Friday, March 27, 2015

Pasture Cropping Observations

I've been trying to figure out how the incorporate some form of pasture cropping on the farm for a while and last fall I had two areas that I drilled some winter wheat trying to learn a little bit more about the subject.  The largest area was about 10 acres of bermuda grass that I drilled with a mixture of  90 lb. of winter wheat and 7 lb. of crimson clover per acre.  The second area was in the weaning pen which is about 2 acres, where I only drilled 90 lb. of winter wheat per acre.  Both areas were planted on November 1. 

I didn't fertilize either area before drilling the wheat, although the weaning pen was grazed for about a week by some calves before it was planted.  When I top-dressed my wheat fields (January 27), I also top-dressed the weaning pen with about 40 lb. N per acre, but because I had crimson clover in the 10 acre area, I didn't top-dress it.
Weaning Pen -  February 15
On February 15, the wheat was nice and green and since I had to sort some cows, I went ahead and let them graze in the weaning pen for a couple of hours until they'd eaten about half of the top growth.     

Weaning Pen - March 25
Over 8 inches of growth
The wheat came out of dormancy a few weeks ago, and with the warmer temperatures and a little bit of moisture it has really started to grow in the weaning pen.  It's only two acres and I'm still experimenting, so I've decided to see how much grain I can get instead of grazing it.  If I had about 40 acres of this, I'd probably be grazing it until my pastures green up later this spring.
Pasture cropped hay field area - March 25
The 10 acres of wheat and crimson clover hasn't done as well as the wheat in the weaning pen.  There's some growth out there, but both the wheat and clover are a lot thinner than I'd like.  The clover is really disappointing, this is my second or third attempt at trying to grow clover or alfalfa in a pasture and I still can't seem to get it to grow.  I have a small patch of crimson clover growing next to a garden that I last planted about fifteen years ago that keeps coming back year after year but it's almost impossible for me to get it to grow anywhere else.  I was hoping that I could let the crimson clover go to seed in this pasture cropped area so that it would spread across the pasture, but I'm pretty pessimistic about that happening this year.

Next year, I think I'd put down some starter fertilizer before planting, I'll try planting earlier in the fall (mid-September to mid-October) to get more fall grazing, I'll wait to try growing clover again until I've grown a decent stand of wheat, and I might try adding something like turnips to the wheat.  I'm getting closer and closer to figuring out how to make pasture cropping work on the farm and hopefully some day soon I'll be pasture cropping on a much larger scale.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Buying a New Bull

Buying a new bull is pretty easy, all you need to do is decide what breed of bull you want, find a few bull producers, do a little talking with the guy selling the bulls while you look at their bulls, scratch your head trying to figure out all the EPDs of the various bulls, and then you pick the bull you want.  Of course, don't forget that you also have to remember not to look too shocked when you hear the prices, and it's considered really bad manners if you pass out after hearing how much that bull is going to cost.

My cows are commercial Black Angus (unregistered without any fancy papers), and my bulls are registered Black Angus bulls (they came with some fancy papers).  There are advantages to having both straight-bred cattle and black-hided cattle, but for a while I've been considering trying my hand at crossbreeding for a number of reasons and I've always liked the way red-hided cattle look so I've been giving serious thought to getting a different breed of bull than another Black Angus bull.

Getting a Hereford bull was one thought, since I like the way black baldy calves look and since they are also black-hided they should sell for as much as Black Angus calves. But I'd rather have some Hereford cows and a Black Angus bull to get my black baldies. If I ever buy some bred heifers again, I'd think about buying some Hereford heifers and using a LBW (Low birth weight) Black Angus bull on them.

I was also thinking about getting a Red Angus bull with the theory that the calves would be all black, I'd get a tiny bit of hybrid vigor in the calves, and if I saved some replacement heifers I could eventually turn the entire herd red with a few more Red Angus bulls and a little time.

A Brangus bull (either Red or Black) was another thought for a short time.  Brangus cattle are a composite breed of cattle that is 3/8 Brahman and 5/8 Angus.  The Brahman part of the breeding gives Brangus cattle a little more heat tolerance which can be important in places like OK and TX.  But the Brahman breeding can also give the Brangus some of the "ear" of the Brahman which has the possibility of getting docked at some sales (it all depends on what part of the country you are in).  Breeding a Brangus bull to Angus cows will give you what some people call an Ultra Black (3/16 Brahman and 13/16 Angus) which will still have the heat tolerance of the Brangus but a calf that you have to look pretty hard at to see the Brahman influence.  If I could find a good source for LBW Red Brangus bulls, that might be the best option in the future, resulting in better heat tolerance, more hybrid vigor, and some red-hided cattle in my pastures to look at.

