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

Advertisements

Ranching come snow or shine – The Mitchell Family

River Mitchell on the family ranch in southwest Oklahoma.

River Mitchell on the family ranch in southwest Oklahoma.

Hello, My name is River Mitchell and I am a fifth generation Rancher from Southwest Oklahoma. (That’s me in the picture with green grass wearing the green shirt)  I’m your “at large” State Young Farmers & Ranchers representative for district 8.

I have grown up and still live on my parents’ ranch about 25 miles northeast of Lawton, Oklahoma. I am a full-time college student at Cameron University working on my senior year, and I commute daily in order to continue helping on the ranch. The ranch is operated by my dad and brothers. I am the oldest of four boys (one of which is my twin, but I was born first, as I have been know to remind people).

Our operation consist of a starter/grow yard along with summer and winter grazing for yearlings and a commercial cow herd. Right now our biggest project is growing replacement heifers for a 2000-cow dairy farm at Fredrick, Oklahoma. So we have about 700 holstein heifers around at a time. It takes about a year for the heifers to grow from 325lbs, when we receive them, to the size for re-breeding at about 800 pounds when they leave.

As the pictures show, we use everything from dogs and horses to fourwheelers when moving cattle around. We don’t complain much about the snow or bad weather because we need the moisture. The saying goes, “There are only two things for sure in life, death and taxes,” but I would like to add “cows are always hungry”. It doesn’t matter the weather or the holiday or if you’re under the weather yourself, somebody has to feed, and most of the time, if you’re like me, that’s you. God Bless.

Making it through the snow with happy cows – The Wilcox Family

The good news about black cows and white snow? It’s easier to count the cows!

The good news about black cows and white snow? It’s easier to count the cows!

We have finally seen the last of the recent snow melt up here! Moisture is always welcome in our part of Major County, but we were really getting tired of constantly checking tank heaters, draining hoses, and drudging through the snow!

Isn’t it funny how our perspectives change as we grow older? As a child, snow meant no school & a play day with friends; nowadays it just means a longer (& colder) day of doing the everyday chores on our farm. Still, I always look forward to the first significant snowfall of the year – it’s just the second and third that get a little rough.

Cow “Cake” or Cubes

Cow “Cake” or Cubes

We always feed plenty of extra hay to our cattle before a forecasted snow storm, but we still need to check for new calves (this time of year) daily and break ice on ponds in the few pastures that don’t have rural water and tank heaters (These also can burn out/quit so they also need to be checked daily). When the temperature drops, it is important that the cattle get some additional protein in the form of “cake” or “cubes” to help them combat the cold and keep their energy up.

The good news is that the moisture brought by this snow combined with the warmer temperatures should help bring on the cheat & ryegrass. Green grass = happy cows! “Happy cows” come from more than just California! They are found in pastures just like ours all across Oklahoma.

See you next month!
Clint and Jessica Wilcox

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.

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!

Springtime and shearing time – The Bolen Family

This past month has really been its normal busy time for us.  Photo opportunities have been afterthoughts, and I apologize.

We have sent off another flock of birds for processing and have already placed a new batch this past week.  We did a complete clean-out of the litter of all our houses.  Most went straight to the pastures or hay fields, and we stored some in the barn for future use.

We have been blessed with about four inches of rain in the past week that will really get the summer grasses going.  We also got our 70 yearling heifers artificially inseminated the past couple of weeks.  We also turned all our bulls out for the sixty- to ninety-day breeding season for our older cows.  Our next project with the cows will be to get them all wormed and the calves processed with vaccines and castration of the bull calves.

Also, all our hay fields are ready to be baled.  On any given day between now and frost we will be tending to our normal chores in the poultry houses and baling hay.  I really enjoy the haying season, though.  I love the challenge of making superior quality hay for livestock consumption.

The girls have finished school and will be deciding which lambs they will show this summer and fall.  I missed a photo of the sheep shearing processes, which happened about two weeks ago.  We hire a contractor to shear the wool off all our sheep annually.  It is a very labor intensive, back-breaking job, but the guy we use does it like a pro.  He gathers the wool in large sacks and sends to a processor for us to sell.  The wool brings a little less than what it cost to have them sheared, but the ewes really need the wool removed before the really hot part of summer.

Hopefully over the coming weeks I will do a better job of slowing down and getting some more photos to share.  In the meantime, I would encourage you to Google YouTube videos of folks shearing sheep.  It amazes me how fast some of these folks can shear a sheep.

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.