FIRST SNOW

The only cattle on the place are in the north paddock waiting for the new owner to pick them up. There’s a hay rack with two large bales in the cattle yard and two buckets of ear corn sitting by the gate. It is unclear if this is the new owner using temporary housing or if it is the old owner dispatching the last of his responsibilities. After a season of having multiple batches of cows and calves around the paddocked pasture, it seems strange to be down to the last five cows and four calves.

The first crossing on the new bridge deck happened this week. A large side dump truck hauling fill, came from the west and crossed to the east side. The approaches have now been built up and the sides of the bridge have been constructed—first the forms, then the cement. The weather continues to be warm and that helped the whole project all fall. The warm and dry weather has encouraged a lot of field work and tiling. That includes a neighbor’s new tiling job one mile east of us.

But, the weather is changing. Frosty mornings and cold winds get us into the coming winter season. There was a snow fall of 8 to 10 inches just east of us, but essentially none for us. This shock in the weather came the day after our neighborhood football hero lost an elimination game by one point in overtime. Tough week for a high school freshman. But now, the harvest, grazing, and football are all over for the year. And now, winter weather is here to stay, even though the calendar date is a month away.

November 15, 2010
Calf Age=29 and 12 weeks

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HUNTING AND FOOTBALL

The fall herd has been sold to two separate operators. The majority were trucked away, but the pen of five late cows and four calves is still here. The east run of electric fence is still connected to keep them in the north paddock. The can get water in the slough that is running full. The west electric fence is turned off and the water tank in the south paddock has been emptied.

The new bridge deck was poured on November 2—election day. It seasoned all week and was covered with a protective fiber. The gravel approaches still need to be built up, the sides put on, and the temporary super structure below it removed. But, it looks like it will be done this month. Good thing, because small government advocates won the elections and infrastructure will suffer.

Hunting season has started. We’re not seeing many bird hunters or pheasants, but the deer season is also in full swing. The producer-partner who rents our pasture put up a tree stand at the west end of the north plum thicket. He and his son did get a buck on the opening day. We are not giving permission to any other hunting parties; the local neighbors get the privilege to hunt the creek pasture.

The son plays football. Though he’s only a freshman, he plays on the varsity team and has scored touchdowns. The eliminations for the state tournament started this week. After a perfect season with no defeats, the team and the town anticipate a trip to the Twin Cities to play in the finals. But, first the boys need to qualify.

November 8, 2010
Caves Age=28 weeks and 11 weeks

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GRAZING SEASON ENDS

The fall herd joined the main herd in a move to the renter’s home place. Actually, the main herd is usually driven three miles farther north to Grandpa’s farm. The fall herd will stay on the renter’s corn stalks until the new owner picks them up. The late calves and their moms are now in the north paddock here at Lone Tree Heritage Farm. There are four calves and five cows: one cow never did calf.

There are essentially no cattle left on the grass. It has been an ideal grazing season, but there has also been a lot of pressure on the pasture. The grass stayed green late in the season, so it got grazed down to a fairly short length in some paddocks. We need to be more careful of going into winter dormancy with more leaves and stems. “Pop can height” is the recipe we hear about the most.

So, the cattle are off the grass and out onto the corn stalks. However, corn stalks don’t provide the feed that they once did. Modern combines leave less shelled corn behind, compared with the old days of corn pickers harvesting ear corn. But, it is the new genetics that make the changes significant. New hybrids that are more resistant to corn borers, hold the ears more tightly on the stalk. But, the tough stalks are less palatable. So, there’s less waste corn on the ground for the cows to glean and the stalks aren’t so good to eat. Portions of fields with the new hybrids are planted in regular corn as “refuges” of up to 20% of the field. You can look at cows on corn stalks and see where the refuge was planted. The cows are clustered in the area of old normal corn. Modification of one part of a complex system leads to unforeseen changes in other parts of the system.

Complex human systems also process and distribute the beef and complex natural systems support the original production. We were in Colorado this week and had conversations with our son about local foods and grass-fed beef. There is a big and growing market for that in the Front Range metro corridor. We are researching the possibility of a similar market close to the farm. Is Sioux Falls, America, ready to be interested in a Big Sioux “Food Shed”?

November 1, 2010
Calf Age=27 weeks and 10 weeks

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HARVEST OVER

The last late calf was born in the south birthing paddock. The rest of the fall herd was moved over to the west of the bridge construction site. After the big cattle drive last week, the main herd is gleaning the corn stalks in the southeast quarter of our home section. The herd owner is renting the corn stalk ground to augment the 80 acres of his own corn stalks that he harvested farther east.

It has been a record harvest. Reports run up to 200 bushels per acre. Prices are high, but many farmers had already sold their corn on forward contracts. The warm and dry fall weather made for perfect combining, except it was very dusty. A lot of farmers have sinus infections and repertory problems. Our crop ground renter who usually finishes harvest late, finished shortly after the producer-partner who rents our pasture. The pasture renter finished combining on October 21.

