For some reason, farmers of old (and, sadly, probably some still) thought that throwing old metal farm implements, myriads of rolls of barbed wire or woven wire in ditches, along with old hedge posts would somehow magically make the ditch stop washing. Nothing could be further from the truth! However, it could be said that throwing trash in the ditch answers men’s idea of ‘cleaning’ sort of the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ that women simply cannot fathom. It’s still there for goodness sake!
Blessed with incredibly fine weather and a wee bit of time and some great help last week and after owning this property for about 26 years, this 50 foot stretch of ditch had the metal pulled out. Because of the junk, the water simply pools and won’t allow healing. Once I graze the pasture down this winter with my cows, I’ll burn all the wood trash and cut down as many rubbish trees as necessary to allow this ditch/draw to grass over and heal, so erosion will STOP!
What a surprise to find these fine implements stacked alongside the ditch – most are in decent working order, though too antiquated to be useful except as yard ornaments.
Today marked the last day of my experiment with rotatilling, pneumatic drilling/harrowing, and grazing annuals as part of a pasture improvement scheme.
Grazing comparison data is as follows:
2013-2014 – Paddock 22 – 3218 lbs, Paddock 23 – 1871 lbs Total: 5089 lbs
2014-2015 – Paddock 22 – 3567 lbs, Paddock 23 – 2007 lbs Total: 5574 lbs
2015-2016 – Paddock 22 – 2072 lbs, Paddock 23 – 1222 lbs Total: 3294 lbs
2016-2017 – lost all my records
2017-2018 – Paddock 22 – 1547 lbs, Paddock 23 – 695 lbs Total: 2242 lbs
As you can imagine, i was shocked at the lack of grazing days provided by the annuals, but this was my first experience. When i turned them in on the annuals, the cows and calves grazed it all down in four days! In a few days, i was able to turn them back in for a couple more days grazing to boost that yield just a bit. However, at this point, the paddocks will take a very long rest. One thing i did not observe and record in previous years and that is cow condition. At least for this year, these cows were slick and shiny healthy coming off the annuals, but they were that way going in, too. So…..
So, in a nutshell, it cost me a total of $1842.12 to plant 18 acres of annuals for grazing. The purpose of annuals to help rejuvenate the soil microbe community and not necessarily for gain in grazing. Good thing, because it certainly failed in that department. However, as i had written before, the goal is to eradicate toxic fescue and build organic matter. It does look like that has happened at least in short term. It is very hard to measure long term benefits. However, from this point, i’m planning to tack the sail and switch to tilling then no-till a permanent ley (grassland). Whether or not that will work remains to be seen, but i’m keen to find a way to reduce then eliminate any tractor work. I hope to get that scheme underway and perhaps even completed this week. This new scheme, although i do plan to till before planting to permanent ley, will provide a side by side comparison of planting annuals first vs planting permanent pasture once and done. There will be a few spots, too, that won’t be tilled and seeds will be drilled straight into established pasture.
Additional thoughts and observations:
Grazing days – 4 days on 18 acres with 146 cows, 110 calves, and 6 bulls
Labor – setting up and taking down polybraid – two strips – 3 hours.
There is general concern that the annuals need to be stripped off for best utilisation because of the assumption that the cows will destroy too much of the forages. However, my experience is that there was very little waste overall and certainly not enough to justify 3 hours of labor in stripping off small sections. Having said that, i have to quantify that one strip allowed access to only 4 1/2 acres, then 5 acres, then about 8 1/2 acres. Perhaps larger sections would have shown more waste.
If conditions allowed less work setting up and taking down and one had more valuable annuals, then it may be better to take advantage of the benefits of strip grazing.
Post grazing observations:
Another stunningly beautiful weather day here. Just a touch of frost on the windshields and crunchy grass early this morning.
Woke up about 4am since i’d fallen asleep so early the evening before, but with a horrible headache. Took some Tylenol, fixed some mate, then opened the door to let Thunder in and along with him a bird flew in! Weird. So a little early morning excitement – Allen and i finally coaxed it out by turning off all the lights in the house and turning on the porch light. Birds are not like bats, they have to see where they are going.
My main project for today was to load up those little calves i talked about earlier and the thin bull and take them to market. Now we don’t have those baby calf feeding chores which frees up about 45 minutes a day! Not to mention just the inconvenience of being tied to this task twice a day. Most of that time is taken up with preparing the bottles and feeding the bottle calves. There is also no more feed costs.
Next big project was to prepare another 16 foot cattle panel into a circle which is what we use in south Missouri for decorative and useful end posts for fence. Once these are filled with rocks (and there are plenty of those on my farm there!) then they are set to go. Beautiful and functional at once. It is hard work to fill up them up, however.
Dallas put the second coat of linseed oil/mineral spirits on his lawn tractor trailer yesterday and took out a couple bales of hay for my cows up north. He also moved several more bales from the neighbour’s farm. We bought the rest of his hay bales just recently and while it’s dry, we are moving them off his farm as quickly as possible.
This afternoon and early evening will be spent at the Forage Systems Research Center‘s 50th anniversary with guest speaker, Dr Fred Martz, professor emeritus and former FSRC superintendent. It’ll be nice getting to visit with friends we haven’t seen for some time.
Sunday – Hot, super hot, so first thing I took down, rolled up, and reset three sheep netting through a bit of timber so that the sheep could have shade! They could die in this heat without. Took up the polytape and posts that had divided the cow’s paddock in half so they had fresh break of grass. Set it up in the next paddock, but boy that was work. Grass was as tall as my shoulders and thick underneath with red clover, birdsfoot trefoil, and lespedeza. Sweatin’ good. Took it easy in the afternoon and drank a lot of water.
