Teaching safety and a naming contest – The Webb Family

The Blaine County Conservation District sponsored and organized the Farm Safety Day again this year at the fairgrounds on April 30.  The areas addressed were ATV, Fire, Chemical, Animal, First Aid and Tractor Safety.

Sparky walking the line of kids, which he has done for the past seven years.

Sparky walking the line of kids, which he has done for the past seven years.

Brandon and I taught about the importance of “Animal Safety” on the farm to over 130 4th grade students from Canton, Geary, Okeene and Watonga schools.  Since we have been doing this for the past seven years, our farm animals have become quite popular, namely Sparky, Wade’s 140-pound golden retriever. You might say he is the star of the show on Farm Safety Day.  This past year, he has become rather slow and arthritic and I was concerned that he would be fatigued by having to “perform” all day for seven groups of kiddos.  Therefore, I requested he be allowed to stay home and rest and we bring another one of our canine family members.  My request was denied.  However, a compromise was reached that he go and be allowed to sit where he pleased and allow the students to go up to him versus me taking him by his leash and leading him along the line where the kids stand. Our first class came in that morning and remarkably, as if on cue, when Brandon started talking about farm dogs, Sparky arose from where he had been resting, ambled over to the kids and started making his way right down the line, just like he had done for the past seven years.  Once again proving, he was the star of the show.

Introducing Midnight, the bottle calf, who was named by students.

Introducing Midnight, the bottle calf, who was named by students.

Another fun thing we were able to do this year was have the students name the bottle calf we had brought along with us.  Brandon and Clayton were checking cattle in the helicopter one day prior to Safety Day, and had seen him in one of the pastures all alone.  When they went to check on him, they deduced he was a twin and that his momma had gone off with her other calf, thus leaving this little guy to fend for himself.

Throughout the course of the day, we had the students give us names for the calf and at the end of the day there was a two-way tie between the names “Midnight” and “Hank.”  While the students were all gathered to take photos before they left to go back home, we had a tie breaker by show of hands and hollers.  Midnight prevailed.

He has now been joined by another orphaned twin.  Her name has yet to be decided.  Any suggestions?

Working cattle and getting ready for haying – The Webb Family

Clayton Webb is in the process of getting his commercial helicopter pilot license.

Clayton Webb is in the process of getting his commercial helicopter pilot license.

April is here and we’ve been blessed with some good moisture this spring. Things are greening up and we are getting busy.  We worked our first set of calves on one of our herds of momma cows the other day and will continue working them a herd at a time in hopes of finishing up by the end of the month.  This is the first time they have been worked since being born.   We brand and vaccinate them for several diseases, de-horn any that might have horns, castrate the bull calves, and deworm and start fly control on them in the form of ear tags treated with a fly killer.   When we wean them in several months, we will re-vaccinate them and deworm them again.

Removing cedars from pastureland.

Removing cedars from pastureland.

We have also been getting our hay equipment ready to go.  We’ll start laying down wheat for hay in a few weeks so we’ll want our swather, rake, and balers in top condition.  With the rains we’ve received, it looks like we will have a good hay crop.  The past two years of extreme drought have kept our hay supply on the low side.  Our biggest priority this spring and summer will be building up an ample supply of hay for the coming winter and trying to put up enough hay to establish a good carryover into the next year.  We began fertilizing and applying weed killer to our Bermuda grass pastures, and we’ll apply weed and brush control chemicals on our native grass pastures in a few weeks.

Clayton uses a helicopter to check the farm from the air.

Clayton uses a helicopter to check the farm from the air.

Clayton passed his test in March and now has his private helicopter license. He is pursuing a commercial license and hopes to get it accomplished in the next few months.  Having a helicopter in our farming and ranching operation has proven quite beneficial.  He regularly checks pastures, cattle, and fences from the air, greatly reducing the hours spent on those jobs.  He has also been scouting our wheat fields for any problems they might incur.  He has put in a good bit of time cutting and stacking cedars in pastures this spring too.  Some has been custom work for other land owners and some in our own pastures.  The cedars are quite a problem and will take over a pasture without a good management program.  Not only do cedars rob the pasture of precious ground water, but they are also an extreme fire hazard in the heat of the summer as well as in the dry of winter.

