Coming through the drought and into a new year with hope – The Webb Family

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A calf eating on the Webbs’ farm in the snow that fell Feb. 12, 2013

It seems like yesterday we were writing our first blog last year. And what a year it has been. We had a really wet spring then abruptly in mid-May the rains stopped coming. Our summer was one of the driest, if not the driest on record. We weaned about 85% of our winter calves the first week of August. Rains in mid-August helped set us up for timely planting in September of our rye and wheat. It grew until it ran out of moisture, then it just went kind of dormant. Our fall heifers started calving mid-September for a 60-day run. We weaned our remaining winter calves in October and began turning cattle out on rye and wheat around the first of November.

Turning bulls out

Turning bulls out

Our winter cows started calving the last week of November. We started calving our winter heifers January 10 for another 60-day run. Now, here it is February 13 and between 75 to 80% of our cows have calved and about 85% of our first calf heifers have calved.  We’re still very dry, but we have had a little moisture over the last few weeks along with a beautiful snow yesterday. The wheat and rye have perked up a little and hopefully the crop will look even better in the next couple of days due to the moisture we received from the wet 6-inch snow.

Calving and feeding cows are our main priority right now. We “top dressed” our wheat and rye a couple of weeks ago, which means we applied fertilizer to our wheat and rye. We also applied weed killer to our crops to help eliminate competition from the weeds for the precious moisture that is so hard to come by this year.

Bulls "on the job"

Bulls “on the job”

We turned bulls in with our replacement heifers December 20 for a fall calving schedule beginning October 1 for a 60-day run. We turned out bulls with our mother cows February 1 for a calving schedule beginning mid-November. We generally leave the bulls with the cows for a six-month period, but generally most will calve during the first 120 days of the calving season.

I guess everything in our operation comes full circle every year.  We’re looking forward to the year to come and hope that it rains everywhere on everybody.

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!

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.

Oklahoma Wheat Harvest – The Webb family

This past week we were looking at the readiness of the wheat in the fields and taking a few pictures.  Wade and a couple of his friends have been pulling rye out of the wheat fields when they are not at spring football practice.  Clayton and Wade have also been in the hay fields working ground.  Clayton took his first solo flight since our last blog and felt totally exhilarated by the whole experience.  He even took some video to capture the moment.  We are so proud of him!

When he’s not on a tractor working ground, Brandon has been busy getting all of the equipment ready that we use at harvest.   It is a monumental undertaking but one we look forward to each and every year.  I have been stocking up on everyone’s favorite harvest
foods, drinks and snacks.  It has been a tradition to make goody bags to keep in the combine, wheat trucks and grain cart during harvest.  This year, Wade helped me pick out the goodies when we took his truck to get serviced in Weatherford.  We actually were able to sit down and have breakfast together while we waited, which of course was a rarity as well as a delight. We did take some time off to attend the Walleye Rodeo parade to watch Wade and Gage ride their four wheelers.  We also were blessed with another inch of rain over the weekend.  After the drought last year, we will take all the rain we can get … even at harvest time.

Signs of an early harvest – The Webb family

The threat of severe weather last week had us scrambling to get everything parked in the barn before nightfall. It’s that time of year again. It’s probably a good thing that farmers are optimistic, especially considering that in the last 18 months we’ve experienced record cold, record heat, record drought, and record flooding. In our area, the old saying of “don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” has been ringing true. Of all of the various tasks that come with our job, risk management is probably among the most critical. I think having the opportunity to carry insurance on our grain crops is very important to the longevity of our operations, especially with the never ending increase in our cost of production. I know when we pay our premiums that it seems expensive, but losing the money we spend to grow a crop would take several years of net profit to recover without a safety net below us. As our legislators shape our farm policies, I continue to hope they will appreciate the amount of risks we are willing to take to successfully provide food and fiber for our nation and the world.

We were able to get two groups of cows and calves worked over the last couple of weeks. The weather was certainly nice to be working outside. Along with everything else

Loading cattle to take home to our working facilities.

being early this spring, the flies are early too. We poured fly dope on both the cows and calves and put a fly ear tag in each of the calves. It’s almost miraculous to see the flies just “disappear” by the time we’re finished working the cattle. I was pleased to see the good growth on the calves and the good shape the momma’s are carrying into the spring.

Our sons applying fly dope to our cattle to cut down on fly problems this spring.

We started custom wicking feral rye in wheat fields a few days ago. We’ve got about two weeks worth of custom hire lined up so far. We plan to start swathing our hay this week. It’s a busy time of year.

We generally start cutting wheat around the 4th of June and it looks like this year we might be finished cutting wheat by then if things continue to remain so far ahead of schedule. Only once do I remember cutting wheat in May.

Clayton has built up over 40 hours of flight time now toward his helicopter license. He will soon take his written test and then solo for the first time. We are excited with him as he progresses. Wade has 3 baseball games in a tournament at Ringwood this week.

Our son, Clayton, taking another helicopter lesson with his instructor.

Our son, Wade, pitching at a baseball game in Calumet.

Early Rye and a Bull Sale – The Webb Family

Rye in our country usually starts to head out around the third week of April, but like everything else this last year, it’s on its own schedule and it’s early.  A few farmers are starting to lay some of their rye down for hay, man it’s early.  We usually lay our rye down around April 20 but it’s fully headed now.  Typically as soon as it heads, it starts losing leaves, which is why we try to cut it when it’s about 50 to 75% headed.  It’s sometimes a

We were able to apply fertilizer and weed killer to about 400 acres of bermuda grass before a nice quarter-inch rain.

struggle to get it to cure in late April, which has me wondering what will happen laying it down this early.  We saved 160 acres to lay down for hay this spring and have decided to monitor it and let it remain standing until it starts losing leaves.  It’s not “normal” but nothing has seemed “normal” for the past 18 months.  We’re going to hay 480 acres of wheat, which will probably be earlier than usual too.  I’ll keep you posted as that gets closer.

We started fertilizing and applying weed killer to our bermuda grass.  We have about 1,000 acres to get over and we covered 400 acres before the nice quarter inch rain this morning.  We should finish up this week.  We hire an aerial sprayer to apply weed killer to

Our son, Clayton, filling the fence row sprayer.

our native pastures.  I turned in the acres yesterday, so they should get started soon. Clayton finished up our fence row spraying to keep the feral rye from getting a foothold on the edge of our wheat fields.

Cari and I went to a bull sale, B&D Herefords, on a ranch near Claflin, KS, last Tuesday.  It is our third year to buy bulls there.  We bought 3, two-year-old bulls, which they delivered to our farm.  We branded, ear tagged, and turned them out with a herd of 40 Angus cows the next day.  Pictured

Our son, Wade, and a friend move cattle to another pasture.

with one of the new bulls is a half Hereford, half Angus calf whose sire is one of the bulls we bought from B&D two years ago.  I really appreciate the good dispositions and genetics that Herefords bring to our herd.

Our heifers continue to calve daily.  We are all looking forward to them finishing up.

A hereford-cross calf out of one of the B&D bulls we bought last year.