It's been a busy fall/early winter for me. When it gets busy, the website is usually the first thing to suffer. A couple days ago I was thinking how best to recap the last couple months, and I had the idea to look thorugh the pictures on my phone and use them to tell about what's been going on. Naomi always tells me that photos are what people want to see, so here we go.
I did not really mean for this photo to be a "selfie" but I guess that is how it turned out. Isaac and I spent one December day on the road. Our mission was to look at tractors and cows and decide which one the ranch needed to buy. After doing chores, we gassed up the pickup (because you certainly can NOT go look at cows and tractors in a van) and drove about 100 miles to Isabel, SD, to look at a tractor. Turned out we could have seen the same one in Mobridge (60 miles closer). All was not lost, however, as Isaac charmed a toy tractor and a cookie out of the salesman and I left with a small bag of Black Hills Coffee. (I brewed it up later in the week, and it was quite good, in my unrefined opinion.) After checking out the tractors, we moseyed down the road to rural Firesteel. If you know where Firesteel is, you understand how redundant "rural Firesteel" is. We stopped to look at some cows that were for sale. The rancher who owned them is supposed to have heart surgery in a couple months and made the difficult decision to sell the herd. We were considering buying some of them to re-stock our herd; we sold about 15% of our cows last spring due to drought concerns.
At the end of the day, we didn't get anything bought except gas and supper at Dairy Queen, but that's just fine. I have good memories of similar trips with my dad as a kid, so it's fun for me to do the same now that I'm a dad.
Yes, those are gray hairs in my beard. They are warmer than the brown hairs so I don't mind. That's what I tell myself. I swear they grow faster than the brown ones.
The cows are fat and happy these days. We've had some really nice grazing opportunities this fall. In this picture, the cows are munching on sorhum. Sorghum is sort of like corn, except it does not produce an ear and the stalk is not as thick. We cut this field for hay in July and it had regrown quite a little before freeze up. The cows really liked it and did quite well on it. From here, some of them went to a cover crop field. There, we had planted turnips, rapeseed, sorghum, and hunter brassica for grazing purposes. They like that stuff as well, and are actually getting fat on it. But man do they stink! I don't know what it is about those brassicas, but there is definitely an odor about those cows. The rest of the cows went back to native range for a couple weeks until the corn harvest is complete; they will graze cornstalks until late February, weather permitting.
The cows that are on native range are doing well also. One of the reasons they are doing well is found in this picture. The woody plants you see sticking up through the snow are aptly named western snowberry – buckbrush to the lay person. We have a lot of it in our pastures, as you can see. The cows eat very little of it during the growing season, but when winter comes, the cows love to strip the berries off the stems. When I go out to check the cows these days, I typically see half of the the cows eating snowberry and the other half digging though the snow for some grass. I collected a handful of the berries to be sent off for nutrient analysis, but I've been told they are a very good source of protien. For a cow (and other ruminants), adequate protein is very important for them to digest forages (grass). Typically, winter grazing is deficient in protien and must be supplemented somehow – alfalfa hay, range cubes, molasses tubs – so if the snowberries are in fact high in protein, that would be a big plus.
As evidenced by the first picture, it has been a good winter to grow a beard. This was the coldest we've had so far, but the weatherman seems to think we'll beat it this weekend. The cold isn't so bad, but when it comes with a 30+ mph wind, it gets sort of chilly. We're supposed to have windchills in the -50 F range on Sunday night. The hard part about that kind of weather is the increased likelyhood of equipment problems. Water tank valves freeze, tractors have fuel problems, metal things break easier due to brittleness caused by the cold, vehicles won't start. Yet, the cows need to be fed – and fed more than normal, since they are burning much more energy to stay warm. I can't complain though. I'm really thankful for a tractor with a cab and four wheel drive, as well as a heated shop to park it in. Things could be worse.
There you have it. Now I can finally start deleting some of these photos off my camera to make room for more podcasts!