The craziest idea I had was to raise my own bull from my existing herd.  I figured that if I can raise a decent replacement heifer and since I've been using decent registered bulls (so I should have some relatively good genetics out there), then it might be possible to raise my own bull.  Conventional wisdom says that you don't want to use "cheap" bulls because they are half of your calf crop, so I'm not sure if I'm willing to take that big of a potential risk anytime soon. 

In the end, I chickened out on all my grand plans to start a cross-breeding program with my cow herd and ended up buying another registered Black Angus bull.

There's an old rule of thumb that says that a bull should cost somewhere around what four weaned calves sell for, so when I saw that weaned steer calves were selling for almost $1500/head this week it took some of the sting out of how much I had to pay since I didn't pay quite that much for my new bull.

Of course, I'm also a little spoiled when it comes to buying bulls because the bull I'm replacing was a heck of a bull and a heck of a money-maker (at least as far as I could tell).  Although it helped that the cattle market really started going up a lot after I first got him, he cost pretty close to what four steers went for back when I bought him, I managed to get almost 160 calves from him, then I was able to sell him last fall for almost what I originally paid for him.

I hope this new bull lasts close to as long as the old bull did and that he makes me as much money.

After all that, I still like the idea of adding cross breeding to my cattle herd management.  If I start looking right now for my next bull, maybe I won't be as likely to take the "less risky" route by buying another Black Angus bull.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Thinking About Branding Cattle

In Oklahoma, branding livestock isn't required by law and the way I read the branding laws registering your brand isn't even required if you choose to brand your livestock.  But, since most sheriffs departments carry copies of the brand registry it makes it a whole lot easier to track down and identify the rightful owners of livestock if a brand is registered.

I've never branded any of my cattle, I usually just use ear tags for the cows and calves so I can tell mine from the neighbors if they ever happened to get out, although the bulls have freeze brands that are basically just ID numbers.   For whatever reason, I've always sort of associated branding with much larger cattle operations that have hundreds of cattle, or small hobby-type farms with a few head of cattle that call their ten acre pasture a "ranch" (not that there's anything wrong with that).   Since I'm somewhere in the middle and not really a hobby operation or a larger scale ranch, I never really saw the need for branding.

But, with the price of cattle going up as high as it has recently there have been more and more stories about cattle being stolen, and since I have a lot of money just walking around my pastures relatively unprotected, I've been thinking more and more about branding some of my cattle in the future. 

I don't see the point of going to the trouble of branding without registering the brand, and before you can register a brand you have to come up with an actual brand design, branding location, and brand name.  I have an old brand that Grandpa used to use that I thought about registering years ago, but I always assumed that since it was a pretty simple design that someone would have already registered it so I never really got past the thinking about it stage.  But after looking through the Brand Registry, I'm pretty sure that I'd be able to register this brand design, which is a little surprising.

The only thing left is to decide what it's proper description should be because I've had different people claim it should have different names.  I've always thought it was called the Flying M, but most Flying M brands I've seen don't look like this brand. 

Any ideas or suggestions?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Blooming Apricot and Peach Trees

In the past week or so, a lot of trees have started blooming in my part of the world, but since I haven't ever taken the time to carefully note when the peach and apricot trees are blooming, I can't remember when they typically bloom. But it seems like mid-March is a little earlier than normal for peach and apricot trees to be blooming.  If we somehow luck out and the temperature doesn't drop below freezing in the next few weeks, there might be a bumper crop of peaches and apricots this summer. 
Apricot trees started blooming a week ago
All the apricot trees were originally a bunch of volunteer trees that came up under an older apricot tree.  Everyone told me it would be a waste of time to transplant them because it was too late in the summer to move trees, they wouldn't grow true to type, the trees would die because they had deep taproots, blah, blah, blah.  Mostly out of sheer stubbornness, I dug up some of those trees, transplanted them, kept them watered through the first summer, and now I get to eat as many apricots as I want to whenever the weather cooperates and they don't get frozen out in the spring.   

Now I wish I'd transplanted each and every one of those volunteer apricot trees because every one of them survived, and each tree is slightly different from the other.  Some trees bloom a few days earlier, some have a slightly bigger apricot, some apricots are sweeter, some have thinner skins, etc.   Every year I always think I should plant some of the fallen apricots in a proper nursery bed to grow some more apricot trees (just in case something happens to these trees), but I always seem to get distracted on another project until it's too late.  Maybe I'll finally remember to get around to it this year.  
Peach trees started blooming a couple of days ago
The peach trees are starting to show their age and I really need to start working on getting a new area ready to plant some new trees next year.  A good thick application of compost, some bio char, a little cover cropping over the summer, and some tree tubes for my new trees should give me much more of a head start compared to how I planted those peach trees years ago. 

