Cowboying in Canada – River Mitchell

Wow, what a summer it has been! It’s back to the university for the last semester of my college career, trying to get back into the swing of studying and feeding cows. I thought you guys might like to hear about what I did this summer!

Highs in Saskatchewan were in the mid-40s when Mitchell arrived.

Highs in Saskatchewan were in the upper-40s when Mitchell arrived.

I had the opportunity to spend most of summer in Canada with family friends, the Slades, who ranch in south central Saskatchewan. It is always neat to go see new areas and different ways of doing things, so I jumped at the offer to go stay with them for the summer! Let me tell you the first thing I noticed when I arrived was even though it was nice and balmy in May in Oklahoma, in Canada it was still in the upper 40’s for daytime highs! You can bet the long handles came out pretty quick! Lucky for me I was only there a week and it started warming up. (I will stick a picture in of when I arrived where you can barely see any green grass and some snow in another. Also a cowboy with sheepskin chaps standing on a porch, don’t see that real often in Oklahoma!). There is so much I got to do, learn, and see this summer! I will start with the Ranch.

Tall grass due to frequent rains.

The Slade’s ranch is 12,000 acres, half of which is deeded and the other half is owned and managed for Ducks Unlimited (DU) Canada as a Conservation Ranch. In the summer operation, the ranch custom grazes about 1000 cow calf pairs and 800 yearlings. The cattle are grazed in a rotational system in 160-acre paddocks (a quarter section of land). Stocking rate is about 30 pairs per paddock and half that on DU land. Typically around 200 pairs in a herd and the cattle would be left in the paddock 5 to 10 days depending on grass and cattle condition. The paddock is typically grazed twice through the summer. One of the neat things about the rotational system on the ranch is that no fertilizer is being used on the grazing side. (The picture of jeep is really tall grass!) Alfalfa makes up 20 to 50% of the forage in the fields, giving a nitrogen boost to the surrounding grasses. Also the herd sizes are big enough that the fields gets a decent stomping and manure and urine put back into the ground, which has an enriching effect. The ranch custom-grazes herds from May through October and retains a small herd of cows for the winter. (Notice the pictures of the cowherds, predominantly Angus influenced)

Michell9-4-14StormCloudsThe Slades also cut about 3000 acres of hay that is imported into dry areas of the U.S. Haying normally begins around the middle of July and goes to end of August. Rain is a big factor in putting up quality hay, it rained on average 4 days a week for 6 weeks straight, starting June 15th. Let me tell you I am from Southwest Oklahoma and didn’t think I would ever see that much rain!

Branding on the Slade Ranch.

Branding on the Slade Ranch.

Some of my favorite times this summer were the calf brandings! I was used to processing (vaccinating, branding, worming, etc.) cattle through a squeeze chute, but that is sure not how they do it up north! The calves are sorted off their mothers into a pen that is about three times longer than it is wide. Then cowboys on horseback rope them by the heels and drag them by a Northfork (hook that goes over the calf’s head) that is tied to a rope and staked to the ground and the calf is stretched and held by the horse and heeler (I will put a few branding pictures in of brandings). This immobilizes the calf allowing him to be processed without the use of a chute. All that is required is a cowboy skilled with a rope! The neighboring ranches all help at each other’s brandings. It is a social event as much as work, with lots of food and storytelling going on after the brandings. There is also a competition factor to see who the top ropers are and lots of pointers being given to the younger guys. It was really neat to be around such talented cowboys.

So basically it was an awesome summer! Hope you enjoy the pictures!

Be Blessed,
River Mitchell

The last of bermuda hay and show season in full swing – The Bolen Family

Baling the last of the 2013 Bermuda hay on the Bolen farm.

Baling the last of the 2013 Bermuda hay on the Bolen farm.

The first week of September we baled our last cutting of Bermuda grass for the season. We could probably get an October cutting, but we will use the last growth for our weaned calves. Usually we will cut the last cutting close to the end of September or first of October. This year has really been a good hay year, so we have satisfied our customer base and are happy for a break. The alfalfa will have to be cut at least one more time though.

