Kicking off 2014 – The Williams Family

Editor’s Note: This year’s Harvest Watch blog will feature posts from Oklahoma Farm Buraeu’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee members. These young agriculturalists live across our state and will share their views on agriculture as they tell their personal stories.

For more information about the Williams family, visit the Meet the Families page. Information about this year’s participants will be added with their first blog post.

The Williams Family

The Williams Family

The fire is lit, the cattle are fed, the wheat is fertilized, and the holiday season has come to a close. Here on the Williams’ Farm it is time to prepare and plan for the year ahead. This year our family has been elected to serve the state YF&R in the position as Chairman.  For the New Year, our committee of young agriculturists wanted to allow readers the opportunity to experience our daily lives…basically giving agriculture a face and a story. Each member of our committee has different interests and operations that contribute to the 2nd largest economy in Oklahoma.

Morgan and Ava.

Morgan and Ava.

Our farming operation is located near Red Rock, Oklahoma, established in 2004.  In ten years we have gone through many changes and growing pains, and feel very blessed to be the operation we are today. I, Martin Williams, and my wife, Crystal, daughter Ava, and son Morgan are an integral part of this farm.   For this month’s blog, Crystal and I will each contribute so you will see through the lens of a 6th + generation farmer and a young farm wife who grew up in town with no ag background. We currently raise winter wheat, winter canola, corn, soybeans, barley, grain sorghum, alfalfa, pecans, cattle, and a little hay.  We also sell commercial soybean, corn, and sorghum seed, and have a small business of controlling algae in lagoons at the Phillips 66 oil refinery in Ponca City, OK.  Sounds like a lot, and it is, but with three exceptional employees and other part-time help, it is a very enjoyable way of life.

In the ten years we have farmed, every year has brought significant changes, which we hope to share in a later post. Generally at this time, all of the crops have typically been harvested and the winter crops planted. This year we harvest various crops from May-November. January is typically a slower time for us. Last year at this time we were harvesting pecans…this year we haven’t started yet.

Spring seed orders slowly trickle in, but for the most part we are maintaining equipment and feeding cattle.

Feeding in the snow presents many challenges.

Feeding in the snow presents many challenges.

This past weekend we had record-low temps. Monday morning the outside temperature as many of you know, was -7 degrees. Feeding cows was a challenge, as Marty’s pickup had trouble starting due to the temperature causing the diesel to turn to gel. Therefore, plans changed as far as getting different vehicles out to feed and break ice.

The guys are also hard at work in the shop finishing up re-building portions of a worn-out no-till drill (John Deere 1850, 30ft with 48 rows). It’s taken about 2 weeks, about 40 man hours to complete this particular job.

There are mechanic jobs that the guys can do themselves, depending on the time of year, and other jobs that we depend on other mechanics to complete. For instance our John Deere 4020 sat outside for 23 years and needed the motor rebuilt. We just picked it up today from a John Deere dealership in Blackwell. They rebuilt the engine, hydraulic pump, and injection pump along with the new injectors. Previous to that we had stripped the tractor down to engine and frame, and converted the starting system from the old 24-volt system to a new 12-volt system. As you can see there is still work to be done. The plans are to repaint the tractor along with a new instrument cluster in the dash, new seat, tires, and rims, and don’t forget of course a new diesel tank, lights, and new decals.  

Wintertime brings with it opportunities for maintenance.

Wintertime brings with it opportunities for maintenance.

It all makes sense if you know Marty, who happens to love antique tractors and basically enjoys taking tractors out of the graveyard to the shop to resurrect in a sense. It’s not just a tractor to him, but instead the consideration of the history and life of each tractor, instilling a high sentiment. Usually he can re-tell the full history of each tractor (who owned it, how many acres it plowed or disced – it’s “medical” history).  I have learned that it has actually been cost-effective for him to take on this kind of project at times, when instead of purchasing a “new” tractor, we can find something like this that can be rebuilt for cheaper and seems to be as trusty and dependable as a new piece of equipment. This tractor will be used to mow waterways, auger grain, unroll bales for the barley modules, as well as harvest pecans. All work for this project should be completed by the end of March.

The John Deere 4020 Marty is bringing back to life.

The John Deere 4020 Marty is bringing back to life.

Trash day on the farm.

Trash day on the farm.

And of course, along with working around the shops and office, comes the trash. So this week we had our much anticipated “Trash Day Parade”. This typically consists of our Uncle Steve’s blue pickup bed mounded over with trash, along with an old bed trailer attached and full…led by THE trash truck shown here. We are proud to represent the “Clampits” of Noble County. We take ours to the Davis Disposal, which is about 8 miles north of where we live. 

As far as the family, I am busy  homeschooling our soon-to-be 6-year-old daughter, Ava. She has started piano lessons with the new year, along with her other two music classes and gymnastics. Morgan, the two year old, is busy playing with new toys and waits for time in the shop with the guys. The big birthday party for both kids is in planning mode for the end of what has turned out to be a very busy month.

This weekend we head off to San Antonio for the National Farm Bureau Convention. Marty will be serving as a delegate, and both of us are also helping with the National Young Farmers and Ranchers Discussion Meet. Blogging is also on the list! We have much we would like to share, in hopes that readers without much agriculture background can gain insight and appreciation for what the young and seasoned American farmers do every day of the year.

Teaching safety and a naming contest – The Webb Family

The Blaine County Conservation District sponsored and organized the Farm Safety Day again this year at the fairgrounds on April 30.  The areas addressed were ATV, Fire, Chemical, Animal, First Aid and Tractor Safety.