The bridge construction is proceeding on schedule. It was inconvenient to have the construction going on during harvest. But, farmers are glad to have the big, new, strong bridge to handle their huge farm equipment. This year’s inconvenience is out-weighed by the safety of the new bridge. Infrastructure is critical in rural areas, as well as in cities.

While the cattle grazed corn stalks over east, the extended family of the pasture renter gathered at his sister’s house to celebrate October birthdays. Between the two families there are three kids that have birthdays that month. So with the grandparents, there were almost a dozen people in the house when the accident happened. An eighteen-wheeler loaded with hogs jack-knifed and turned over on the curve outside the party house. Some hogs were killed and a lot of them ran away and had to be herded back to the site of the accident. The family pitched in to help. The truck had only come from about a mile to the east, so it was neighbors helping neighbors.

October 25, 2010
Calf Age=26 weeks and 9 weeks

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CATTLE DRIVE

The last three cows of the Fall Herd are close to calving. There is an additional cow in the south birthing paddock—a straggler from the Main Herd cattle drive. She is uncomfortable with the fall cows and knows that it’s not her group. The Fall Herd was in the paddocks to the north while the cattle drive happened and then got moved to the paddock at the bridge. They will progressively move west onto the good grass on the far hill.

Our two grandchildren and their parents arrived just as the cattle drive started on Saturday afternoon. So, we had city kids as spectators. Things started with some difficulties and then got tough. The Main Herd was north of the bridge; some of the cows didn’t want to cross the Creek. The Grandpa of the family of cattle drivers pulled a hay feeder behind the pickup. Most of the herd followed out the gate and east up the State Line. Things went pretty well where there were boundary fences, but the herd detoured
into the hay field east of our buildings and then into the corn stalks east of that. The drivers finally took them directly through the fence into the southeast quarter where the corn stalks have been rented.

The cattle drive was a family affair: Grandpa, father and sons, uncle and cousins, in-laws and nieces and nephews. Several pickups blocked driveways along the road, 2 or 3 four-wheelers rounded up the herd, and two people were on horse back. The cattle didn’t like the horses; they are more familiar with the four-wheelers. The next day several of the families got together for a party celebrating three October birthdays.

There was some extra excitement late in the afternoon on party day. An eighteen-wheeler loaded with 100 lb hogs jack-knifed and over turned on the curve just outside the house that hosted the party. The driver of the truck was not hurt, but a number of the hogs were killed. They were coming from a hog barn about one-half mile east of the corner where the accident happened. Cattle are better than hogs.

October 18, 2010
Calf Age=25 weeks and 8 weeks

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WEANING

One last late calf was born this week, but it was an “abnormal presentation” and had to be pulled by the owner. Both the cow and the calf are okay. This was the only calf that had to have help this year; more than 100 cows have had their calves unassisted. The Fall Herd shifted to a north paddock in preparation for the Main Herd move to the cattle yard.

The move was a big deal. Half a dozen family members helped on their four wheelers. That included an uncle who had a similar weaning operation carried out a week ago. The owner called and led the Main Herd, while the outriders brought up the stragglers. The drive came south from the back pasture, continued to the east of the bridge site, and on up the hill along the bluff to the cattle yard. June calves stayed with their moms, but the rest of the calves were sorted out in the small catch pen. These weaned calves were taken over to the owner’s place in trailers and vaccinated.

These are stressful times for the calves, the cows, and the owner. Calves are physically challenged by the changes. The mothers moan and search for their babies. And, the owner got up in the middle of the night because he thought that he heard the cows return to his own farm yard. The cows are restless. The calves are gone, the grass is short, and it is autumn. It happens this way every year and hopefully everything will calm down when the Main Herd is put out onto the best rested paddock over west. The plan is to get through the harvest (soy beans are done and corn has started) with a minimum of cattle commitments. Everyone will breathe easier when they are out on the corn stalks waiting for winter.

The bridge crew moved equipment and activity to the west side of the Creek. They pounded more pilings, built more forms, and poured more cement. We’ve had exceptional fall weather—no rain since the big flood, a week of abnormally warm (high 80s) temperatures, and the up-coming week is forecast to be just as good.

October 11, 2010
Calf Age=24 weeks and 7 weeks

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AFTERMATH

The Fall Herd went into a small, ungrazed pasture east of the cattle yard. That gets them away from the Creek until the flood goes down. But, after a couple of days in that little pasture, even the long grass is gone and they escaped out into the farm yard where we mow. They like the short, new, green grass a lot. Mowing keeps it growing and new, especially in this wet year. Fortunately, the Fall Herd did not get all the way down the drive way to the mailbox on the road. The owner chased them around the yard on the four wheeler, but they went in fairly well.

The Main Herd is back out on the areas of the pasture that were flooded, but they don’t like the dirt that the flood left on the grass. And, they are punching hoof holes into the saturated low spots. When the owner was moving the Fall Herd, the Main Herd anticipated some attention as well. They all came charging across the Creek, but were disappointed to not have a change for them. The Creek is still high, but all of the calves got safely across. Now, hopefully there will be no diseases that follow the flood waters down the Creek. The high water subsided after a few days.

