CHANGING PERSPECTIVE


CHANGING PERSPECTIVE

JIM TATE

CONSERVATION SPECIALIST

HANOVER – CAROLINE SWCD

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I started this job with the district in 1999, so come Labor day I will be beginning my nineteenth year.  I began fooling with horses and cattle about 1960 when I got my first horse.  It took me a long time to figure out that as a stockman , my first job was to be able to grow grass for feed for the livestock.  Since that big revelation it has been a steady progression of learning just how to do that.  Don’t get me wrong….I am not tooting my horn because I have made so many mistakes along the way that it is shameful to recall them all.  Some of those mistakes were my fault because I am a little bull headed.

Some of those mistakes are not my fault because I was doing what I was taught…..Some of the teaching was conventional wisdom and some of it was university research.

I think my strength is that I can recognize what is not working and attempt to try something different hoping for a better result.  This in itself has taken me down many a blind alley.  But I have tried not to be one who repeats the same process over and over expecting different results.

It took me a while to get here but for the last eight or ten years I have been on a quest to find ways to do things more holistically and with lower inputs and in concert with nature.

My personal livestock endeavors transformed from a sideline business to a hobby about that time when my neighbor and cattle partner died and I returned to riding horses for pleasure.  I sold the cow herd down to two good old lame cows that were too good to slaughter and yet too unsound to sell to anyone else.  Those two cows are gone now, but I am back up to four registered and one commercial cow to breed this fall.  The commercial cow raised a set of twins on her own this past year so she is a pretty good one too and I will probably sell her as a commercial cow next spring after weaning her fall calf and breeding her back.  Three or four good cows Is my goal and I even registered a heifer this year for the first time in three or four years….

But I digress.  At that time I was raising cattle by the university tested paradigm….I was performance testing and measuring growth and doing all of the approved management practices and soil testing and fertilizing and spraying for pests both plant and animal and was a regular customer at all of the farm supply stores.  There came a point where decisions had to be made and poverty avoided.

About that time I was exposed to several outside the box thinkers who are still widely denounced as impractical and quixotic.  But what they were saying registered with me.  I won’t go into all of them and their methods but I decided that there had to be a better way.

I quit buying fertilizer and lime.  I greatly reduced my use of pesticides for both weeds and insects.  I attempted to embrace nature and diversity.  I recalled some of the techniques practiced by the farmers of my childhood right after world war two.  I knew farmers who used horses and mules and recall when 8N tractors were the thing many coveted.  Almost every farm had a surplus army jeep as a farm vehicle.  I remember good bountiful crops before the age of chemistry.  I remember when all farms were diverse with multiple species of livestock and crops.  But yield goals were changing and small farms were becoming big farms and specialization in farming was well under way …… by the time I got to college.  My specialty became Beef Cattle and  I have worked with registered angus  ever since…remember,   I still have five.

But now in my doterage I recognize what we have lost….we have lost diversity.   We have lost the interrelationship of crops and animals.  We have lost natural interrelationships of animals fertilizing the land.  We have lost natural production cycles.  Nutrients are commodities that are moved on and off the farm with abandon.  We have lost wildlife habitat.  The greatest symptom of that is the decline in Bobwhite Quail.  It is theorized that this is mostly due to loss of habitat.

The answer to every problem today comes in a chemical jug.  Now I am not knocking progress and we have found solutions to many problems and have the ability to produce more every year….until something happens in the supply chain,  Or until nature discovers a work around.  One of the great challenges today, is due to the use of Roundup for everything .  We now have roundup resistant weeds that are super aggressive..

Nature abhors a vacuum and she will put something there to cover the soil and her solution is often a bigger problem than the original problem you thought you took care of with the chemicals.  I sprayed some fence line because the grass was shorting out the electric fence….Killed the grass fine….but now I am fighting multiflora rose and wild blackberry and pokeberry and tree of heaven and cedars and so forth that were never there when the fescue was there.  Today I mow fence lines with a push mower….No it is not easy but it is easier than dealing with the multiflora rose….

Now to the points of all of this.  Yes there are a couple of points to be made.

The first is stocking rate.  The conventional definition is number of animal units that can be successfully managed on a given amount of land.

For simplicity an animal unit is generally considered to be 1000 lbs of animal generally regardless of species.  The problem is that many people have no idea what their animals weigh.

Virginia Tech generally recommends that it takes two acres to carry one animal unit.  My position has been for years that Virginia Tech is in the Mountains of Southwest Virginia with a different climate and distinctly different seasons and pasture species than we have here at the juncture of the Coastal Plain and the Piedmont.  I have contended for years that three acres per animal unit would be a better target.  Since no one has heeded my advice in that regard, I am relatively safe in changing my recommendation to four acres per cow.

But people want to have what they want to have.  So they rationalize.  Well I buy all my hay any way.  I buy my feed.  I don’t want the horses to get to fat….clover makes them slobber, too much grass makes them founder, my horse is an easy keeper….the county allows two horses per acre…..and they plant grass every year or have dry lots.

