Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Topdressing Wheat

Bad photo of the wheat (ignore that planting skip in the middle of the photo)
Better photo of the wheat (it's actually greener than it looks and try to ignore that bare spot)
Nothing really interesting has been happening around the farm lately (I've just been fighting the flu and feeding hay), except that I've spent the last couple of days topdressing the wheat.  It's been relatively warm for a few days (high 70's), it's supposed to rain this weekend, and the wheat is still dormant, so it should be almost perfect conditions to spray some fertilizer.

Winter wheat usually has the fertilizer applied both at planting and then it's topdressed in late winter before it starts to come out of dormancy.  Depending on who you talk to, about a third of the required nitrogen should be applied at planting and then the wheat is topdressed with the rest of the nitrogen some time around January or February, or half the nitrogen is applied at planting and half is applied at topdressing. 

I usually apply half at planting and then the other half when I topdress.  It's supposed to take approximately 2 lb. of N per bushel of wheat (within reason), so I shoot for a reasonable yield and then apply that much nitrogen but usually don't include the amount of nitrogen in my soil tests in those calculations. 

For what little rain we've gotten this winter (somewhere around 3 inches?) and how cold it's gotten at times (16 degrees more than once), the wheat doesn't look too bad, is weed-free so far, and might actually make a pretty decent crop.  Now that I've got everything fertilized, I'm itching to see the wheat come out of dormancy and start growing this spring, and about four months from now, I'll be able to tell what sort of wheat crop I actually have. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Food Forest?

In the comments of my last post about windbreaks, there were a few comments by both Ed and Ron about planting trees which reminded me of something else I've been thinking about.  

Last spring and summer I started paying attention to an area in between two wheat fields that's about 10-15 acres in size that seems to be covered with all sorts of "food" trees.  I've noticed pecans, walnuts, blackberries, sand plum bushes, plum trees, and honey locust trees all in that small area.  For all I know, there could be even more edibles plants that I just don't recognize as being possible food plants. There are also willows which can be used for both medicinal and weaving purposes.  

At first, I thought that it was just coincidence that all those trees would be in that relatively small area, but when I started looking around other parts of the farm I didn't notice the same variety of trees growing all together.

This area is a little unusual because it has multiple springs coming out of the rocks along the creek and it has a large spring that trickles out a little bit of water even during the worst droughts (water does help keep trees alive).  But it's also unique because it's close to the part of the wheat field where Grandpa and his brothers used to find arrowheads as kids back in the '30's.  I've never found anything like arrowheads, although I have found what I think are a few interesting things. 

All those separate facts put together make me wonder if those types of trees have always been in this area and have attracted people (explaining the arrowheads, etc.), or did people help propagate those trees by bringing whatever they had gathered to camp near the spring (it's easy to grow a plum or pecan tree from the dropped seeds during processing).   

Regardless of how those trees got there, I wonder how much food I could gather in that relatively small area if I put my mind to it?

And, I wonder if it would be easier to plant the same sort of "food forest" as a windbreak instead of messing around with less useful trees like cedars?
Looking down the creek towards the pond

Pecan and honey locust trees

Native plum tree

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Even More Windbreak Thoughts

I said I wasn't making any promises about building a portable windbreak on my last post about building one, but I didn't realize that it was way back in almost-mid November when I was all set to start building one until I actually looked at the date of my last post on the subject.  Deer hunting, bathroom remodeling, and a handful of smaller projects all sidetracked me on my windbreak project, but that might have been a good thing since I've changed my mind on a few of the building details.

The main change to my building plans is that I decided not to cover it with sheet-metal, but instead I decided to use something like 2x6's or decking boards spaced a couple of inches apart to make it a more porous windbreak (optimum windblocking is supposed to be with about 25-30% porosity).

I don't know how I missed it before, but after looking a few more times at the Portable Windbreak Fences Publication I wrote about before, it finally sunk into my brain that a windbreak with boards spaced about 2" apart, around 80-85% of the wind would be blocked for about 80 feet downwind.  With a solid windblock, about 90% of the wind will be blocked really close to the windblock (about 8 feet in my case), but only about 60% of the wind will be blocked farther out.

It's a little counter-intuitive, and at first thought it seems like a solid wall would block more wind, but after some informal testing (I stood in a bitterly-cold wind next to the loafing shed and then walked downwind), and a little bit of observation (on one really cold and windy day, I noticed all of the cattle standing downwind of some parked farm equipment which wasn't anywhere close to being a solid wall), it eventually made sense that a more porous wall would drop the wind velocity more over a larger area than a solid wall would.

It's rare, but it looks like my habit of taking forever to finish a project might have helped this time and when I get around to building a portable windbreak I'll be using 2x6's or decking boards so I can build a more open wall.

