Saturday, December 27, 2014

Losing My Remodeling MoJo

On the very remote chance that someone's worrying themselves sick about where I disappeared to, for the past couple of weeks, I've been working on a "simple" remodel of a bathroom that seems to have spiraled out of control in the typical way that usually happens with most of my remodeling jobs.  It started out as a simple job of painting and replacing the flooring, then grew to include some tile work which led to some plumbing work, which all eventually evolved to include a partial gut-job of most of the bathroom, a lot of drywall work, and some fancy-dancy ceiling texturing.  Thankfully, I was able to stop the madness before I ended up replacing the plumbing fixtures and all of the lighting.  

It's been awhile since I've tackled a job like this, in the past I've remodeled an entire house almost single-handedly, built a small 500 sq.ft. building (super-insulated, stained concrete floors, even a bathroom), remodeled a kitchen, a few bathrooms, and tackled various other smaller projects. But for whatever reason, on this remodeling job it seems like I've somehow lost my remodeling mojo (I still have the skills to do it, I'd just rather be doing something else) and everything seems to be taking forever to finish.  

Losing my remodeling mojo might be because I'm just getting older, I'm more of a perfectionist than I used to be, I'm only working a few hours per day on it at a time (still gotta take care of the cows and walk around the pastures every day), or it always took this long to do my projects in the past and I didn't realize it back then.  Or, it could be all of the above.  

All I know is that I'll be glad when I'm finished with this bathroom project so I can go back to work on more important projects like finally building my portable windbreak, welding the hell out of various stuff that needs the hell welded out of it, cutting down cedars, making bio-char, or fence building.         

I'll spare you the boring details of my bathroom remodel, but stay tuned for exciting updates on  welding stuff, blocking the wind, and watching grass grow. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Moving Cows, "What The Heck Are You Doing On That Field?", and Pheasants

I hit a few milestones on the farm yesterday and today.  I managed to get the rest of the cows moved from the rented farm back to the farm for the winter, had a neighbor ask about what I was doing with my field of sorghum-sudangrass, and saw my first pheasant in a cover crop I'd planted which might not be a big deal in pheasant country, but it's monumental news on the edge of pheasant country. 

I typically wean the older calves in mid-October, move the cows to the rented farm where the grass has been growing all summer, and graze the cows until sometime in December.  After the first freeze happens, I start supplementing them with my typical 2 lb. of cubes per day routine since dormant native prairie grasses are supposed to be pretty low in protein so supplementing is usually suggested.  I'm not entirely convinced about the low protein levels of native warm season grasses, but the cows always seem to gain condition pretty fast. 

I originally started feeding cows on dormant pasture back during the drought years of 2011 and 2012 because I didn't have enough hay to make it through the winter, there wasn't any hay to buy if I was inclined to buy hay, and I had no other choice except to haul cattle to another farm and supplement them with cubes for part of the winter.  Out of that desperation, I found out that my cows seem to do better under that sort of feeding management.     

I've left cows on dormant prairie grasses until late-December before, but since I have plenty of hay, still have about half of my field of sorghum-sudangrass left to graze, and it's always possible that the weather could quickly turn nasty (snow, ice, etc.) in December, I decided to move them back to the farm yesterday. 

The rented farm doesn't have a great set of loading pens, it's basically a few pens with a long loading chute coming off of one pen, which I sort of modified into a almost-but-not-quite version of a Bud Box.  It's slightly above my pay-grade to explain exactly what a Bud Box is and there is a bunch of better info available online, but it's basically a small rectangular pen that's about 12x24 ft next to a chute.  The cattle are moved into the box and using low-stress handling techniques they circle around and then go down the chute.  When it works right, it works like a dream, but when something goes wrong it can turn into an exhausting cuss-fest of a rodeo, and it can be downright dangerous with wild cattle.   Saying all that, I'd still think seriously about building a Bud Box into any set of working pens that I built in the future.

Yesterday, it worked like a dream and anyone watching would probably have been mesmerized with my cow whispering ability to easily sort and load cattle by just moving this way and that. There have been times when it seemed like most of the cows would just flat out refuse to go down that chute and the few that were willing to go down that chute would then refuse to step onto the trailer.  It's a lot less work and pretty satisfying when things don't go sideways. 