Cattle people do it too…they stock for the best production time of the year…cows get fat in the spring while the producer struggles to make spring hay around the spring rain showers and about a third of the hay gets wet with quality lost.   Then we hit a spell of hot dry weather like this weeks (today is 21 July 2017 ) 104 degree days and no rain for several weeks and the cool season grasses just give up and go to sleep.  I have seen people this week feeding hay that was intended for winter…Hay feeding initiated now is likely to carry on through September or until we get meaningful rain from a hurricane.  In the last couple of decades we have seen summers like this about one in three.  Yet people continue to stock at two acres per cow or less, because that is what we have always done.   My thought is why not stock for the worst of times to be sustainable and have luxury in the good times.  Then you can background your calves rather than having to send them to market …the easiest money to make in cattle is in backgrounding weanlings….if you have the forage.

I was on the farm of a producer this week who does not feed any hay….He has not fed any hay for the last couple of years….his stated goal is for his cows to graze 365 days per year.  This producer does several things differently from the conventional cattleman.

First his stocking rate is four acres per cow.  He had about eighty acres and about twenty cows.  And he had pretty big cows.  For those of you who have seen my cows his were nearly as big as ours used to be and the current ones are now.  Three of my five are still pretty big.  One of the five is but a weanling heifer and one is a smaller cow who produces like a big one.

This producer has grass right now….fescue up to my knees and swithchgrass some of which was over my head.  He is not Making any hay….he is managing his grazing and stockpiling forage.

He rotationally grazes…he controls where the cows graze and more importantly where they do not graze.   Simple one strand hot wire fence….

He allows his pastures to rest and recover after grazing.

Yes I said switchgrass….he has a twelve acre field of swithchgrass and that is where the dry cows are spending a good part of their summer and they are fat and sassy.

I have used and advocated using Summer annuals to do this same thing for several years.  But I was convinced to plant some native warm season grasses in the coming year.   I am planning on beginning my preparation this fall.  I am thinking of a plot of switchgrass as well as a plot of gamma grass and a plot of indiangrass and bluestems.

The first advantage is that the summer annuals cost me seed and planting cost every year.  Once the native warm seasons are established they have little to no maintenance costs.  The stand I was in was twenty years old and had not had any lime or fertilizer or pesticide since it was established.

The native warm season grasses will put roots down 12 to 15 feet or until they hit bedrock which makes established stands able to withstand our hot dry summers.

Below is a picture of corn in my neighborhood this weekend which illustrates how dry we are….some areas are getting rain but we are in a drought year after a wet spring.  This is pretty characteristic in our area about one in three years.  Pastures are dry, dormant and crunchy unless you have some Bermuda grass.  It is still green.

The NWSG will also provide a break from the heat stress on the cows grazing endophyte infected fescue….The endophyte is hardest on the cows when it is hot and dry….a logical alternative is to graze something that is not endophyte infected during the heat of summer….That is what I have used the Summer annual cover crops for.  This year though even the pearl millet and sorghum sudan are rolled up and suffering from the lack of rain….this is one of those years that will reveal what your stocking rate should be….Due to its deep roots and native hardiness, the switchgrass field I was in was tall and lush and leafy and excellent forage and the cows were slick and clean and fat and not suffering with the heat stress.

The NWSG will also make good quality hay but it must be managed a little differently than cool season grasses.   To me however the real value is the ability to fill the void of summer slump in the cool season grasses with a crop that requires little in the way of management or inputs.  Yes it is different than what we have always done but it is the grass crop that was predominant in Virginia before we brought in the cool season grasses and pressured the warm season grasses out of our pastures..We did this by over grazing and over stocking….The NWSG are extremely productive but they can not stand continuous grazing and their growth point is about 12 inches and not 3 or 4 inches like the cool season grasses.

The NWSG will require a different management.  But it is not rocket science.  All it takes is an open mind and a willingness to try something different.  Why would I not try something that can reduce cost, improve animal performance, reduce inputs, address summer slump, provide an alternative to fescue toxicity and make life simpler and possibly more profitable.

We have one local producer in the area that is grazing two large swards of warm season grasses and he is liking them very much.  I just spoke with him yesterday on how he is grazing and managing with the warm season grasses.

Raising livestock is simple…..the hard part is keeping it simple…

As I embark on this new adventure I will try to document my steps and comment on any success as well as any failure.  Dr. Pat Keyser of the University of Tennessee has developed a management sequence that is yielding good results and I am going to try his method of establishment.  My first obstacle is lack of equipment so I have to find a method to plant my small paddocks in something akin to a no till fashion.  I still believe that tillage kills soil and want to avoid tillage.  And no till is an excellent method to plant these warm season grasses.  But the seed is not cheap and I want to have a successful stand with the initial planting.  I will have to use some herbicide to get a stand started and reduce competition but I feel like it is a good trade off to use a herbicide in one year in return for a stand that may last me the rest of my life with very few inputs.  My goal will be to begin grazing it the second summer after planting.

I am targeting four of my paddocks, two on the horse side and two on the cattle side of my property.

 

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PDF FARM UPDATE


PDF FARM UPDATE
6/10/2017
As always you can click on any photo to see it larger and use your back button to return to the blog….

The last time I posted I was fusing about the lack of rain….so May tried to wash us all away. Actually right here in Aridzona Virginia we did not have too much for anyone except the hay guys….they did have a devil of a time trying to make hay and a lot got wet and a lot more got too ripe to be highest quality. And it was pretty cool for a May. We did grow a little grass. I have been cutting grass relentlessly. Boss won’t let me graze the yard.

As of yesterday it has gotten hot…weather terrorist say the heat is here and no relief in sight…those guys are always trying to terrorize people with the weather….news flash summer will be hot…maybe the hottest ever…maybe not…but stay tuned and we will tell you what happened to you…

Went over night from sleeping under a blanket to sleeping under a fan.

