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.


  1. Indeed, Elk Day would truly be momentous.

    1. So far, Pheasant Day is a relatively reserved day of celebration, but Elk Day would be a day of fireworks, parades, and feasting.

      Elk are supposed to be spreading across Oklahoma from both the panhandle and the Wichita Mountains area, so it's entirely possible that there might be an Elk Day sometime soon. I'm half-worried that if I see an elk that it might not even register that I'm looking at an elk and then Elk Day wouldn't be observed on the true Elk Day.

    2. Wow, I had no idea elk were spreading like that in Oklahoma. Back when I was at Ft. Sill, I recall elk being there (I never saw them), but I thought at that time that's the only place they were.

      Mountain lions, wolves and bears are spreading here.

    3. I'm not sure how fast they are spreading, but it was this year that they opened up a statewide elk season with a quota system for different zones in the state. Last year there were news stories about the crop damage the elk were causing in the panhandle and southwestern parts of the state, so it looks almost like they are trying to slow down the spread of the elk herd with these hunts.

      I've been trying to imagine where exactly elk would live around here, and the closest sort of habitat I can imagine an elk would hide in are pastures that are overgrown with cedars. The big cedar thickets I've been in sort of remind me of some of the dark timber areas where I've seen elk in Colorado, besides that I'm not sure where elk would make their homes around here.

  2. I know your pain of loading cattle. Loading hogs is similar. Back when I was loading hogs for my father, they were raising a lean variety which garnered a premium price but were very susceptible to stress and thus shockers like cattle prods. We learned that the hard way when a few died in transit from the stress of being shocked. From then on, whenever they were being stubborn, we had to push and pull those 240 pound creatures up the shoot and onto the truck. Eventually we learned to put a gate at the end of the shoot and turn them out in the aisles of the building and the shoot several hours before the truck got there to acclimatize themselves. That worked for the most part but you still got the occasional stubborn one to drag in by hand.

    Since we live among some of the best pheasant hunting in the country, I can't get too excited for you. But I suspect that your excitement is similar to the time I saw my first (and only) mountain lion on our farm. I didn't note the day but I should make a mountain lion day just to celebrate the fact.

    1. I hate to admit it, but if I had to load some pigs onto a trailer I don't know if I'd know where to start. I know what to do to load a 2000 lb. bull, but loading a 250 lb. pig seems like a pretty difficult task (Seems strange doesn't it?).

      Mountain lions are supposed to be in OK, so Mountain Lion Day is a real possibility, but I'd guess that it would be a little less festive than Elk Day with celebrations including fireworks and feasting, but definitely no parades.

      Although as much as I like elk, Grizzly Bear Day might trump Elk Day.

    2. My parents own a cabin and some land down in NW Arkansas near the Buffalo River National Park where they have re-established elk in my lifetime. It was sometime in my mid-20's that they brought in the first load of elk and I remember it took several years before I saw my first elk. Now, they have populated enough I almost always see elk when down there and they even have a hunting season now. I still haven't lost the thrill of seeing one though especially when I'm sitting somewhere on a mountain and one goes crashing through the brush nearby. Unlike deer, elk seem incapable of walking quietly through the woods.

      I've only seen one wild grizzly in Yellowstone many many years ago along with some piles of still steaming grizzly scat. The time I saw one was along the road in a traffic jam caused by tourists who were creeping from their cars to take closer pictures of the grizzly and her cub! I kept my camera ready to capture the mauling which never happened. I would like to see a grizzly in the wild in more natural circumstances... just as long as I'm not dinner or a threat! I would most definitely tell that story until the day I died.

    3. One of the areas in OK that's had elk in the past is the Cookson Hills area in NE OK which looks like it's connected to the Ozarks part of Arkansas. Even though the Ozark Mountains in AR are probably better suited to elk than most of OK, I never would have guessed that there were elk in Arkansas.