Bridge construction was not impacted badly by the flood. There was not much erosion of the new dirt work. However, one of the guys was surprised by the water depth. It came up to his seat in the back hoe when he crossed the Creek. There was a lot of channel bank erosion. One area in the northwest part of the pasture had the channel shift about 100 feet.

The Fall Herd is at least partially for sale. One potential buyer has looked at them, but hasn’t committed to the deal yet. The owner’s wife posted the cows on Craig’s List and the first call came in about one hour later. It was from a young man who had been raised in the area and anticipated a start-up farm operation next spring. He’s still in the military now and his call came from Germany. Digital marketing is global marketing.

October 4, 2010
Calf Age=23 weeks and 6 weeks

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FLOOD

On September 23 and 24, we had 5 inches of rain in 24 hours. The headwater areas upstream had 10 to13 inches. The Creek flooded the pasture significantly. The owner moved the Main Herd before the flood hit. All of the cows and all of the calves were on the same side of the Creek and were located up on the hill paddock east of the bridge. No small calves were swept away in this flood. It may not have been a record breaker, but it is one of the highest floods of the past 10 years.

It is sobering to see where the permanent fences are located relative to the low-lying areas that flood frequently. Those old fences are located where they are for a reason. Our paddock plan from the Feds included water pipes laid out on surfaces that were hit by currents. That water system would have been badly messed up. Moveable electric fences are not particularly affected by floods, except at the Creek crossings. This flood wiped out all of those crossings.

When the owner of the herds paid the annual rent this week, we discussed the operation in general. He had a possibility for spraying buck brush and thistles with a helicopter, but then decided that there wasn’t much need. The helicopter would cost about $8 an acre and would avoid drift of the spray onto the plum thickets. We did talk long-term plans briefly, but the flood and the harvest were a preoccupation.

The first day of Fall passed this week. High school football is in full swing. The owner’s Freshman son got a touchdown during a varsity game and his dad was proud (even though, his real love is basketball). The rain and resulting flood stopped work on the bridge. We are all now waiting for the water to go down to access the damages.

September 27, 2010
Calf Age=22 weeks and 5 weeks

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TRANSITIONS

Another calf has been added to the Fall Herd. The last of the calves and cows were moved to the cattle yard paddock to eventually join the main part of the Fall Herd. The Fall Herd has access to the east paddock along the Creek, all the way to the back line fence. However, some of the calves were difficult to get moved out of the birthing paddock. And, some of the cows kept returning to their old “home”. The neighbor’s white bull spent time with these cows, but they are not in heat—so, hopefully he didn’t spoil the fall calving schedule.

The Main Herd continues to be restless over West. They were moved south to the paddock adjacent to the bridge construction. Every time another pickup pulls up to the construction site, some of the cows call to be moved or maybe they are just bellering for attention. Even though the grass has stayed green, they have been restless, wanting to get moved into a different paddock.

Bridge construction progresses. The wooden retaining wall on the old east bridge approach was removed. Our renter is getting some of the salvage wood. It will probably be used for building new cattle yard fences. Wooden forms and rebar cages were put in place and cement was run. All of the work done so far has been on the east side.

The farmer who is buying some of the Fall Herd cows was here to look at the stock. The six cows are alone in the south birthing paddock, waiting for him to pick them up. The rest of the Fall Herd all have their calves, even though fall doesn’t officially start until this coming week. The seasons and the grazing operation on Lone Tree Farm are all in transition.

September 20, 2010

Calf Age=21 weeks and 4 weeks

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WATCH CALF

Four more new calves are in the Fall Herd. The last dozen cows waiting for their calves were moved to the birthing paddock along the road where they can be easily checked. The buzzards still circle the birthing area. The new calves do wonder. We arrived home at about sunset one evening to find one of the calves born that day, lying next to the garage door–“guarding” our empty house. When the owner tried to move him back to the paddock, he took off running and ran straight back to the cow who was calling to him.

Three rented bulls have been added to the one already with the main herd. That should be enough to get the work done, although artificial insemination may supplement that. The main herd has been moved south to the paddock near the bridge site, on the east side of the Creek. They continue to be restless, as is usual in the fall. Is it because the grass is less sweet? Can measuring the brix levels in the grass (like sugars in wine grapes) answer the question?

Work continues on the bridge construction site. The old steel was hauled off and new rebar and pilings were trucked in. Fifty-foot steel pilings or pipes are being driven down to a depth where 10 strikes doesn’t drive them deeper (bedrock?). Transparency measurements of water in the Creek do not appear to be significantly different upstream and downstream from the construction site. There is a lot of digging and there are back hoe tracks right down next to the water.

The Fall Herd represents a nitch market. The last six cows are expecting their calves a lot later and the owner has a buyer for them. That way the owner will be more free for the harvest and the buyer takes all of the risk of birthing the last six calves. The rest of the Fall Herd has been moved north to a paddock along the Creek. Several calves have wandered back into the birthing paddock that has been their home; their moms call them back, but they don’t always pay attention. The Fall Herd nitch market is created because these calves will be ready to market out of phase with the spring calves that flood the supply.

September 13, 2010
Calf Age=20 weeks and 3 weeks

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