We are in the midst of remodeling a bath room. Nothing fancy but the floor was bad and so we ripped everything out and putting in a new floor, shower, and sink and such. In over thirty years here we have not had a shower….we are starting to stink…not really, we are taking out a bath tub and putting in a shower…

I am in the midst of sowing my summer cover crops after grazing….this weekend we did two lots….one for the horses and one for the calves. Last weekend I brought home a heifer I am going to raise to breed and the twins from last fall who probably totaled 750 lbs together but they are way too small to market. Brought them here so that I can feed them a little bit. Took them two days to catch on to the feeding schedule….they holler every time they see me already. Yesterday I wormed them all again and put them thru the chute the first time with feed…now they keep looking for ways to go thru the chute again….It is amazing how fast they learn..

Any how below is a picture of the calves grazing paddock for the last week. This is after a week of the big steer and three weanlings and two goats grazing on it….I think I have a little residue. My problem will be getting the seed to the soil. But I mowed it with the bushog and drug a tractor tire behind the bushog to try to get the seed to the soil.

Here is a closeup of the residue after a week of grazing by the two year old steer and three weanling calves and two goats.

Here is the post seeding photo

And here is this weeks grazing

And the crew working on it….

Here is a shot across the five paddock in what we call the big bull field.

This is a shot of the far strip after three weeks growth….I should recall here that these paddocks have not had any chemical amendment of any kind in about seven years….no lime no fertilizer other than naturally deposited manure and no herbicide. Simply an effort to manage grazing by maximizing rest periods and species diversity with an emphasis on deep rooted crops and legumes. And each of these strips has responded differently to the conditions at the time.

The steer has been living on these crops for about a year and a neighbor was here a week or so ago and asked if the steer wasn’t ready for the freezer and I think he is…he has been getting about four quarts of feed a day for a few months now as well. I just grew up with corn fed beef and prefer the taste….so I feed him a little corn.

I would once again point out the high tech fence….a 2 inch diameter PVC pipe driven into the ground as a post and a strand of polywire…it looks like more because I have the gate pulled around along the fence. The divisions are single polywire.

And last but not least….my chicory patch in the garden was literally buzzing this morning. Bees and butterfiles and all sorts of critters. This patch has several species in it but after mowing it a time or two I decided to let it go and the chicory has dominated. It is beautiful with the early morning blue flowers and timely because the spring stuff like crimson clover and vetch have diminished and the summer stuff is not yet blooming. The chicory is well over my head. The animals love it and that is why you do not find it in conventinally managed pastures. Animals will graze it into extinction. It is a good plant because it is very deep rooted when allowed to grow and mines nutrients from the deep soil and breaks soil compaction .

Managed grazing and species diversity are the keys….I still have about three family’s of quail…on 12 acres….we hear quail calling almost every day….

It is too early to observe the summer seedings…I see cow peas everywhere and am just starting to see some buckwheat and pearl millet. I even went across the road and bushogged a patch of weeds a couple of weeks ago and broadcast about a quarter of an acre as a wildlife patch just to see what it would do.

PDF forages 4/22/2017


Me, mounted on Dancehall Dixie, the great little Mule owned by my friend Stewart.

Jim Tate

As always you can click on any photo to see it larger and use your back button to return to the blog….

We have finally had some rain…we were getting dry and had only had 2 inches so far in April which is normally one of our rainier months.  In the last two days we have had two thunderstorms, and had 3/10 of an inch the first day and 4/10 last night.  It was gray and gloomy this morning and so we walked about and took some photos….taking photos was not my original intent and so I did not take the camera and used the cell phone….unlike most people today the phone is not my better camera and so the photo quality is not quite as good.   But I think it will illustrate   the things we want to point out.

First up are some shots of the pasture near my front yard.  This pasture has been divided into two long strips with one poly rope….this is typically a horse paddock…it was last grazed about two months or more ago….the tall side was grazed and I broadcast some cool season seed and closed it off.  The short side was grazed the following week and it also had some seed broadcast and it was mown and had a tire drug over it….the tall side is taller because I did not set it back by mowing it and the plants not grazed bolted in the spring…the new seedlings are just becoming apparent in both fields.  And the tall side has one week more growth here in the spring.  Sometimes the only way to figure out if what you are doing is right is to try something different.  I still don’t know which will end up better but the different management is apparent at this point….now the taller one has bigger weeds as well.

comparisongrazed and broadcast seedgrazed, seeded mown and dragged

I really need to switch the horses and the cattle to take control of the weed problem but the goats won’t honor the single strand horse fence and just go everywhere….and I can not put the goats with the horses cause both Pete and Star Baby love to chase em….

