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

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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.

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

Seed treating, pasture mowing and planting milo – The Leonard Family

This is Kody writing. Over the past two weeks or so we have been treating seed, mowing pastures, planting milo, and preparing for wheat harvest and planting double-crop soybeans.

This week started out with my dad and sister treating approximately 1700 units of soybeans, which our customers wanted, treated for planting in the month to come. While they treated, I made a little trip to Stillwater to get my FFA Grain Production Proficiency ready for the national contest next month.

Leonards6-10-13CattleinYardMy dad on Friday finished mowing our rental pasture to keep the cows from getting pink eye from the fescue stems. Though the John Deere 8410 tractor we used to pull the 20-foot bush hog may of been over-kill, it got the job done.

If you were to ask my dad if planting milo before a 4-inch rain was a good idea, I think he would say yes. That pretty well sums up the luck we had planting milo. We will just say we have to replant it.

One of the Leonards' grain trucks clean, polished and ready to roll.

One of the Leonards’ grain trucks clean, polished and ready to roll.

We have also wrapped up the finishing touches on getting the combine and header ready for wheat harvest. I greased the combine and header, along with making one last glance to make sure we did not miss anything that needed fixed.  We have washed, serviced, polished and fueled the trucks and swept the bins.

Finally, we have fly tagged our heifers and fall-born calves to help keep pink eye and the flies in general away while we are going hard farming for the next month.

P.S. Dad says by next week at this time we will be cutting wheat in northeast Oklahoma, barring any more rain.

Greening grass and seeding rye – The Webb Family

Brandon Webb plants rye with an air seeder and tractor.

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

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

Clayton Webb fills the air seeder with rye seed.

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

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

Ready for Fall – The Fisher Family

We did get two good rains the last month.  One week we got over a inch and the next week it did the same. After the second rain, we finally had some green grass. We had nothing green for most of the summer, but it is looking better out.

I still am feeding cattle hay every day. I do not have water everywhere i have grass.  Next Monday I am going to sell calves and move the stock to new pasture. I was hoping for some more rain today, but we will see.

Two weeks ago, the day of our last rain, I planted oats, wheat and clover for fall pasture. I have a good stand, but the 100-plus-degree temperatures every day since I planted have not helped.

We have our ground ready for wheat planting as soon as we have the moisture.

The big news for our life is the upcoming wedding of our oldest son Luke and his  fiancee Chantée. I am so happy for them both.

Deja Vu – The Harris Family

Seems like we have lived through high temperatures and drought conditions with high fire dangers before!  Almost seems like last summer never ended.  It is easy to forget the blessing God gave us here in Southwest Oklahoma for the rain and conditions through the winter that promoted our blessing of a wheat crop.  So easily we can forget what He has done for us; instead, we just complain about what we need from Him.  I am confident He will continue to grow us and change us through this season as well…

The seed cleaner at work at one of our wheat bins.

With that being said, life on the farm is never ending – come rain, shine or drought!  We have cleaned seed wheat recently.  We have enough on-farm storage to almost plant our wheat acres twice.  It takes about 3 days to clean the wheat in 2 locations and in several different bins.   Jarrett Orrell is a college graduate who is trying to find his fit back in the ag sector.  He does a great job and has cleaned our wheat the last 3 years.

We have been running the no-till ripper like crazy.  We try to rip about 1/3 of our acres every year.  It takes about 2 weeks about 14 hours a day to get over about 2000 acres.  Ripping takes a lot of time at just 19 feet per pass.

The whole 19′ of ripper!  The ground is getting awfully tough and tight, but so far we have been able to continue to stick it in the ground

We still have water at all the pastures, but we are having to shift some cattle around for grass.  I take that back –  I put out the first solar pump this morning.   The grass seems to be going backwards quickly.  The pastures that were sprayed for weeds and received some “rest” seem to still be holding well.  The pastures that have been grazed hard or didn’t get sprayed are just plain weedy!  I know feed prices are getting high and several of our friends especially in the eastern side of the state are scrambling for hay and reasonable feed sources for the winter.  A farmer/rancher’s job is almost half predictions of the future.  It seems like if you plan right you can hit a home run on prices and be protected for several years, but if you don’t, it seems like you struggle for a couple just to make up what you lost that one year.

The hay barn was full enough that the equipment had to be parked outside. We are blessed – especially after all the hay we had to buy last year because of the extent of the drought

Speaking of prices – with the global drought conditions, crop prices are climbing higher and higher.  I am not really complaining of that.  I have only sold minimal wheat so far and looking like I will be holding the wheat for a while longer.  With corn and wheat climbing and the world surplus stocks getting smaller, it should also increase our grocery bills.  What happens in the agriculture sector affects all aspects of life across the world!

Our church is in vacation Bible school this week.  Amy and I are teaching the soon-to-be 5th graders. Every day we watch a video about a missionary somewhere in the world.  Last night we watched a video about the missionaries in Madagascar and about some of the remote villages that have NOTHING.  We watched as some planted by hand and some were fortunate enough with some sponsorship to have 2 cows to pull a plow behind.  Showing that most kids start working in the fields with heavy labor at around age five!  Although my kids are farm kids and have their own responsibilities to pull their weight on the farm, they are blessed enough to also have time to be carefree kids.  It’s just amazing watching the families and villages trying to farm with 1920’s technology when I am running large tractors that drive themselves thanks to current agriculture technology.  God has blessed us on where we live.  I could have easily have been born in much poorer country without the knowledge or means to farm like we do.