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.
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.