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

Down to southeast Oklahoma – The Bain family

The Bain Family

The Bain Family

Hello fellow bloggers! We are the Bain family, your district 5 representatives. JT and Sara, along with three growing girls Mattie, Mollie,and Maccie. Here are some things we would like you to know about us. We live in Southeast Oklahoma where JT is a Farm Loan Manager for the Farm Service Agency in McAlester. He services 4 counties, and loves his youth programs! Sara is employed by Stuart Public Schools where she works as a tutor and bus driver. We are very active with our local 4-H and FFA chapters, along with our Church and community.

Feeding cattle with a tub feeder.

Feeding cattle with a tub feeder.

We run a 250-head cow/calf operation and 300 stockers. We also bale hay, wheat, and silage.  JT owns a semi tuck and cattle trailer that he rents to a friend when we are not using it. Our ranch keeps us plenty busy. We are either planting a crop, spraying weeds, harvesting a crop, calving out our mamma cows, hauling cattle or straightening out our stockers.

On the other side of our family, the girls keep us very busy as well! Mattie is a 5th grader, and is very involved with 4-H, for which she has a heifer named “The Funk,” in addition to enjoying basketball and softball. She loves messing with her calf and enjoys helping move and stack hay.

The Bain girls: Mattie, Mollie and Macie.

The Bain girls: Mattie, Mollie and Macie.

Mollie is a 2nd grader and loves her sports. She plays basketball and softball. She also enjoys taking care of our orphaned calves and helping feed with Dad.

Maccie is a kindergartner. She is full of questions about everything her Daddy is doing. She loves going in the semi to haul a load, feed with Dad, or mix feed! She is also involved in basketball and softball.

We look forward to showing you a little bit each month of what our daily operation consists of! Thanks for taking time to learn about our family!!

Getting through winter, planning for the future – The Emerson Family

As we are nearing the end of January, we realize how time truly does fly. We hope to give you a look at our operation each month for the next 12 months. The agriculture way of life is one that changes not only every month, but every day. Dealing with freezing temperatures, highs and lows of cattle prices, and drought conditions are just a few that we are facing every day. We are honored to be involved in the greatest industry, an industry that puts the clothes on your back and food on the dinner table. It is awesome opportunity to serve on the YF&R State Committee. It is a true enjoyment to look back and reflect on our operation, we hope you enjoy our “snapshot”.

The stockyards at the National Western Stock Show in Denver.

The stockyards at the National Western Stock Show in Denver.

Hi, we are Josh & Kim Emerson from Checotah, which is located in McIntosh County in Eastern Oklahoma. We are serving as the Oklahoma Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers District six committee members. We have operated a diversified cattle, hay and order-buying operation since 1998. Our cattle consist of registered Angus, Simmental, Maine-Anjou, club calves and commercial cow/calf. January has been a whirlwind with battling cold temperatures, chopping ice and getting cattle fed. We just finished up our FFA/4-H Trophy Auction and Chili feed and now are preparing for the upcoming stock shows.

Kim is the Vice President for Armstrong Bank in Checotah and serves on many community and livestock boards so January tends to get crazy in trying to prepare for upcoming spring stock shows. We just returned from a trip to the National Western Livestock Show with Zac & Amy Harris, the district two committee members to check out the up-and-coming genetics that breeders across the nation have to offer.

The vertical feed mixer that allows the Emersons to create custom feed mixes.

The vertical feed mixer that allows the Emersons to create custom feed mixes.

Due to the cold weather most every day this month, after feeding and checking cows I spend time in the barn getting equipment ready for spring. During the drought we purchased a vertical mixer that allows us to produce a total mix ration that helps the cattle produce more pounds of beef while lowering our input cost by allowing us to feed by-products and lower cost commodities.  We just this week started getting semi loads of chicken litter that will be spread on the pastures for fertilizer. This weekend we will be working and moving spring AI calving cows in and fall calvers out, our calving season starts February 15th. The majority of our spring calving cows are bred to bulls with maternal traits; our goal is to keep the best heifers out of our spring herd for replacements. Kim and I hope you enjoyed this snapshot of our operation, let’s see what happens next month!


The bird life continued, weeks three and four – The Bolen Family

A healthy bird after three weeks of feed and care. (click to enlarge)

A healthy bird after three weeks of feed and care. (click to enlarge)

We are at week three on one farm. This bird should weigh about 1.8 pounds at this point. In my opinion birds this size start going through the ugly duckling stage.  They have lost most of the fuzz and are putting on feathers.  The house temp is kept around the upper 70’s.

A four-week-old chicken on the Bolen farm.

A four-week-old chicken on the Bolen farm.

On another one of our farms, the birds are 4 weeks old. This bird should weigh about 2.9 pounds. As always, his environment is close to perfect to keep him healthy and growing well. I don’t know the actual calories per day they are getting from the feed, but I’m assuming it would be like a rib eye and baked potato plus a chocolate cake three times a day for us. That may be a stretch, but they are getting all they want any time of the day except at night when they are asleep.

A chick’s first two weeks on the farm – The Bolen Family

A chick that is less than a day old.

A chick that is less than a day old.

This baby chick is less than a day old. On day one, we keep the temperature around 90 at the floor level. Baby chicks need to be kept warm and dry and have plenty of food and water to be profitable at the end of grow-out. Chicks have part of the egg yolk still inside that provides some nourishment and immunity passed on from the mother hen. Our job is to brood them better than nature would so they survive and perform to their genetic potential.


A chick after a week on the Bolen farm.

A chick after a week on the Bolen farm.

This chick is 7 days old and should weigh about .35 of a pound at this stage. The temperature in the house has dropped to the lower 80s. He has learned to eat and drink from the automatic feed systems, so we start removing the additional feed trays placed for baby chicks.





A chick after two weeks of food, water and warmth on the Bolen farm.

A chick after two weeks of food, water and warmth on the Bolen farm.

This chick is 2 weeks old and should weigh about .85 of a pound. The house temperature is around 80 degrees. This stage of the flock is what I call the coast time. I get asked all the time what the mortality rate is. The rate for the first seven days is usually under 1 percent – most of the time 1/2 percent. Week two will drop even more if we have done a good job the first week of keeping them at a near-perfect environment.

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.

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!

The return of the feed grinder – The Bolen Family

Probably like a lot of folks, our feed grinder got brought out of retirement this past year. We had gotten lazy with somewhat cheap feed and just bought it already ground and mixed. With the high price of corn and all the added cost at the feed store, we went back to making our own ewe and lamb creep feed. We mainly dry-lot our ewes because if we allow them to graze it seems we struggle too much with internal parasites (worms).

Grinding sheep feed on the Bolen farm.

Grinding sheep feed on the Bolen farm.

We also received a new flock of baby chickens in the four houses close to our home place. We have the other four houses set a week apart, so we have the work spread over a little more time.

We are still in full-blown calving season. We have close to 60 on the ground now. In fact, I’m sitting in my pickup writing this on my iPhone waiting on and watching a first-calf heifer.

We have been blessed with rain and mild weather compared to the rest of the state. One thing that keeps concerning me is how quickly it dries out after these rains. We are normally knee-deep in mud this time of year. We will see what this next spring and summer has in store. None of our ponds are completely full. They are, however, in way better shape now than they were last fall.

Next week is our county livestock show, so I hope we are reporting success from the competition.

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.


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.


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.

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.