Next are some shots of paddocks across the big bull field….this one pasture has been divided into five paddocks with poly wire…it was grazed in the late winter by the steer and the goats.  The same animals will go back into these in two more weeks….by then the forage will be over the poly wire…what is of interest is that each paddock was grazed for about a week in the fall and then seeded and mown and or dragged.  The seeding mix was not very different for each….but there are differences in the plant community in each paddock…the closest one is dominated by vetch and crimson clover…one is dominated by barley and others have varying degrees of the mixtures…

oh and I must point out here that while I was powering up the camera to take these shots a turkey hen flew up out of this field which is right beside my house…Last week she and two suitors were in my back yard….these cover crops are not only good forage….they are great for wildlife.

bull field paddock 5barley, vetch crimson clover and dwarf essex rapelooking across the five big bull paddocks

One thing has become apparent….these pastures where I have continuously had cover crops, have very little fescue.  I used to think fescue was the only thing that would hold up….but these continuous covers and rotational grazing have changed the plant community without using herbicides….now I have used some herbicides this week.  The goats are not numerous enough to keep up with the brush and the goats do not have access to the horse side so I have been spraying back some blackberry and multiflora rose and thistle and poke berry this spring….

but back to my point…I continue to think that multi species cover crops are a good agent of change suitable for use in converting from endophyte infected fescue to endophyte friendly fescue….two or three courses of seasonal multi species cover crops, supplemented by spraying between cover crops should adequately suppress the endophyte infected fescue.  I like the productivity of the cover crops so well that I intend to continue to use them as a primary forage.

Next up is the series of eight paddocks that the horses are grazing now.  They are currently in the fourth of the eight.  They have each one for about a week.

view from the road

horses are in the 4th of 8 front paddocks

Here is this week’s paddock with the crew at work.

this weeks horse pasture

Here is last week’s paddock, seeded and mown and aerated with my spike tooth aerator.  Got it done right before the rain….Oh, and it was seeded with the new summer mscc mix I got this week from Green Cover Seed.  I don’t have the mix right here to hand but it has :  Pearl Millet, cow peas, sunflower, sun hemp, okra, dwarf essex rape, florida broadleaf mustard, chicory, buckwheat and I forget what else.

last weeks horse pasture

I have an area that once upon a time was garden and now is home to the chicken tractor.   My routine is to move the chicken tractor weekly and then I throw down some seed and mulch over it.  Some of it had gotten pretty tall and so I let the horses and donkeys in over the weekend to knock it back a bit…Pete liked the barley and rye….Star Baby was eating vetch and crimson clover.  The donkeys just stood in one spot and ate  it all.  Perkins decided he liked the chicory.  The chicory was about two feet tall and Perkins went from plant to plant and grazed it to the ground.

Perkins grazed the chicory to the ground

Not cover crops but these are the day lilies looking good around the graves of eight of my best friends….

day lillies mark the graves of eight of my best friends

Here is another shot of the paddock by the stable where a pair of quail are frequent visitors….the Rape in this shot appears to have taken over.

rape blooms hide everything

But there is small gain, crimson clover and vetch as well as a pretty good stand of orchardgrass.

vetch and crimson clover are there too

Last but not least…..my chestnut trees are blooming.

chestnut blooming

I grew these chestnuts from seed that I picked up from a huge chestnut at Big Spring Mill in Elliston, Va. Over 25 years ago….I actually had a couple of chestnuts last year but did not see them bloom…this year there are quite a few blooms.

chestnut grown from seed

Shots from around the Farm 1/28/2017


AS ALWAYS YOU CAN CLIK ON ANY PHOTO TO SEE IT LARGER….USE YOUR BROWSER BACK BUTTON TO RETURN TO THE BLOG.

Yesterday was a pretty day but it was quite windy and cool…

January has been fairly tolerable…one sharp cold snap and then two weeks of decently warm weather…albeit fairly rainy.  Now for the worst month of the year….February….

There are signs of spring.  the days are beginning to get a little bit longer.
There was an entire flock of migratory Robins down by the stable in the morning….We see robins here all winter but this was the first big flock I have seen this year…but I have not spent a lot of time over at Jacks Barn and cow pasture this year and that is where I normally see them first.  Often at Christmas.  Thus my name for them…..Lying Ass Robins…..I did not get a photo of them….

The daffodils around the dogs graves have emerged from the ground…this unseasonable weather of the last two weeks has probably been a factor,

more-daffodils-1-28-17

Below Perkins and his crew enjoyed a new paddock of grass….this year I have been letting the stock graze some of the fall seeded cover crop paddocks.  So while we are feeding some hay they are still getting some green forage.  With Star Baby visiting at Brunsons for a couple of weeks that means more for the rest of the crew.  PERKINS, PETE AND THE TWO DONKEYS.

old-man-perkins-and-his-crew-found-some-grass

below are a couple of turnips that Amos or the goats pulled up from the paddock they went into.  there was 2 oz of turnip seed in the mix sown onto most of the paddocks this fall.

turnips-the-goats-pulled-up

Below is a shot of the paddock that the goats and Amos the steer were turned into….the paddock closest for some reason had a greater crop of brassicas and the other paddocks below seed to be heavier in the grasses and small grains…they all had a similar mix but were sone at different times as they were grazed.

lot-of-rape-in-this-paddock

This is Amos the steer with the goats in paddock Big Bull 5.

late-fall-sown-cover-crops

this is what the other big bull paddocks look like with more grass and small grain….adding orchardgrass and ryegrass into the boradcast mix seemed ot have done well in these paddocks.  the forage is about eight inches tall and pretty thick.

cover-crop-2-in-the-big-bullfield

Jonah and Esther below in the same lot with Perkins…Peter was off in the far corner…Any time Pete goes into a new paddock he always trots around the fence line and then goes to the far corner to begin grazing.  Please note the elaborate fencing used to control these equines….It has not been turned on for over a week as I cross over it at night to feed them their hay…

jonah-and-ester-loving-life

 

BULLS


Baby Jim in Living ColorBaby Jim

Photo courtesy of The Old Cowboy Archives

BULLS

 

 

 

 

An aging Baby Jim was involved in a conversation the other day about bulls.  It started because of an article about an elderly man and his son both being killed by a bull at the same time….Presumably the bull attacked one and the other went to his assistance and the bull killed both.  It is a sad event…the article made no mention of the breed or age of the bull…not that it is particularly relevant.

