Fall harvest and fall planting – The Wilcox Family

Since we utilize no-till production practices, we burned the last two years wheat stubble on this farm to give our canola stand a better chance at surviving the winter.

Since we utilize no-till production practices, we burned the last two years wheat stubble on this farm to give our canola stand a better chance at surviving the winter.

Fall is a busy time here on our farm. We are running about three different directions at the same time! We have finished up cutting our sorghum (milo) and started planting canola as of late Sunday night. Hopefully we will catch a rain here before too long, we have missed the last two, and while we are not terribly dry at this point, last years drought is still too close for comfort. Bring on the hurricane rain!

September is also full of meetings for us. We host crop insurance meetings, attend our county’s annual Farm Bureau meeting, and this year we have the addition of Farm Bill 2014 meetings. We are proud that our Representative Frank Lucas found a way to overcome a dysfunctional Congress and pass the 2014 Farm Bill into law, but now we farmers have to make lots of decisions that will affect us for the next 5 years (at least). I love fall, but I’ll be ready for winter so we can slow down a little.

Till next time… Clint and Jessica Wilcox

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April snow showers bring May flowers? – The Wilcox Family

A late snowstorm on April 14 and subsequent freeze raises questions about canola and wheat in 2014.

A late snowstorm on April 14 and subsequent freeze raises questions about canola and wheat in 2014.

This is the scene in one of our canola fields this morning. We had a skiff of snow fall last night and this morning (April 14, 2014). While this is surprising, it’s not too unusual for us to have a little snow in April (last year it snowed a little on the 1st or 3rd of May). What makes this year’s late freeze so brutal is that our wheat has not had significant moisture since September of 2013 and the drought has stressed the wheat so much that it has literally went from a month behind to right on schedule in ONE WEEK! The canola is drought stressed also, but it seems to handle late freezes better than wheat does, generally speaking.

Getting the planter prepared to plant milo (grain sorghum) on failed canola.

Getting the planter prepared to plant milo (grain sorghum) on failed canola.

On a more optimistic note, Clint has been getting our planter geared up and ready to plant milo on the acres of canola that froze out earlier this winter. Hopefully the weather will permit us to grow a good crop of milo. We were planning on planting Milo (also called grain sorghum) early this year, but with no moisture in the soil profile and a not-so-promising weather outlook we are probably going to push our planting itinerary back and pray for the El Nino they keep talking about this fall.

We did a little prescribed burning on a Bermuda grass field early this month. Burning off the old growth and “thatch” accumulation will help control weeds, allow the new growth to take off sooner, and allow us to harrow the field to make it smoother for us to cut, rake, and bale more efficiently.

When I started talking to Clint about what to write about this month I didn’t think I had much to write about, but looking back we’ve been pretty busy. I think we are just getting ready for the craziness that is May!

Prescribed burning of bermuda grass mimics natural cycles.

Prescribed burning of bermuda grass mimics natural cycles.

Photo feature: Pasture management with fire – The Harris Family

In the spring when we come to visit Amy’s parents she gets all juiced up! Because all the big ranches are burning their pastures off as part of their grass management program. So here’s a few pics!

Pasture burning can be an important management tool for ranchers.

Pasture burning can be an important management tool for ranchers. The prescribed burning replicates natural prairie processes of renewal.

 

Flames during a nighttime burn are visible for miles.

Flames during a nighttime burn are visible for miles.

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!

Fires all around – The Fisher Family

A hay bale smolders after the Fisher family’s baler caught fire.

We have had two equipment fires recently. I lost my round baler and the neighbor who sold me the baler lost his tractor. Both could have been saved if a good fire extinguisher had been available. When our round baler caught fire I panicked and couldn’t push the computer button twice in a row to get the bale out until it was too late. The local volunteer fire department from Slick did a great job with getting to us fast. Without them the fire would have reached the cornfield.

The neighbor’s Kubota tractor caught fire while driving down the road. The gauges were jumping around and there was a burning smell, so the driver got off to look, and when he popped the hood he opened a fire ball. Two of my kids had just pulled onto the road to come home for lunch and called me. They were able to pull the baler away with their 4 wheel drive.

Although the Fishers’ neighbor’s tractor burned, they were able to detach the baler.

We still have our farms but it was a close call, too much adrenaline for me! Both were such sad losses, but nothing like what is happening right here in Creek County.

Hundred of homes, barns, balers, tractors, hay and cattle were all destroyed by fires in the past few weeks. We appreciate our volunteer fire department that keeps a sharp eye out for smoke We are also stocking up on bigger and better fire extinguishers.

 

 

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.