The girls’ show season is in full swing. We attended our county fair the first week of September. They showed a total of seven sheep, and two sheep made the sale. This past week we attended the Oklahoma/Arkansas state fair in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. All three girls took two sheep apiece. They had three class winners, two second place and a dough place. As the picture shows, Bay had reserve champion cross and third-best overall. All three girls received super showman awards as well.

Bay Bolen with her reserve champion cross and third-best overall lamb at the Oklahoma/Arkansas state fair in Ft. Smith, Arkansas.

Bay Bolen with her reserve champion cross and third-best overall lamb at the Oklahoma/Arkansas state fair in Ft. Smith, Arkansas.

We really enjoy the livestock showing program as a family. As a parent, there are numerous learning opportunities surrounding these events. I could write a book on the lessons I think our girls have learned by this program. I’m sure Myndi and I have learned a thing or two along the way as well. I guess the main thing they have learned is that you have to stay dedicated and disciplined to have success.  I also believe we are enjoying the journey as a family, and it just doesn’t get much better than that.

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.

Catchin’ Up – The Harris Family

Okay, we have done a poor job throughout the summer updating after wheat harvest, but we’ve taken some great notes so hopefully we can get caught up.

 Late June

Navigating a road in between fields in the sprayer.

Navigating a road in between fields in the sprayer.

June was crazy.  We felt like we were always behind schedule. Although as farmers, we should know by now we don’t make the rain or grow the crops. It’s only by the grace and the perfection of God that we get to keep our jobs year after year. Wheat harvest finished late June, just in time for me to go with the family to Kenda’s state softball tournament. They qualified to go last year and during the regular season had beaten the state runner up. This season didn’t end the way we would have liked – both the state runner up and the state winners in 8U OKKIDS league were on our side of the bracket. They were great teams and we had a blast in Preston, OK, for the last weekend in June. But I had plenty to do when that was finished. Remember, harvest was a month behind my schedule so I hit the road running in July.

July

July seems like a blur. I had planned to take the family on some sort of vacation, but making a living by providing a safe food and fiber supply didn’t allow for that this year. July consisted of much-needed rain, planting only one field to double-crop cotton, spraying, as well as time in the alfalfa field and several doses of working and moving cattle.

A section of sprayer boom.

A section of sprayer boom.

When it rains it gives the weed seed an opportunity to grow – like crazy.  So that means if weeds are growing they are taking nutrients and water from the soil that needs to be used to grow a high-quality consumable product. We had 6 inches of rain in the month of July, so lots of time on the sprayer.  No complaints about the rain because we are thankful for every drop. The cattle had some pond water so we were able to give our solar paneled wells a break.

Also, July was full of planning and preparing; we have decided to jump on the canola band wagon. So that automatically means we had to buy a new planter. Our no-till air seeders aren’t capable of planting canola seed. We are very excited about the new addition to Harris Farms.

August

August has been an interesting month to say the least. The beginning of the month I was spraying, which seemed like it was taking forever because of the small showers of rain and the high temperatures. I can’t spray if the ground is wet because I don’t want to cause the ground to be compacted or risk washing off the chemical I put down. I also can’t spray if the wind is blowing more than about 17 mph or if the temperature is above 95 degrees Fahrenheit. So spraying 6000 acres in late July and August has its own difficulties.

The fire in the pasture.

The fire in the pasture.

One day we are trying to mend the boom on the sprayer. My sprayer has a span of 120 feet, so I have basically 60 feet of boom on each side. I have to be careful of any and all obstacles.  Sprayer booms take a beating even under the most careful eye. My dad and a hired hand are helping fix some areas in how the boom folds up and my 85 year old grandfather calls and says, “Hey, I’ve gotten hung up in a draw trying to spray mesquite trees. I need a tractor to pull the pick up out”. We say we’re kinda busy and it’s gonna be a little bit. He calls back 2 minutes later and says, ” Come now! I’ve got a fire”!  Well it didn’t end pretty as you can see by the pictures. Apparently, he was a little too impatient and got the ground hot with his tires and the grass caught fire.  Around the farm, accidents happen and we need to always be aware of our surroundings.

So now that I’ve told on my grandfather I might as well share about my mishap.