For a bull to kill a full grown man is little more difficult than that same man swatting a fly.  Far too many people, including those who work with and around them, have no idea of the strength and power extant within a bull.  Often today many advertisements and listings on Craigs List and Facebook can be seen, authored by modern day homesteaders looking to buy or sell gentle Jersey bulls.  Gentle Jersey Bulls is a three word oxymoron.  Baby Jims countenance is filled with dread when he sees such things.  The sweet little Jersey cow is one of nature’s wonders.  Small, gentle, efficient, prolific, attractive and productive.  People then think the same thing about their male calves….. and if neutered it is true….The steers are similar to the cows and heifers and the steers make very good well marbled beef.  Left intact, however, the bulls are subject to becoming death on the hoof.

Anyone who works around a bull stud with all sorts of bulls will tell you that in general the dairy bulls are the rankest: and most difficult and among the dairy bulls is the Jersey, while the smallest, is

generally acknowledged to be the most dangerous.   And with dairy bulls going from one extreme to the other often happens like flipping a switch……a switch that often cannot be turned back off.  When a bull decides to get mean, they seldom say I’m sorry lets be friends again….

Todays homesteaders scoff at Baby Jim’s admonitions and warnings and reply back that he is just a pet and we raised him on a bottle and he is the gentlest thing on the farm….The bovine translation is that he is absolutely not afraid of you.  And if the switch flips you are most likely to be toast…because you will not see it coming and most likely will not have had any warning or missed the subtle signs.

First….no one realizes the power in one of these animals….Oxen which are simply aged steers are extremely powerful…pound for pound stronger than horses and able to pull great loads with a simple yoke laid across their shoulders….Oxen are stronger but horses are faster and we know which one people generally prefer….

Some illustrations of power.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

BANGEL OF WYE

 

Several years ago Baby Jim use to breed a small herd of cows for a neighbor….they started out with one cow who had a lot of heifers.  The cows were bred to good quality Bulls via AI and the small herd was quite productive.  But they were all like pets and any time it was time to sell anything more than a few tears were involved.  Many cows were buried on the place because they did not have the heart to sell them at market.   At one point they had a bull calf that was better than any previous bull calves and they decided to leave him as a bull.  So they kept him and he became a big stout bull that replaced the need for AI service for a couple of years…Of course he was one of the babies as well, even though he weighed over a ton.  By and by Baby Jim was called on to consult on some cow related matter.  While there he observed the interaction between the owner and the bull and commented that the people needed to be more careful with the bull….It was met with he would not hurt a fly he is just a big baby….Baby Jim stated the he never thought the bull would be outright mean but any animal weighing a ton can hurt you by wanting you to scratch an itch.

About a month later the owner was going across the field on his tractor.  It was a 35 or 40 HP Massey Ferguson tractor.  He had a five gallon bucket on the tractor which the bull assumed to be feed.  The bull circled the tractor a time or two in an attempt to stop the tractor for the feed.  When the human did not stop the tractor the bull decided to handle things his way….He stopped…lowered his head and pushed the tractor from the front….It was all pretty laughable until the bull began pushing the tractor backward while the drive wheels were still going forward.  When the owner depressed the clutch the bull rolled the tractor backwards forty or fifty feet and then stuck his head in the five gallon bucket for the feed….the bull was gone less than thirty days later….

That same operation naturally loved the arrival of all new babies and they were met with loving hugs and adoration…Baby Jim observed the mistress of the manor bestowing such adoration on a calf less than 12 hours old and getting between the mama and the calf…He advised caution……”My girls all know me and they would never hurt me.” was the response.   About a year later one of her girls rolled her about thirty feet across the field.  Fortunately nothing was injured except her pride.

horned-hereford-bull

a HORNED HEREFORD BULL IN THE SELECT SIRES CATALOG   MCR BLUESTEM 977

 

Now into the way back machine, with Mr. Peabody.  A couple of tales from the Youth of Baby Jim….

First was Sam….Baby Jims dad and his good friend had some cows….In the early sixties they got some charolais cows…They liked the calves so well that they decided to get a charolais bull.  Don’t know where he came from but one Sunday afternoon Baby Jim’s daddy rolled up into the yard with a bumper pull stock trailer and after he stopped the trailer kept rocking….Baby Jim stepped up on the running board to see what all the noise was about and about 750 lbs of white fury slammed into the side of the trailer….A young Charolais bull.  Baby Jim opined that he didn’t think he would unload him until he got back to wherever he came from or a stockyard which ever was closer.  Baby Jims dad said he had been put through the chute and vaccinated and dehorned and was just a little rattled and that he would settle down.   Another look confirmed that they had not dehorned but had only sawed off his horns… Baby Jim countered with the observation that if he did not settle down on a fifty mile ride he didn’t think settling down was in his future…but the older generation prevailed and the bull was turned out into the pasture and that was the last time anyone set foot in the pasture for over five years….well you could ride a horse or drive a tractor in the pasture….but no one was brave enough to walk….Over the next few years, the entire cow herd got so wild that doing anything became an expedition and when trying to trap any cows they tore down everything.  They were led in these endeavors by Sam who grew to be huge and his blunted horns grew out to about 10 inches of battering ram on each temple.