Baseball season is winding down, and son Wade is anxious to start back on the farm.

Baseball season is winding down, and son Wade is anxious to start back on the farm.

Wade is winding down his baseball season.   He really enjoys playing.  He pitches, catches, and plays second base.  His team is in a tournament at Ringwood this week.  He is anxious for school to wrap up so he can start working.  He has spearheaded a lot of spring cleaning work around the farm.  It is always nice to get things back to a clean and organized state.

Late February snow makes life difficult – The Webb Family

The Webb family feeding cows in the snow.

The Webb family feeding cows in the snow.

Monday, February 26th brought with it 3 inches of rain followed by 12-15 inches of snow. The winds got up to 40 mph causing quite a blizzard. Wade and I had put out a good amount of hay Sunday afternoon in case the snowstorm came in like the forecasters had predicted. Monday afternoon we were sure glad we had done so. We purposely keep our mother cows in pastures where they can find protection from the wind in wooded areas during the winter months. So when a storm like that hits, we leave the cattle alone until it passes over.

We woke up Tuesday to clearing skies and a blanket of white. We fed with two tractors and a pickup. I had a dozer blade on the tractor I was in and pushed open a trail. Some of the snow drifts were over 5 feet tall. Wade followed in a pickup with 2 bales of hay and a box of cattle feed and Clayton followed in a tractor carrying 3 bales of hay. We started about 8 that morning and rolled in around 7 that evening.

We lost our electricity Monday at 12:30 pm. We hooked up a generator later that afternoon and ran it until Saturday evening. Wednesday’s feeding ran about the same. Thursday we were able to feed with two pickups and one tractor, which sped up the feeding quite a bit. Most of the snow was melted off by Sunday afternoon. We ended up with a little over 4 inches worth moisture and are thankful for every bit of it.

Coming through the drought and into a new year with hope – The Webb Family

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A calf eating on the Webbs’ farm in the snow that fell Feb. 12, 2013

It seems like yesterday we were writing our first blog last year. And what a year it has been. We had a really wet spring then abruptly in mid-May the rains stopped coming. Our summer was one of the driest, if not the driest on record. We weaned about 85% of our winter calves the first week of August. Rains in mid-August helped set us up for timely planting in September of our rye and wheat. It grew until it ran out of moisture, then it just went kind of dormant. Our fall heifers started calving mid-September for a 60-day run. We weaned our remaining winter calves in October and began turning cattle out on rye and wheat around the first of November.

Turning bulls out

Turning bulls out

Our winter cows started calving the last week of November. We started calving our winter heifers January 10 for another 60-day run. Now, here it is February 13 and between 75 to 80% of our cows have calved and about 85% of our first calf heifers have calved.  We’re still very dry, but we have had a little moisture over the last few weeks along with a beautiful snow yesterday. The wheat and rye have perked up a little and hopefully the crop will look even better in the next couple of days due to the moisture we received from the wet 6-inch snow.

Calving and feeding cows are our main priority right now. We “top dressed” our wheat and rye a couple of weeks ago, which means we applied fertilizer to our wheat and rye. We also applied weed killer to our crops to help eliminate competition from the weeds for the precious moisture that is so hard to come by this year.

Bulls "on the job"

Bulls “on the job”

We turned bulls in with our replacement heifers December 20 for a fall calving schedule beginning October 1 for a 60-day run. We turned out bulls with our mother cows February 1 for a calving schedule beginning mid-November. We generally leave the bulls with the cows for a six-month period, but generally most will calve during the first 120 days of the calving season.

I guess everything in our operation comes full circle every year.  We’re looking forward to the year to come and hope that it rains everywhere on everybody.

Greening grass and seeding rye – The Webb Family

Brandon Webb plants rye with an air seeder and tractor.