Simply put, because of a mechanical error on a swather, the swather wrecked while I was driving. Luckily, I wasn’t on a bridge or by the creek or meeting a vehicle. The drive chain came loose and I had no way to control the swather.  It safely turned into to the ditch and we stopped hard. The kids had been missing time with me, or that’s the story, so I had Kenda and Rylan with me.  I think it’s because Amy had started the homeschool year back in early August and they wanted a break for the morning. So with homework in hand they came to farm for school work in the tractor that day. They haven’t asked since to ride with me. Although, I’m certain with the couple days of milo harvest coming this weekend that will change. The kids, all three of them, from the infancy stage have all enjoyed harvesting crops.

Upcoming

A new planter on the Harris' farm.

A new planter on the Harris’ farm.

This fall appears to have its own full calendar. We will harvest milo, go to Washington D.C., plant canola and hopefully finish in time to plant our wheat that we use for winter grazing. Then we will plant the rest of the wheat just in time to harvest the cotton before the expected hard winter sets in. Amy likes it if I can be around for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas!

I mentioned I am going to Washington, D.C. It’s going to be a quick trip, September 8-11. We will get to discus with our elected officials how the backbone of providing a safe, consumable product is going and see how they are doing in our nation’s capitol.  Amy and I were privileged to be able to go to D.C. in 2008 with Farm bureau and loved every minute of it. It is a great trip to see how the grassroots organization fights for our right to farm and ranch everyday.

Before I head to D.C., Kenda will show her prospect steer at the county fair. She is very excited. I am too! I can’t believe she is old enough, but very excited about what the future holds. It looks busy!

The heat, haying and hard work – The Bolen family

Alfalfa hay in windrows.

Alfalfa hay in windrows.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but our days just run together during the summer months.  Whether we are tending to our chickens or baling hay or messing with the sheep or whatever.

We have completed our third cutting on most all of our hay fields.  We had some rain early in June and the end of May, but I think we have been about three weeks with zero rain.  We did have a few days that the humidity and temperature were low but that quickly changed.  We are back to highs in the mid 90’s and humidity levels above 40 percent.

The alfalfa has been yielding pretty well, but I’ve been having to irrigate it more than I would like.  The bermuda grass is doing well with good yields as well.

Thinning the Bolens' thick patch of pecan trees.

Thinning the Bolens’ thick patch of pecan trees.

The picture of the pecan trees is something I have always put on the back burner.  In the fall of 1999, a neighbor who harvested nuts for a living had a large pile of nuts that didn’t make the grade for some reason.  I asked him what he was going to do with them, he said burn them probably.  I asked if I could haul them off and he told me to have at it.  I had a piece of ground that I thought needed trees on it, so I loaded this pile up and spread them with my poultry litter spreader and disked them in.  I really think two trees came up for every seed.  I couldn’t believe how thick of a stand I had.  So that fall I took the brush hog and made a sort of rows out of the thick stand, leaving about a two-foot strip of trees every twenty five feet or so and then every summer just kept mowing the same path.  So this summer I hired a guy with a mulcher attachment to thin in between them.  I’m sure I left them too thick, but I’m also thinking of digging some up to transplant to other places or sell.

Our cattle are doing well and we have almost decided which lamb each of our girls will be showing this fall and next spring.

Using a tedder to help bermudagrass  hay cure.

Using a tedder to help bermuda grass hay cure.

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!

Haylage time – The Bolen Family

The first cutting of alfalfa on the Bolen farm. Swathed alfalfa is on the left.

The first cutting of alfalfa on the Bolen farm. Swathed alfalfa is on the left.

We caught a window of dry enough weather to cut and bale our first cutting of alfalfa for haylage. This is the first crop of alfalfa we have had in years. We generally cut ryegrass this early to make our haylage. We expect we will have to make haylage out of the second cutting as well. Our springs are usually way too wet for curing about any hay crop so the haylage process is a must for us to capture as much quality as possible.

We are blessed to be caretakers of God’s creation. We strive daily to be efficient producers of food for a needy world. Every day is Earth Day on our farm.  We have set aside about 70 acres of our place as buffer zones for creeks with about 20 acres of young pecan trees.

Making haylage on the Bolen farm. Haylage allows high-moisture hay to ferment in a plastic wrapping, providing the benefits that silage has.

Making haylage on the Bolen farm. Haylage allows high-moisture hay to ferment in a plastic wrapping, providing the benefits that silage has.