One time while Baby Jims daddy was feeding silage with a crawler loader, the bull tried to fight the loader…Baby Jims daddy dropped the loader on the bulls head and knocked him down and made him back off.  They decided that he had to go…

While baby Jim was in the army they decided to build a super pen nearly seven feet tall and stout….they would put feed in the pen to entice the herd in.  Somehow they got the gate shut….the next problem is how do you load the bull?  Now back in the day people did not have stock trailers.  Stock trucks were the rule and normally two ton or greater trucks with oak bodies and a roof.  So the bull had to go up the ramp and into the truck….how to get him to do that….after several hours of frustration and several brushes with near death, baby Jims cousin who was quite the athlete had an idea….when he saw a clear path, he jumped into the pen and sprinted across it and up the chute and practically leaped onto the top of the truck…With malice in his heart the bull gave chase across the pen and up the ramp and his impetus took him into the truck and the gate was dropped, locking him in.  They managed to get him to a stock yard and no one knows how because afterward they had to rebuild the truck body.

In the meantime another charolais bull appeared at the farm where Baby Jim had always kept his horses…there had been a few cows there for years as well…This bull was unlike Sam in that he was quiet and calm and the farm owner had made a pet of him…A couple of years later Baby Jim was working at a big farm up north and came home for a visit.  Little Charlie Brown had gotten to be a big boy and was still calm and easy but there was something foreboding about him.  Baby Jim sat down with his Dad one night and asked him for a favor.  He asked him to move Charlie Brown to one of the other herds.  His daddy agreed that it was probably a good idea, but asked him why?  Baby Jim replied that he was afraid the bull was going to hurt the landowner….Baby Jim was not so much worried about malice as he was about an unfortunate accident.

A few months later Baby Jims paternal ancestor called him one night…this was surprising as neither of them was ever noted for their conversational skills.  Both were too brief and too direct for most people and most of their communication between them was non verbal.

Anyhow Baby Jim’s sire asked him how he knew….

Baby Jim said, “knew what ?”.

“How you knew that Charlie Brown was gonna get mean.”

“I didn’t but I was afraid he might step on the other landowner by accident.  Did he get mean?”

“Almost as bad as Sam.  Glad you asked me to move him because mean as he is now we would have never gotten him away from the other place.  Bye.”

Then there was the stint where Baby Jim worked at the Richmond Stockyard between a couple of years of college and going into the Army.

On sale days Baby Jim worked intake in the morning and the sale ring during the sale.  Mostly because he was young, quick, indestructible and expendable…

One day this fellow arrived with a big black bull….Story was that he had bought the bull at a sale the day before and in loading him someone had hit him in the eye with a stick and the bull got nasty….the guy had taken him home but the bull was so irate that he never took him out of the truck and brought him to Richmond the next day…At least he warned us before he turned the bull out into the processing area…on a side note it was amazing the number of people who felt no need to warn us of bad cattle…don’t know if they were just so happy to be rid of them that they forgot to warn: or whether they took a perverse pleasure in seeing other folks scramble for their life.

Nasty was putting it mildly….he could only see out of his right eye with the left one closed and weeping prolifically.  He went through that stockyard like Sherman went through Georgia.    For any who may not be familiar, stockyards normally have a couple of long alleys with lots of gates as cut off gates and other gates into pens…designed for rough stock, the fences and gates are normally pretty heavy and tall.  One of the first steps is to get an animal onto the scale to get a weight and then get it penned in the appropriate pen.  This bull having spent a mad night in a stock truck had no ambition to be confined again and seemed intent on murdering someone…anyone really…

A common trick was to open the intake scale door and stand behind it ready to slam it shut and open the outlet doors just enough to make it look like an escape route and then slam them as well.  This bull was too savvy and too fast…he just blasted thru the scale and down the long alley…the procedure then was to shorten the alley and keep closing gates behind him until he had to go into the scale…there was a guy there on the penning side that day who had just started…Baby Jim did not even know his name…Normally his job was to just have the correct pen gate open after the scale called it to him on the loudspeaker.  In this case the guys job was every time the bull went the other way he was supposed to advance and close the next gate shortening the alley….he was doing this faithfully but he took his eye off the job and was talking to someone up on the catwalk above.  He was standing behind the gate just closed and talking while looking up.  The bull hit that gate on the opposite side of where he was and busted the latch to matchsticks.  He drove the gate over the mans body and Baby Jim could hear bones breaking.  Baby Jim was running to try to drive the bull off the man but the bull stepped into the guys midsection and mauled him with his head and then ran on down to the far end of the available alley….Baby Jim got to the down man just as the bull got to the other end and turned….Baby Jim grabbed the guy by the belt and threw him over the fence and then jumped over after him just as the bull slammed into the fence…Thank goodness the fence held.  Baby Jims rescue was brutal enough to have killed the guy…they said he was still alive when the rescue squad took him away but Baby Jim was still trying to pen the damned bull and never saw the guy again……The bull was weighed and penned.

The Big Bull Fight….

This one was in the mid 70’s.  Our hero was working at the big farm up north.  This farm had four hundred registered cows at this location.  Near the farm managers house was a Pennsylvania style bank barn with cattle access underneath and hay storage above.  On the east side of the barn were two permanent bull lots….these lots were the near permanent home of two bulls.