Besides changing my mind about using sheetmetal to cover a portable windbreak, I've also decided to do a few more of the the things I wrote about when I was trying to figure out how to build a windbreak. 
How good will those stacked bales work as a windbreak?  I don't know, but I'm going to try it out

So, I stacked up some hay along a fence line inside the hay storage lot.  I'm not sure how well it will block the wind since it's similar to a solid wall although because it's hay it might help break up some of the downwind wind current eddy more than a solid wall would, but it didn't really cost anything to build (a little time and diesel), it's better than nothing, and the cattle can't get to it behind the fence (so I won't have to clean up a mess of wasted hay after a storm).  As long as the wind blows out of the north, I should be able to figure out something during the next snowstorm (stay turned for that exciting update).

I'm also thinking about planting a line of cedar trees (actually eastern red cedars which are junipers) as a windbreak or shelterbelt out in this pasture which is more of a controversial subject than most people would think it is. Years ago, Grandpa fought a losing battle trying to control the cedars on the farm, wearing out both his body and a bunch of chainsaws in the process.  After all that effort, the cedar trees just kept growing back.  I've also spent a lot of time cutting down cedars on the farm, which I'm looking at as an ongoing battle instead of a war I can actually win, and I hopefully won't wear my body out quite as much or as fast with that mindset.

But I've also been thinking that all the bad things about cedars might also make them a good choice as a windbreak if I manage them correctly.  They grow quick even in a drought, are thick enough to block a lot of wind, and if I plant them up on a flat spot instead of down along a creek then there should be less chance of erosion under the trees and they will be easier to remove if I change my mind about having a line of cedars in the pasture.

It'll be tough to wrap my head around planting cedars instead of cutting them all down without mercy, so I'm not sure if I'll ever get around to doing something so unconventional.    

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Out With The Old Headgate, In With The New Squeeze Chute

I've been using an old headgate mounted on the end of a chute in my working pens ever since I built my pens.  Grandpa bought this headgate back in the late-70's when he rebuilt his working pens, I salvaged it after the tornado damaged those pens, and installed it back when I built my pens.  It's supposed to be an auto-catch headgate and it might have been state of the art back in 1979, but I've never been able to get it work as good as I thought it should work. 

I originally used it because I didn't think I could afford to spend the money on a squeeze chute, and I figured that if it worked for Grandpa then it should still work for me.  But I've hated that headgate from the first time I've used it and always dread working cattle with it. Over the years, I've had a cow smash my hand when she jumped around after I caught her head, I had a heifer run straight through it twice in a row (she ran full blast and knocked the gate past the catch so that it was open, then the second time around she did the same exact thing even though I had the headgate barely open, after all that I couldn't get her anywhere close to the chute for a third try), I jabbed myself in the thumb with the needle trying to vaccinate an uncooperative steer (there's not enough room behind the headgate), and the last straw was last summer when a cow ran into the headgate and got herself hip-locked.

For those that don't know what I'm talking about when I say "hip-locked", she squeezed through the opening in the headgate and instead of her shoulders pushing the headgate forward to catch her head, they slipped through the opening, spread the gate out instead of forward, and her hips got wedged into the opening.  She couldn't go forward and she couldn't go backwards, because her hips were locked in the headgate.  The cow was calmer than I was about the whole situation, but I had to cut the headgate apart with a hacksaw to get her out and she ended up with just some hide scraped off of her hip bones.  The whole time I was trying to saw that headgate apart so I could get that cow out, I was thinking about how stupid I was for trying to save a little money by using this piece-of-junk headgate. 
Goodbye and Good Riddance, You Old Piece of Junk
After years of fighting one, I'd never get another "auto-catch" saloon-door type of headgate ever again, they never seem to work right, and after a little online reading after the fact, it appears like it's pretty common for cows to get hip-locked or choked if they go down in the chute.
Shiny, New Squeeze Chute That Actually Works
So I spent a time to do a little research and shopping around, and bought a new squeeze chute for both the cows and me.  The irritating part about the whole deal is that it didn't cost as much as I always assumed it would cost for all those years I was fighting that piece-of-junk headgate to save money.   I easily could have lost a cow trying to save few dollars with that old headgate, (more and more it seems like it costs me money whenever I try to save money), so I'm going to try to change my way of thinking in the future and try not to be such a tightwad.

I'm not sure if most people would call it a New Year's Resolution, but my Procrastinator's New Year's Resolution (four days late) is to spend a little money this year to make my life just a little bit easier and hopefully a little bit more profitable.

As soon as it warms up a little, I'm going to get out the torch and do a little cutting, then a little welding so I can install the new squeeze chute, then I'm going to run a few cows though it just for the heck of it, and if anyone asks real nice, I might let them try it out for themselves.