Monday – very early departure for Overland Park, KS for Allen’s Aunt June’s brother’s memorial service. Visited with family and friend for the rest of the day. Exhausting and stressful day for June. Her brother was a just a few days shy of 97; June, too, is 96 with a birthday in early fall. She is the last of her family.
Tuesday – Morning chores, then RIck and I went to Chillicothe for appointments with Joyce for back, neck, shoulder treatments. Back home for a late lunch followed by gathering up the tools necessary to begin work setting for sorting off the feeder lambs. Couldn’t quite finish the job since we needed more tools. It’s amazing how many holes there are in a corral when thinking about small animals. They aren’t even an issue with cattle. Very hot, so we cut out early – about 3pm. Later in the evening, I went back up and took out mineral to cattle but found a 150 lb calf stuck in the muddy ditch. I roped it and pulled it out with the four wheeler. He seems like he’ll be okay, but he’s not getting up yet. Will check him tomorrow and take milk for him to eat if he hasn’t gotten up to nurse. Found a long dead lamb in the electric netting – won’t go into details, but got an idea of what it might be like to have worked the Katrina disaster. The smell burns the eyes and throat. Unfortunately, i did not have any rubber gloves with me, but mostly it had deteriorated enough that most fell through the fencing. Man, it was gross – the maggots had done their work well. Could hardly stand riding in the pickup home with myself even with the windows open!
Wednesday – up early again for a trip to Kansas City for a presentation as a female farmer to the Farm Service Agency Payment personnel. I enjoyed meeting everyone and was well received. But turned around and was home by 1pm. Quick trip – took just a hair over two hours each way. Now i have a few hours to clean house before taking out this evening to check on the down calf and muster the sheep into the corral just before dark (after it cools down). First thing in the morning, we’ll sort and load the feeder lambs for weaning and turn the rest back out. If it’s not raining. (Calf died 😦
Thursday – Dallas, RIck, and I met at 6:30 at the farm for sorting and loading the older lambs from about 150 ewes and 100 spring born lambs. We finished off the chore in short order despite the heat and humidity – we were thankful that it remained cloudy for the duration. We hauled the lambs to the Lamme farm and unloaded them into the already prepared paddock to contain freshly weaned lambs weighing 30-50 lbs. Then back to our house to gather up the 10 orphaned lambs. Incredibly, they just followed me straight into the trailer! We were speechless and and shaking our heads in wonder. That was just too easy. After preparing lunch, I headed back to my farm and rolled up seven sheep nettings and installed four of them back around the pond lot. The sheep will be turned in there tomorrow. I was so hot, I just couldn’t quite finish since i knew i still had a reel of polywire and posts to pick up to give the cows a fresh break, take out mineral, and just in general check on them. Water is so important right now, it’s important to check its availability often.
Friday – Excess heat advisory once again today – with heat index at 109 for most of the day. I checked my lambs first thing and rolled up the three 164 foot electric sheep nettings. Then moved the lambs to the paddock to the south. They are chomping through the forage quickly! This paddock had some questionable areas for their escape, so I set up one of the nettings alongside those areas. THe other two, I set up in the areas to which they will go in the next few days. I have eight calves that didn’t sell a couple of weeks ago because of lameness, eye problems, and one had been stung by bees! So, I’ve been shifting them to fresh breaks of grazing each day. They are scheduled to go to Milan Auction on monday. Then went to my farm up north after lunch and rolled up the two remaining nets that were through the timber. Takes longer because of brush, etc. Installed that last one needed around the pond lot, then electrified the whole thing and opened the pond lot gate. A couple ewes and their lambs ventured in but most stayed in the shade – they’ll find it this evening. Allen is finishing up bushhogging my fence rows. Really appreciate him doing that – it is a dangerous job. Helped Rick hook on to the hay baler which was in the barn – WHEW! Just in a few minutes, I think i sweated off a couple of lbs – too bad they won’t stay off!
Saturday – SHABBAT SHALOM!
What do farmers and ranchers do when they aren’t directly handling their stock? To be sure maintenance of the infrastructure is at the top of the list! Today was another day of such for me. Dallas went with me, so with his help, we were able to accomplish more than twice what I can accomplish alone in the same amount of time. Today was drizzly and muddy, but the temperature was mid-50s so that’s a good day to work outside.
It takes at least an hour to gather the materials and tools, plus loading a small bit of hay from the hayloft I’m cleaning out on the Buckman farm to haul up to my cows, fuel up, and head north. The drive is about 35 minutes when the weather is good.
We had a stretch of hi-tensile electric wire to repair which had been hit by deer and the wire had pulled through a gripple rendering this part of interior paddock fence completely useless. So, the end post brace was reset and the wires reattached as well as patching the broken part. All wires restretched with a gripple tensioning tool, then with the gate shut, electricity flowed freely to make the fence ‘hot.’
One water tank had lost its plug, so a couple days ago, I had to get creative and twisted a plug of hay and forced it through the hole. Incredibly, this worked perfectly! Absolutely no water came through. However, I did replace the hay with the proper plug today.
It was still not quite dark, so we unloaded the polywire reel and some step in posts at the Bowyer barn (i’ll set them up next trip up), then went round the block (Cotton Road is FAR too muddy right now) to tie 2 inch by 3 inch welded wire 3 foot fence to four gates in the corral in preparation for mustering the sheep (hopefully tomorrow – weather permitting) and sorting off the ewe lambs I don’t want to get bred.
Even though it was all but dark, I wanted to get more steel posts pulled up and old barbed wire rolled up from around the old horse pond (small pond dug by horses way back in the old days). So we managed about 7 posts and one strip of wire before the wind shifted and the rain started in serious and it was just flat out dark, dark, dark. It’s a 35-40 minute drive home in the Gator, so we headed out.