Since I was switching this group of cows from grazing dormant native grasses to grazing sorghum-sudangrass, I put out some hay to help transition them to a different type of forage.  Feeding hay before moving to a field of winter-killed sorghum-sudangrass isn't entirely necessary, but it doesn't seem to hurt anything.   After they'd filled up with hay, I moved the electric fence to give them access to the ungrazed part of the field, and they all dove into the tall grass and started grazing away.  Moving electric fences takes some work, but it's less work than feeding hay not to mention the amount of work involved in cutting, baling, and hauling hay. 

The last part of the field that's going to be grazed is next to the road, so it's hard to see the cattle grazing on this field right now.  While taking to a neighbor today, he asked what was the deal with this field of dead sorghum-sudangrass, and what the heck was I planning to do with it?  I didn't go into all the details of my cover cropping ideas or plans, but told him that I'd divided it up and was grazing it over the winter with the cows instead of feeding hay.  I couldn't tell if he was skeptical about my plans and didn't think it would work, or if he was thinking 'that's a great idea, why didn't I think of that?'.   Regardless of what he thought, it means something when people are wondering about what you're doing, I can't tell you if it's good or bad but it means something.  

I saved the best for last, because this morning I managed to flush a pheasant out of this field of sorghum-sudangrass.  Then, later in the morning, I happened to see a pheasant fly across the field and land in the taller ungrazed grass.  It was likely the same bird, but I'm counting it as two pheasant sightings.  I've seen a few pheasants really close to the farm, but this is the first time I've seen them on the farm in a field that I planted with the thought that it might make decent pheasant habitat.  

From this day forward, December 10 will be designated as the official Pheasant Day in commemoration of the appearance of pheasants on the farm in a cover crop field.  

After actually seeing pheasants on the farm, I've got an overwhelming hankering to plant some cover crop mix borders next year around some of the wheat fields specifically for the pheasants and quail.  Hopefully, if I plant a few strips of pheasant habitat, everyday could be Pheasant Day.

Now, I need to figure out what to plant to attract some elk to the farm because believe it or not, there is an elk hunting season in most of Oklahoma. To my way of thinking, Elk Day celebrations would easily beat Pheasant Day celebrations.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Few Thoughts About Grazing Sorghum-Sudangrass

It's been almost three weeks since I started grazing this field of winter-killed sorghum-sudangrass as a trial to see if it's possible to graze a field like this over part of the winter instead of feeding hay. Other people are already wintering cattle this way, so I'm not really going to discover anything earth-shattering, but I still like to try things on a small scale before I believe everything I read. 

I split this field into four sections (I'm not sure if I'd call them paddocks) and after the cattle had grazed the first quarter for about a week I opened up the second section.  Since I was still developing my winter-grazing eye and wasn't sure about how much grazing was still left, I got a little nervous and opened up the second part earlier than I planned, but in hindsight I think I could have waited much longer.  Now, I'd just estimate how many bales of hay per acre a field would have made, then I'd simply figure out how many bales of hay I'd feed in a week (factoring in some waste. etc.), and  I'd build my paddock big enough to provide a week's worth of feed (or a day, a month, etc.).  This field is about 25 acres, it should have made about 3 bales per acre, so it's the equivalent of 75 bales of hay.  I usually figure that it takes one 1200 lb. bale of hay to feed a 1200 lb. cow for a month, so I could possibly graze 75 cows for a month or 25 cows for three months if I had no wasted grass (So far, with trampling and waste, it looks like I'll be lucky to get the equivalent of about 50-60 bales?).

I've read accounts that claimed that the protein levels for winter-killed sorghum-sudangrass could be as high as 11%, which is more than enough protein for a dry cow and also kind of hard to believe. Most of the typical prairie hay that I typically feed is supposed to be below 8% protein (I've never had any hay tested, but I really should), so I typically feed about 2 lb. of 20% cubes per day to supplement the hay, and I've also been feeding about 2 lb. of cubes while they are on this field of sorghum-sudangrass.  