On the west side of the barn was a working facility and some associated catch pens and feed troughs.  This adjoined a very large pasture and on the far end of the pasture was a large grove of white pines…this was the heifer raising pasture and 80 to 120 heifers were raised there every year….the white pines were where the heifers stayed when the weather was brisk…We won’t say it was like a trip to Florida but the white pines were a terrific wind break and shelter from the snow and the cattle would rather stay there than in the barns…but the heifers were called up and fed and counted and checked in the barns daily.

In the spring they had the vet out for several days running and did the herd test work…the primary reason was to conduct a TB test on every animal to maintain the herds TB free certification.  But everything that needed to be done and could be done was done when the animals were in the chute…it took five or six days to process all the animals on the farm.  And each test had to be read by the vet three days after the shot.

The day the heifers were processed the two bulls were normally the last two animals of the day.  These two bulls were beside each other all day every day…one was a mature bull who weighed at least 2200 lbs.  he was huge….especially for a Belted Galloway….The other bull was a younger bull and was a Red Angus who was about two to three years old and weighed about 1800 lbs…not quite mature and this bull had some value….maybe 10 or 12 K in the mid 70’s.

The two bulls had to be brought around through the pens to the working facility for the test and shots and they had to be brought around separately and then one had to pass the other on the return trip.  This was done by shuffling one bull into a pen and then taking the other bull by him….On this particular day the smaller bull was feeling his oats and jumped the fence and tried to tackle the big bull….it really was no contest as the little bull had no chance but he was bound to try…..There were no less than six experienced hands there trying to intervene.   But the fight was on…sticks whips shovels all manner of yelling and dissuasion were employed to no avail.  The young bull gave a valiant effort but he had no chance from the outset….in addition to trying to separate the bulls there was a concerted effort to keep all the cowboys alive.  As one bull gains purchase in the mud the tide of battle and the direction of travel could change in an instant and everyone was trying not to end up under two tons of battling bulls.

Finally the inevitable happened.  The young bull had a front foot slip and he got pushed sideways.  The big bull, knowing he had victory, pressed his advantage and pushed on and lowered his head further until he got his head under the younger bull…recall that the smaller bull weighed 1800 lbs and the older bull lifted and threw him at least eight feet into the air.  It was a surreal moment that seemed to play in slow motion, looking up at an 1800 lb bull flying thru the air two or three feet above your head.  Then he fell to the earth  on his right side with a ground jarring thud.  And the Big bull right back on the attack.  But the big bull knew he had carried the day and allowed himself to easily be driven off by the cowboys….Baby Jim was in pursuit of the big bull and expected to come back to find the young bull either dead or badly injured…but when he got back the young bull was prowling around and grumbling the losers lament to prove to himself and all who would listen that he was still a bull.  The whole thing was easily the most awesome sight ever.  Thank goodness they were polled cattle.  Had they been horned it would have been brutal and the young bull would most likely have been gored to death.

And finally…

About twenty years ago right here at the poor farm…
Pipe Dream Farm has raised a few bulls over the years.  Never a large number, but the intent was to have a bull or two for sale at all times…

This one time there were two bulls here that had been raised together.  Both were farm raised side by side.  Nice quiet bulls with good pedigrees and good conformation and good productive capability.  They were about 18 to 20 months old and Baby Jim was taking both of them to the barn for a reason long forgotten.  Here on the poor farm we have a lane that runs about two thirds of the perimeter of the farm and via that lane animals can easily be taken to the barn and the working area.  The two bulls probably weighed about 1600 lbs each and were playfully moving along when a wrestling match broke out.  Baby Jim yelled at them and applied his stick.  But suddenly the far bull prevailed and the near bull was pushed right into our hero knocking him to the ground….the only thing to be done, was to assume the fetal position and hope for the best…. The two bulls continued to wrestle and both bulls with all their churning hooves passed over him….While he was beaten up a little and unnerved a lot, no real damage was done but there could have been some brief suffering, a quick death and a heartfelt funeral service with half a dozen people in attendance.  As it was, all that had to be done was to go back to the starting point and get the two playful bulls headed back to the barn again…In full playful mode they both ran, butted, frolicked and bucked all the way to the barn.

Neither of those bulls had any intent to harm Baby Jim…they did not even intend to harm one another…they were just being baby bulls.

The point is that the power and agility of these animals is nearly unfathomable….unless you are really lucky and live a long time to see the things that have been described above.  All of the above was real and true and unembellished.  Names have been omitted to absolve the guilty.  And we did not even report on the time Gertrude and Baby Jim chased and were chased by Sam the charolais and his herd of wild cows all day one day.  But that story has been written of elsewhere.

A compliment……. sort of


Commentary from Jim Tatearound the farm    Sep 26, 2016

Jim Tate enjoying a Ride on Dancehall Dixie, a wonderful gaited mule owned by my good friend Stewart Wickham.

As always to see any photo larger click on the photo and use your browser back button to return to the blog.

I had one of the local farmers offer me a compliment the other day…he was not trying to offer me a compliment….he was trying to be diplomatic.

To paraphrase his comments, he had noticed the crop diversity on my pastures.  He said that he couldn’t help but notice that I had a lot of strange looking stuff growing up on my place.  He had seen me out there bush hogging quite often.  He offered me the use of any equipment I might need to help me manage my pastures, specifically offering a small sprayer.