Sparky walking the line of kids, which he has done for the past seven years.

Sparky walking the line of kids, which he has done for the past seven years.

Brandon and I taught about the importance of “Animal Safety” on the farm to over 130 4th grade students from Canton, Geary, Okeene and Watonga schools.  Since we have been doing this for the past seven years, our farm animals have become quite popular, namely Sparky, Wade’s 140-pound golden retriever. You might say he is the star of the show on Farm Safety Day.  This past year, he has become rather slow and arthritic and I was concerned that he would be fatigued by having to “perform” all day for seven groups of kiddos.  Therefore, I requested he be allowed to stay home and rest and we bring another one of our canine family members.  My request was denied.  However, a compromise was reached that he go and be allowed to sit where he pleased and allow the students to go up to him versus me taking him by his leash and leading him along the line where the kids stand. Our first class came in that morning and remarkably, as if on cue, when Brandon started talking about farm dogs, Sparky arose from where he had been resting, ambled over to the kids and started making his way right down the line, just like he had done for the past seven years.  Once again proving, he was the star of the show.

Introducing Midnight, the bottle calf, who was named by students.

Introducing Midnight, the bottle calf, who was named by students.

Another fun thing we were able to do this year was have the students name the bottle calf we had brought along with us.  Brandon and Clayton were checking cattle in the helicopter one day prior to Safety Day, and had seen him in one of the pastures all alone.  When they went to check on him, they deduced he was a twin and that his momma had gone off with her other calf, thus leaving this little guy to fend for himself.

Throughout the course of the day, we had the students give us names for the calf and at the end of the day there was a two-way tie between the names “Midnight” and “Hank.”  While the students were all gathered to take photos before they left to go back home, we had a tie breaker by show of hands and hollers.  Midnight prevailed.

He has now been joined by another orphaned twin.  Her name has yet to be decided.  Any suggestions?

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.

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!

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.

Dry then, dry now – The Harris Family

WOW! Has this summer flown by or what?  I know it seems like just yesterday we were asked to write a blog for Farm Bureau and now we are six months in and weeks behind. Where to we begin?  Lets start in reverse order for now.

We had our County Free Fair, and our oldest daughter, Kenda, was in the ring with her Miniature Hereford Steer.  She is only 8, so it was her first time in the ring.  We were so very proud of how she handled herself.  The steer did great.  She was the only one on the Miniature side of things, so she was a Champion.  That always makes you feel good.  Since he has been home, things are going well and we are working to prepare for Tulsa State Fair.  Hope it goes just as smoothly.

On the farming side of things, we are still waiting for that 2-inch rain we put in a request for many moons ago… So whoever is holding this requisition up, I wish they would just sign on the dotted line.  But in all fairness, God blessed us last winter and this summer with an abundant wheat crop and we were A LOT more desperate for rain a year ago.  So we are just harrowing a few farms trying to smooth out some clods and getting the 3 air seeders ready to roll at the first sign of moisture.

I purchased a John Deere 9650 combine about 3 weeks ago.  I have multiple plans in place for the machine, but mostly I just missed having/trading green combines.  I have a problem, I realize that!  If you are looking for a good one, give me a call!

We started fall calving.  I think this may be the reason we have put off updating the blog.  I kept thinking we would actually be able to keep some alive long enough to sneak a picture in!  Hasn’t been the case so far!  It’s been a rough go of it.  Lost around 6 out of 9 from one pasture so far!  That’s a conservative figure.  It’s fair to say I’m hoping calving ends better than it started.  It seems like the heat wave that went through here just did a number on the calves, mommas and us.  We worked all day trying to bring new ones in to put under fans and misters, while someone else was hauling off dead ones.

The 2005 Air Seeder we purchased around a month ago finally was picked up and on location the last few weeks… so we have been working on it.  Trying to make sure it was ready to go.  So just for a trial run on Monday I went to over seed a pasture we heavily use across from Marshall’s house.  It ran really well; just a few small things to adjust before we can “rock and roll!”

Probably the biggest adjustment and exciting news around our house is we are homeschooling our kids.  They did start school locally at public school, but we have been praying for months about where God wanted us and what He needed us to do.  He answered that prayer and out of obedience we are homeschooling.  It has been a blessing so far.

We did have the cotton adjuster out and know some numbers… I don’t want to give it all away.  I will leave a little suspense for next time.  Until then, don’t keep all the rain for yourself.

Transition time – The Leonard Family

The Leonards can see corn harvest winding down and will be complete by the end of the week. This year’s harvest was not as poor as last year’s; but the lack of rain and high temperatures made it a very low yielding harvest. The week brought the completion of one of the tractors. Its front end was overhauled. This is a welcome completion for now; since harvest is almost over, corn stocks will need to be cut up and prepared for the next crop of wheat to be planted.

Greg and Kody attended a seed dealer meeting in Kansas City and Katy and Mary held down the fort at home.

Last Saturday brought some much-needed rain – about half an inch; but it also brought some storm damage. We lost the some trees, the kids’ trampoline and an auger on one of the feed bins.

Kody and Katy are preparing for the county fair with their animals. They both show sheep, and Katy will also show a heifer.

On the 15th of the month, Katy will start her sophomore year at Afton High School. Kody will begin his freshman year at North Eastern A&M College and Mary will start back to school on the 23rd.

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.