be calving soon and it’s good to have them close. Tuesday, Gary sprayed the alfalfa field near the house before the wind got bad.

We got the report on Wednesday about snow coming. Thursday I woke to my phone going off at 5:30 a.m. with a text message reporting school was canceled. Do you think Xander slept in? NO! He gets up around 7 a.m. every morning; occasionally I have to wake him up. School was also canceled on Friday.

Keira and I spent our days in the office getting paperwork together for taxes, paying bills, filing, and entering stuff into the computer. We also cooked for the guys all week.

Matt, the kids, and I were supposed to head to Maize, KS, Thursday and spend the night, but the weather didn’t allow for that. The Maize Corporation was having training on big square balers Friday. I don’t know if they will reschedule.

The kids have enjoyed playing in the snow. We made snow ice cream. There are no big hills close to our house, so Granddad Gary took Xander, Keira and their two cousins, Rustin and Tayte Dome, on the inner tube pulled by the Ranger. I even rode one time with Keira. Snow on the horizon for Monday morning, we’ll wait and see.

An introduction – The Graves Family

Hello, I’m very excited about sharing with you about me and my family’s life on our farm. My name is Lisa Graves and I will be blogging once a week here on the Harvest Watch blog.

My husband, Matt, and I live and work at Graves Farms, LLC. We have two children, Xander, age 5 and Keira, age 2. Matt and I work with his parents, Gary and Jolena Graves. They have owned the farm for 35 years and prior to that, Gary’s parents, Doris and Gerald, lived here and owned the farm. Matt has grown up working alongside his dad. Jolena works as a Health Educator for Harper County Health Department, but still plays a vital role in the operation.

A wheat field on the Graves family's farm in the Oklahoma panhandle.

A wheat field on the Graves family’s farm in the Oklahoma panhandle.

The farm has evolved over the years, and I still get more history about it on a regular basis. Currently, we have Angus cows, run steers and heifers on pasture, dry-land farm, and have center-pivot irrigation. Our main crop is wheat, dry-land and irrigated. We also have irrigated alfalfa, irrigated corn, dry-land milo, and grow Sudan feed, both dry-land and irrigated; and we custom harvest wheat, corn, and milo.

The day-to-day operations are done by Gary, Matt, and Jake Harris. Jake has been a full-time hired man for 3 years; prior to that he worked for the farm during the summers. I cook lunch on weekdays for the guys, do the bookwork, and during harvest find myself running the swather or a tractor when needed. Jolena also helps a lot during harvest and haying. We also have neighbors and extra guys we call when the work gets extra heavy.

GravesFirstCalf2-21-13

The first calf of the season the Graves’ ranch is growing quickly.

Ours kids keep us busy on and off the farm. Xander is a kindergarten student at Laverne Elementary. He could write his own blog on everything farm. He keeps his teacher and classmates informed on the correct name of every implement you can imagine. He’s dad and granddad’s shadow and will probably be able to tear down an engine by the time he’s ten. He loves riding his 4-wheeler and hanging out on the combine during harvest.

Keira is momma and grandma’s shadow. She is a spunky, yet loving, two year old. She loves animals. I took her to “school” (daycare) during fall harvest and she gets to play with her friends. She likes to get in there with kids her own age.

GravesBabyCalf2-21-13

A newborn calf soaks up the Oklahoma Panhandle sun.

Lately, the guys have been doing the yearly maintenance on machinery, feeding cattle, checking cows, and hauling hay. They also have been working on the alfalfa fields. They have fertilized and harrowed the fields and filled in the wheel tracks made by the center-pivot irrigation system. On Tuesday, Feb 12, we received much-needed moisture in the form of snow. It came down so pretty, too.

The wheat fields have perked up a little since then, but we need more moisture, like everyone else. The cows are starting to calve. Our first calf came last week, and another was born this weekend. For the next month that will keep the guys busy, checking and tagging the calves.