I'm hoping that these trees will last a few more years until the new trees can start producing so that I don't have to go peach-less for very long.  I've been planning to plant some new peach trees for a few years, so maybe next year will be the year that I actually follow through on those plans.  It's bad enough when there aren't any peaches because of a late freeze, I'd hate to go peach-less because I didn't get around to planting some new peach trees before the old trees died out completely. 
Bradford pear tree bloomed more than a week ago

Friday, March 13, 2015

Hopefully, the Oats and Turnips Are Finally Starting To Grow

Turnips finally starting to germinate and if you look real close there might be some oats

About a month ago, I drilled a simple mixture of oats and turnips into about four acres of winter-grazed sorghum-sudangrass stubble as an experiment (or would that be called a trial?)  and it's finally starting to come up.  I plan to treat this part of the field as a cover crop and I'll probably graze it before planting the field to grain sorghum sometime in May, instead of trying to bale some hay or harvest any grain, although there's always the chance for either of those options (depending on the weather, etc.). 

A few days after I drilled this mixture of oats and turnips, we had a nice rain that should have provided enough moisture to get everything germinated but about a week after that rain it turned pretty cold with the temperature dropping into the teens and twenties with a combination of ice and snow.   Oats will usually winter-kill whenever the temperature drops into the low twenties, so I'm not sure yet how temperatures that low will affect a germinating seed. Due to how cold it was and how long it has been since I planted this field, I haven't been holding out too much hope for a real good stand of oats.  Of course, a "successful result" from this experiment might be learning that it isn't worth it to try to grow oats as a cover crop, hay crop, or grain crop. 

When I was walking across the field today, I did notice that some of the turnips are starting to come up, and if I looked hard enough I could find an occasional oat poking its head up out of the ground, so I might get something to grow in this field.

I never would have guessed that growing oats would be so difficult since almost everything I've read suggests that they are one of the easier small grains to grow.   The last time I tried growing them I waited to drill them until the first week of March to avoid the cold weather and it turned hot and dry much earlier than usual.  This year, I thought I'd plant them in mid-February and it turned extra cold.  Yesterday, I happened to see a neighbor drilling something (I don't know what) into one of his fields so I plan to pay attention to that field to see how his oats grow after being planted later than mine.  Of course that's assuming he's planting oats, although I don't know what else he would be planting this time of year. 

Walking across the field today, I can also see the thinking behind planting a cover crop mixture because it looks like I'll have enough turnips in this field to fill any of the gaps if the oats don't grow.  So even if the oats don't grow at all, at least I'll have enough turnips so that everyone I know can eat as many turnips as they want to eat.  Just remember that if you want some turnips you're going to have to pick them yourself.     
You can't see anything growing yet, but in a few weeks I'll compare this to an updated photo

Friday, March 6, 2015

Spring Might Finally Be Here

Calving season started about four days ago with the first couple of calves being born the day after what I thought would be the last cold snap of winter.   Almost immediately after I posted that it should start warming up, it turned cold once again, we had a couple of inches of snow, and then it turned even colder with a low temperature of 15 degrees yesterday.

It warmed back up today and all the snow has melted, it's supposed to stay warm for awhile, so I'm hoping that spring is finally here.  Over the next month or so, most of the spring-calving cows should be calving, calves should soon be running this way and that, the grass should start growing, and hay feeding will slowly wind down for the year.
Good reliable 5 year-old cow with her newborn calf
That's all the windbreak I need
It's amazing that every photo of a running calf looks like he's hunched all over like that
Due to the drought back in 2012, and the high prices being paid for calves in 2013 and 2014, I haven't been saving any heifers for replacements for a few years, so I don't have to do anything like getting up in the middle of the night to check on a bunch of bred heifers.  For about the next four to five weeks most of my workload will be walking around looking for cows that have just calved, catching calves so I can tag and band them, and then trying not to get stomped while I'm doing all that by the handful of over-protective cows that I have.  
Tools of the trade, a bander to band the bull calves and a tagger for ear tags
Last year, I got the wind knocked out of me when a cow head-butted me in the chest when I bent down to tag her calf, and after that I've been a little over-cautious around newborn calves which makes it more difficult to do the work I need to do with newborn calves.  But so far this year, I've slightly changed the way I catch calves and I haven't ran into any of those cows that seem like they would just as soon kill me as look at me, so I'm getting my confidence back and the work is starting to be a heckuva lot easier even though I keep an eye on everything the cow is doing whenever I'm messing with her calf.  