Oh, what a difference a rain makes!  My normally, positive attitude was taking a swan dive just a short, few weeks ago.  I was irritated at the weather and the fact that we had suffered such a hot, miserable summer last year and somehow we were having to endure yet another summer of much the same conditions.  However, a few rain showers later and my faith has been renewed. The grass pastures have greened up a bit and the guys started planting rye over the weekend.

There is always an underlying rhythm that comes with planting and harvesting, and most generally, we all fall into place during those frenzied times. Tractors and trucks run in and out of our home place like busy, little ants to refill, refuel and retool.  One tractor spreads fertilizer while another is in the field cultivating and then comes the mother of all machines..the wheat drill (usually run by dad).

Clayton Webb fills the air seeder with rye seed.

My job is gopher which usually is all-encompassing.  Go take food to the field, go check water, go open/close a gate, go leave a truck here or there, go get parts in Enid or Kingfisher, go get so and so from the field and take them to such and such.   You get the idea.

With sowing comes the much anticipated cooler weather and of course, a renewed excitement for the harvest that will take place months down the road.  Oh, what a difference a rain makes!

Adapting and overcoming – The Webb Family

We plan our work, and work our plan, but in a business in which we rely so much on the weather we have to be willing and ready to adapt our plan to overcome the obstacles that are placed in front of us at times.  I tell the boys that everything we do is on purpose, even though at times it seems like we’re flying by the seat of our pants.

The Webb family’s water truck.

The boys and I bought some hose and fittings to make our nurse truck capable of fighting fire.  We put together a 50 foot hose with a firemen’s nozzle that hooks to our transfer pump.  We can carry 3,200 gallons of water and thought it would be wise to keep it full of water and in the barn to be ready at a moments notice.  Fires are becoming much too common this summer.  Clayton was able to take our truck to a couple of different fires Friday to help keep the tankers full that provide water for the fire fighter crews that were fighting fires close to a couple of places we farm.  He and one of his cousins have provided water, moved hay, drug off cedars, and have helped out where they could these last few weeks.  One of our local firemen said that when some slots came open that maybe he and his cousin might be interested in joining our volunteer fire department.  I told him I think that would be a great way to serve our community.  My hat’s off to the firefighters who so selflessly give of their time and energy to help keep us all safe.

Cattle are the backbone of our operation so this summer definitely has us on edge.  It is August 5th and the drought here in northwest Oklahoma is sure taking its toll.  We continue to pray for rain.  Our pastures are “crunchy” when walked upon.  We still have a little green but brown is the more prevalent color.  It looks like January when looking out of the kitchen window but definitely doesn’t feel like it when we step outside.

Feeding hay to a set of cows.

We began pulling calves off of our winter calving cows July 23rd.  We weaned about 90% of the calves and took about 10% back to their mothers, we’ll leave them on until October.  They were a little too young to wean at this point.  Most of the calves we are weaning were born in December, January, and February.  They’ll average 6 ½ months old and weigh around 550 lbs.  Yesterday we weaned 2 out of 3 sets of our first calf heifers.  Their calves average 5 months old and weigh about 400 lbs.  Normally we don’t wean calves until the first of October but leaving them would take too much condition off their mothers, especially the first calf heifers.  They only have 2 front teeth and are still maturing themselves. We generally always wean their calves a little early because of this.

To compensate taking the calves off the cows, we ordered 4 loads of 14% protein medicated pellets from A&M Feeds in Stillwater.  Clayton went and trucked them home last week and put them in overhead bins.  We got enough to last through the end of September at which point we’ll assess our fall pasture outlook and either carry the calves over or sell them.  At that point, they will be 60 days weaned and will bring at the top of where the market is then.  I hope to have rye up 6 inches tall and all the wheat in the ground by then.  If we do, we’ll plan to keep the calves and run them until January.

Cows enjoying the hay put out for them.