Now I do have some weeds….and sometimes when I go a good while between grazing paddocks the weeds go wild….I have one spot out front that is getting to have a pretty big blackberry patch….but that is because it is in the horse side and the goats cannot run with the horses because two of the horses like to chase them…but,  once we finish breeding cows I will put the horses on the cow side and the goats will have the horse side for the winter and early spring.

And the wet summer has kept the tractor out of two fields all year and they now have a pretty good crop of nut sedge.  The goats will deal with that over time….

I have totally different weeds on the two different sides and a more frequent rotation would be my best cure.

The milkweed from the cut over land next door last year pretty well inoculated my fields for this year so I have some of that as well.  But I don’t let a few weeds drive me crazy.

sun hemp blooming and peas reaching up

sun hemp blooming and peas reaching up

Mother Nature does not typically grow things in a monoculture…only humans do that and we convince ourselves that is the way it has to be done.

I thanked him for the offer and said I would keep it in mind.  But I told him that we have a half dozen weanling calves gaining about a pound and a half per day on the weeds.  We will graze the three horses and two miniature donkeys for about 10 months of the year before starting to feed some hay.

grazing forge six feet tall

grazing forge six feet tall

Every summer and until mid December I normally have a half dozen heifers to develop for breeding.  The current crop just entered the grazing below and I have not seen them since….that stuff is six to eight feet tall.  They will come out in the evening for their evening handout and roll call.  Don’t need to feed them much with forage like that but a little handout keeps em gentle and they come to call.

 

there are yearling calves in there somewhere

there are yearling calves in there somewhere

We have some rabbits that I see most mornings in the dark as I am on my way out to go to work.  Have seen as many as six at one time….The weeds is the only way they survive the numerous hawks and owls and the occasional eagle.

The greatest benefit of all is that on 12 acres I now think I have three coveys of quail this year…I can not yet swear that I have three coveys but I know I have two and think I have a third that is in pretty close proximity to the second covey.

All summer I have been reminded of my late friend Jack Ellis who was an avid bird hunter and had some good English Setters.  He hunted birds from November thru February culminating in a couple of weeks at a hunt club in South Carolina in February.  But while he did all the things DGIF suggested he never had any quail on his farm and had to go elsewhere to hunt and seldom found any birds.

I am reminded of him because every day I hear the quail calling from right around me as I am walking about and doing work around the farm, and more often than not if I am in the fields a dozen birds will explode from nearby testing my heart….Went to the doctor for a checkup this morning and he said I needed an EKG as it had been over a year and a half since I had one….I said no…I had a heart test Friday and again Sunday…I Had to work our District booth at the Fair Saturday so I skipped the heart test that day.   Fridays test was right at the upper right hand corner of the photo above.  About fifteen birds straight up and zipped into the wood line.

A couple of years ago a turkey hen nested within 200 feet of my front door in my weeds…I found out about it when one of my dogs stumbled across the nest and brought me a dead poult.

If it were not for the tall grass and weeds, I would not enjoy any of this.

I only do two things differently from anyone else…

  1. I broadcast some type of seasonally appropriate cover crop on every paddock after most every grazing and bushog it.
  2. I move the stock normally about every three days. I give them small paddocks and when they have grazed it shut them out to let the paddock recover for at least 60 days.

Of course all of my weeds are not weeds.  I think the neighbor was worried about Johnson grass.  But what he was seeing was Sorghum Sudan grass.  I do have some Johnson grass on the back of the place but the cattle love it and it only persists because I intensively rotate my grazing.

My biggest chore is in keeping the fences clear of tree seedlings.  I prefer not to spray herbicide and try to mow under the fences…but mowing well grown grass is hard on mowers and I have spent a lot of money on mower repair this year….I tried a wheeled string trimmer and it did not work for me…the horses will not graze near the electric fence, so it is a bigger problem on the horse side….

Again my best solution will be to find an easier way to rotate ruminants and non ruminants….part of the obstacle is the wife has definite opinions on what animals consider what buildings and paddocks as “home”.   And when I have calves at the house I need to access the working facilities with them for monthly weighing and such.  Another option would be to sell the horses that chase the cows and goats but they are my favorites….and a stock horse is supposed to like to chase stock.

more residue experiments update 1


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It has been eight days since I planted these buckets with cover crops.  all buckets have been watered equally and pretty regularly

The bucket with no residue only has a few seed germinating….I think some seed started to germinate and then got baked on a couple of the hot days we have had….they are still visible in the bucket…

no-residue-not-much-growth-or-germination

Below is the bucket planted to the green cover mix and this bucket had the tall summer annuals and so it has heavy mulch….it was at least a 4 inch thick layer of mulch and the mulch is weighing down the new seedlings but they are beginning to show thru the mulch and certainly around the edges.

thick-summer-residue-4-inch-layer

the below bucket is the one that had the goosegrass residue chopped up and it was sown to my home cover crop mix of the day.   While some plants are beginning to show thru the residue…..the entire residue mat is being lifted off the bucket.

lighter-residue

the below photo is an attempt to show that the residue mat has been lifted a couple of inches off this bucket.

light-residue-is-being-lifted-of-the-bucket

the seed scattered in the still living chicory is beginning to come up but since it is slower and not nearly as thick as the residue buckets and it is the same seed mix.

seed-disbursed-in-the-chicory-are-finally-germinating