I've decided that there's some truth to the thought that when you're worried about getting hurt by a cow, they can read your body language, and then you're more likely to get hurt (but don't go doing anything stupid or you'll really get hurt).   There's probably some sort of life lesson to be learned from almost getting stomped by a cow, like mindset is everything and if you worry too much about something it's more likely to happen. Confidence is important, but over confidence will usually get you hurt, or something like that.
Two day old heifer calf, they always seem tiny to me at this point
After all my agonizing and worrying about the possibility of getting stomped by a cow, I had to include a photo of a calf to show the size of animal that's hurt me the worst in the past.  A few years ago, I tagged a calf about this size and when I let it go it nailed me with a lucky kick to my shin. I was limping for over a week, had a huge bruised lump right below my knee for more than a week, and was wondering after a few days if that kick had somehow cracked my shin bone.   

But I was never worried that another calf might kick me like that again in the same way that I have been worried about another cow knocking me down.   It's funny how that works.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Last Gasp of Winter, Windbreaks, and Spring Should Be On The Way

The last three days or so, we've had temperatures in the teens and twenties with freezing rain and snow which probably doesn't seem like much to everyone that live further north, but it's almost time for the cows to start calving, so I'm always worried about an ice storm, blizzard, or freezing temperatures this time of year.  Even in a blizzard, there's usually nothing to worry about since most cows know how to get out of the weather and newborn calves are pretty tough (once they get on their feet and nurse, they're off and running), but I'd still rather not have calves born in a snow storm if I can help it.

Usually we get the last snow storm or really bad drop in temperatures by late-February, so this storm was right on time, and it should will be the last major one until next winter.  Thankfully, none of the cows decided to calve early during this last cold snap. It's supposed to warm up to above freezing today, then it's supposed to warm up even more in a few days, so in about a week everything will be almost perfect for calving season to start.   If it warms up for about a week, we'll be well on our way towards Spring.       
Looking down towards the frozen pond, boy it looks cold
 I never got around to building any sort of windbreak this winter besides my stacked hay windbreak due to procrastination, getting sick a couple of times, and an aversion to spending money. But I tried to make sure I walked around the pasture every time the weather was extra miserable so I could figure out where I would place any windbreak I ever built, where I might plant some trees as a windbreak, and where exactly the cows hang out when it's not fit for man or beast outside.  

What I found out was that my experiment with stacking hay bales as a wind break didn't really work the way I thought it would.  I assumed that the worst storms would have north winds, so I stacked my bales to block a north wind.  But surprisingly, it turned out that the majority of the storms this winter didn't have north winds, the winds came from almost all directions so an effective windbreak would have to be oriented both North-South and East-West.     

I've also started to think that most of my problems in this pasture weren't wind problems, instead they were mainly things like heavy snow storms or cold freezing rains that hit during calving season.  A windbreak doesn't help at all with freezing rain or blizzard conditions, so I'm probably not going to build a windbreak anytime soon. 
The windbreak that doesn't really work as a windbreak all the time
Looking towards the makings of a windbreak that might actually work
Before the tornado hit the farm fifteen years ago, this pasture used to have trees scattered up and down the 'creek'  (it's not really a creek with running water, but that's what it's always been called).  During the tornado cleanup process, all the downed trees in the pasture were cleaned up in some sort of government program, while for whatever unknown reason, the trees on the other side of the fence in the cropland weren't cleaned up at all.  I wasn't involved at all in those decisions back then, but looked at the results now, I don't know if I'd have that sort of tornado cleanup process done again.  

The trees bordering the cropland looked pretty ragged for years from the tornado damage, but they eventually recovered.  The trees never came back into the pasture areas at all, and the only reason I can figure out is that all the stumps were also removed during the cleanup.   If only the damaged trees and downed limbs had been dealt with in the cleanup and the stumps had been left in the ground, I think I'd have trees scattered up and down the creek right now, and I wouldn't even be talking about building something like windbreaks right now.  

Those trees on the cropland side of the fence are around some sheltered low spots in the field, so I've decided to just move the fence over so that these treed areas will be part of the pasture instead of part of the cropland.  Moving a fence to "move" trees should be a whole lot easier and quicker than planting trees and waiting for them to get big enough to use as shelter for cattle.   

I'm still planning on planting some more trees for shelter around this pasture, but it's funny how it didn't occur to me sooner that I could just move the fence to get some trees in this pasture.