Even though they are turning brown, we have pretty good growth on some of our pastures but some are getting pretty short. We have started feeding a little wheat hay to the cows on the short pastures. We also have some late spring calving cows that we won’t plan to wean calves from until November and we will also feed them some additional hay along with their protein supplement.  There is already a big demand for feed with the drought being so widespread.  We took delivery on 2 loads of 20% protein cubes to feed our cows on the dry pastures, we had a little over a load in the bin but I don’t want to get behind.  Last year the feed mills got about a month out on their feed.  We might offer some liquid supplement on some of our pastures with good growth to keep the cows spread out.  At this point, I have no absolutes.

With optimism in the forefront, we started applying lime on about 500 acres of wheat ground.  The ph in these fields was beginning to dip below 5.  We are utilizing the grid sampling we did after harvest and are using variable rate application to shoot for a target of 6 in these fields.  We applied lime on about 500 of our acres a year ago spring in front of some milo.  On one of those fields, about 100 acres in size, we had the opportunity to run a grid sample for ph and variable rated the lime application which kind of helped nudge us over the hump to start grid sampling everything.  On the other fields we just applied a general 1.75 to 2 tons of lime per acre field wide.   We more than saved enough money putting the lime where we needed it to pay for the grid sampling cost on the mentioned field.  I’m hoping by embracing the technologies and resources we have at our disposal that we will be able to be much more profitable in the end by better utilizing our nutrient inputs more efficiently.

Our seed cleaner came and cleaned our seed wheat a couple of weeks ago.  We have Duster and Bullet wheat varieties on hand to plant this fall.  We’ll plant a couple more varieties to see how they’ll perform for us.  We generally have 2 varieties on most of our acres and like to introduce 1 or 2 new varieties each year on limited acres to keep our options open.  I’ve got a couple loads of Maton rye to plant on our rye acres.

Fires have become too common.

It’s hard to believe August is already here.  Wade starts school Wednesday which is as early as I remember school starting.  He has been lifting weights most of the summer for football and is anxious to begin practices.  Clayton passed his written test a couple weeks ago and is now waiting to take his “check ride” to obtain his private helicopter license.  He has worked hard and is ready to get this step behind him.  He will then continue on with his commercial training.   We bought a helicopter from a farmer in Kansas.  It is identical to the 2-seater he has been training in.  We crunched the numbers and decided it would be more cost effective in our case to own a machine instead of leasing one as he logs in hours of flight time towards his commercial license.  We are converting a lean-to on one of our barns into a hanger to store the helicopter in.  Cari continues to haul water to the trees around the house we planted last year.  We decided on a drip system for the flower beds last year which has kept the flowers alive and beautiful during the hot, dry days.

I hope the next couple of weeks finds all of us enjoying some much-needed rain.  September’s getting closer so we know cooler temps should be on the way.  So until next time, make every day a good day.

A hot, dry summer – and a fire – The Webb Family

Summer is definitely here.  100+ degree days are far too familiar and unfortunately more are on the way.  I hope we’re not in for a repeat of last summer.  I am so very thankful that we were able to get as much wheat and rye hay put up this year as we did.  That will help immensely.

We are getting quite dry here.  We abandoned our plans to plant 450 acres of milo. I just didn’t think we had the moisture to risk the expense.  We planted 140 acres of hay grazer and pearl millet for hay though.  We got it in on June 11.  It’s about a foot tall now and looks pretty good but is starting to show some stress due to the heat and lack of rainfall.

Our grass is starting to lose its green.  Some of it is starting to turn a little brown.  I think we will wean the calves off the cows early like we did last summer because of the drought like conditions that appear to be setting up again this year.  They are forecasting a chance of rain early next week.  I hope and pray that we will receive a good rain.

With things getting so dry, the threat of fires is becoming more prevalent. Clayton and I took two  pickups and went to one of our neighbors farms about 10 miles away and helped him move about 150 round bales out of the path of a wildfire that started over the 4th of July.  We arrived about 30 minutes after receiving the call for help and it was truly a blessing to find half a dozen other neighbors and friends already there helping to move his hay. Fortunately, he had his bales in stacks of about 50 with a separation between stacks.  He lost one of the stacks to the fire but the others were spared.