When I try doing this again, I think I'd add in something like cowpeas, sunn hemp, turnips, or sunflowers (I've been reading some unexpected info about the high-protein levels of sunflowers) to get protein levels high enough so that I could eliminate the cubes completely.   The money I'd save by not needing to buy cubes would easily pay for a lot of cover crop seed, plus planting a cover crop mixture would be better at building the soils in my fields.  I said it before, but I'll say it again, next year is going to be the year of the cover crop mix, but that's also what I said last year. 

This year it also seems like there are more blackbirds (I'm no birdwatcher, so I'm not sure on the exact identity of these birds) around than there usually are in the winter, they're both in the sorghum-sudangrass field and in the pasture next to it.  I don't know if the field of sorghum-sudangrass has anything to do with it, but they seem to be doing a great job of breaking up all the cow patties by scratching through them like a huge flock of hyperactive tiny chickens.   

Of course, they might also eat a bunch of grain sorghum next year before it's harvested, so I'm not sure if a bunch of blackbirds is good or bad.  But, since there isn't really anything that can be done one way or another, my best guess is that they are neither good nor bad, they just are.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Deer Hunting Out of a Box Blind

In Oklahoma, the deer gun season opens on the weekend before Thanksgiving and I've been deer hunting off and on since then.  Last year, it turned brutally cold early in the gun season with sleet and snow, which both made it hard to hunt and started me thinking about building some sort of box blind so I could get out of the weather if I wanted to.  Then the antlerless deer season in late-December was even more miserable, which made me think even more seriously about building a box blind so I could go deer hunting without getting frostbite or hypothermia.

You would think that building a box blind and then hunting out of it would be a simple matter, but I've always had a mindset about hunting that didn't include things like box blinds, hunting guides, ATVs, etc.  I've never really liked gadgets or shortcuts in hunting, and a box blind always seemed like a really big gadget and shortcut. 

With all those thoughts in mind, I finally broke down and built a simple box blind last summer (with help from my nephew) using salvaged material from a shed that was being dismantled and since it didn't really cost me anything to build, I was able to halfway convince myself that this wasn't really a gadget or shortcut because it was almost free (I think the final tally was about $10 for some hinges).  It's kind of funny how my mind works, ain't it? 

There's about a thousand different ways to build a box blind, so going into all the details isn't really that important (although if anyone asks, I'd share more of the details of how I built this box blind and what I'd do differently), but I basically built a simple 4x6 box on skids with shooting windows on three sides and a good watertight metal roof.  The roof is high enough inside so that I don't bash my head on the ceiling if I stand up too fast and the window openings are about 40 inches high.  If I ever build another one, I'd change a few things like making it 4x8 (so I'd have the crazy option of sleeping in it so I could then tell people that I had a "small hunting cabin in the woods"), I might make the windows openings a little shorter, and I'd try to make it a whole lot lighter so it'd be easier to move around.
Tiny hunting cabin
Windows opened up and ready for business
Looking South
Looking East-Northeast?
Looking North
After it was built, we loaded it up and put it in a part of the farm that used to be a small wheat field down along a creek.  This field is only about 8-9 acres, but it's about 450 yards long, so it's a long, skinny field.  It's been about forty years since it's been planted to wheat, but for years I've been thinking about trying to pasture crop some food plot mixtures of wheat, oats, ryegrass, clovers, turnips, etc. in this field (first, I need to get the bulldozer over there to fix the road to the field so I can get the tractor to it).    If I can eventually get something green growing in this field during deer season, a box blind might be even more useful and I might even go completely over to the dark-side and build an elevated box blind.

After sitting in the box blind a few times over the last week, it appears that I'm getting closer to official old-man status because I was able to sit a whole lot longer than normal without getting as cold or sore.  It's amazing how much easier it is to stay warm when you are sitting in a chair instead of on the ground or up in a treestand.  

Now I'm starting to see why box blinds are popular with old men, little kids, and people that are fond of comfortable chairs.  Shooting a deer out of a box blind with a rifle isn't the same as shooting a deer on the ground with a bow (which is my favorite way to hunt), but hunting out of a box blind is better than not hunting at all because it's too cold and miserable.  

As a bonus, I can always turn this box blind into a chicken house, a pigeon loft, an ice fishing shack, a super-deluxe outhouse, a roadside vegetable stand, or a super tiny house.