Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Plant Growth Regulators: Why & How We Use Them

Selective breeding is a powerful tool. It has allowed us to take cotton, a perennial bush, and breed it to be cotton, an annual field crop. Sometimes however, breeding can’t do everything for us. Sometimes we need to rely on other means to achieve a good harvest at the end of the year. That’s why we have tools like plant growth regulators, commonly referred to as PGRs.

Why do we use PGRs?

Different types of PGRs exist, but the PGRs we use on our farm allow us to prevent the excessive vegetative growth of the cotton plant. Despite hundreds of years of selective breeding, cotton still has some tendencies of a perennial bush, and PGRs allow us to control those tendencies, resulting in an overall better harvest. When a cotton plant puts too much focus on growing leaves and branches, it doesn’t produce as many flowers, which will turn into bolls. Those bolls are what we harvest from the cotton plant, which is where the cotton lint is housed. We want our cotton to focus more on producing bolls than producing too many leaves because in the end, we get paid by how much lint is harvested. Under certain conditions, cotton plants will actually cannibalize young bolls to put on more vegetative growth. This is the exact opposite of what we want.

Another factor PGRs let us manage is the maturity of the bolls. Unlike corn which stops growing vegetation once it enters its reproduction cycle (also known as a determinate plant), most cotton varieties are indeterminate plants, meaning they can still put on more leaves and branches even after they have started to set bolls on lower branches. This is a challenge for farmers because the bolls on the bottom of the plant could be ripe weeks in advance of those on the top of the plant without the proper use of PGRs. This can result in bolls that are either 1) ruined by overexposure to the weather for bolls at the bottom of the plant or 2) left in the field because they aren’t ripe at harvest for bolls at the top of the plant. This, again, results in money lost for the farmer.

How do we know if/when to use PGRs?

Cotton will often start to take off growing when the weather is wet and cooler than normal. Throughout the cotton’s life cycle, we monitor closely the length of the main stalk between branches, known as the internode. While the actual length at which farmers determine to use a PGR depends on many factors, the practice of measuring the internodes for excessive growth is common throughout the Cotton Belt. If the length of the internode exceeds the recommended length for our expected yield, geography and length of season, we will administer an application of a PGR.

How do we use PGRs?

Like other chemical applications we make to our cotton, we apply the PGR using our sprayer at the recommended rate. We pay close attention to the amount applied to the cotton so that we don’t waste money on over-applying a chemical that could adversely affect the crop. Spraying too much or too often with PGRs is detrimental to growing cotton because it can result in a plant without enough leaves to fuel the production of flowers and bolls.

As with any chemical application farmers use on a crop, it is a careful balance between not spraying and spraying too much. Farmers monitor their crops very closely to determine if and when a chemical application may be needed to control the loss of yield. They will then have to determine if the loss of yield would result in a greater economic impact than the price of the chemical. It is tricky, but that’s what make farmers great at their job. They don’t just throw money (aka chemical) at crops if the crop doesn’t need it.

Above: Here's an inside view of the sprayer. This monitor controls the autosteer, which allows the operator to make the application without overlapping. Autosteer is controlled through GPS and is accurate within inches! The GPS follows the sprayer through the field, tracking what has been sprayed and what hasn't. As the sprayer reaches a place that has been sprayed, the booms of the sprayer will stop spraying based on what the GPS tells them. This has allowed for much more targeted and precise application of chemicals.

Above: Another photo taken from the cab of the boom applying the PGR to the cotton. Most of the liquid being sprayed is water with just a very small portion of the solution being the actual PGR. 

And here's my adorable husband riding comfortably in the sprayer - no crazy white suit necessary! 

What questions do you have about PGRs, growing cotton, or applying chemicals to crops? 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Flat Aggie Visits O'Neal Farms

Here at O'Neal Farms, we are always excited to have visitors. This month's visitor was extra special though! Flat Aggie came all the way down to White Deer, Texas to visit us and spend some time learning about our farm. We so enjoyed her visit, and I'm happy to share the details of what all we did while she was here!

Flat Aggie learned two big lessons while she was here in Texas. First, farmers use different land for different purposes based on the topography, or how the land is formed. Second, she helped use prepare the planter we’ll be using soon to plant our corn and cotton.

The first stop on Flat Aggie’s tour of O’Neal Farms was at one of our wheat fields. She was amazed by how flat the field was! I told her the Texas Panhandle is so flat you can see for miles and miles. Because it is so flat, it tends to be really windy so we try to capture the energy created by the wind with wind turbines. If you look really closely at the background of this photo, you can see the wind turbines a few miles away from our field. It was very windy when Flat Aggie visited us. She almost blew away!

We use this field to grow crops because it is flat. This allows us to use the ground without worrying about causing soil erosion. Erosion can be caused by wind, which is why we like to keep our fields growing with crops when we can because the plants’ roots hold onto the soil, or by water from rain. If we planted crops on hilly ground, we would lose much of our soil to erosion from water. When it rains here in Texas, it usually pours down quickly. The old-timers call our rainstorms “gully washers” because the rain comes down so fast that it washes gullies into the ground if farmers aren’t careful to protect their land. That’s why we are very careful to use flat ground for farming and the hillier ground for grazing our cows.

Speaking of cows, we went to the cow pasture right beside the wheat field to show Flat Aggie what I meant by different topographies. As you can see in this photo, there are a few more hills in this pasture compared to the wheat field. That’s why we use it for our cows to eat the grass. The grass that grows in these pastures is native, or original, to our area and has been growing here for hundreds and hundreds of years! Since the grass has been here so long, it does an excellent job of holding onto the soil with its roots, keeping the soil from eroding when the wind blows or when we get rain.

Flat Aggie chose a perfect time to visit us because we have a bunch of baby cows, or calves, running around on the farm. FA got to say hi to the calves and a few of their moms at the hay feeder. The calves were tired so they were taking naps in the soft hay on the ground. Once they saw FA though, they wanted to meet her. Cows and calves are naturally curious animals.

After saying hi to the cows and calves, Flat Aggie helped us check over the planter we will be using to plant our corn and cotton in the next few weeks. We are very lucky to have tractors and big planters to help us on the farm. Otherwise we would need many, many more people to help us on the farm. We use a 24-row planter. Each row is 30 inches apart. That means we can plant 60 feet of crops at a single time! That’s a lot of corn and cotton!

Our planter makes planting our crops a fun and easy process. We load all of the seed into the main tank and then the seed is pushed to each row box through a series of tubes. Flat Aggie is checking a row box here. From the row box, the seed is placed in a furrow in the ground created by a couple of shovels. Once the seed is placed in the ground, another set of shovels cover the seed back up. Seed has to be surrounded by soil to grow the best, and we want to make sure every seed has the best chance to grow. Our planter helps us do that.

That was all Flat Aggie had time to do at our farm this visit. We stay busy year-round here in Texas with our crops and our cattle. We were so happy Flat Aggie came to visit us when she did! Soon we will be busy with planting that it would have been more difficult to give her a good tour of the farm! If Flat Aggie ever finds herself back down in Texas, we would love for her to stop by again! Hopefully she enjoyed her visit enough to come back again.

Are you a farmer or a teacher who wants to learn more about the Flat Aggie project? Check out more from Nicole at Tales of a Kansas Farm Mom. It is such a fun project to teach kids about agriculture from real farmers!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Spring is... Calving Season

Spring is a busy time here on the farm. We are preparing the ground to be planted to corn, sorghum and cotton by strip-tilling and applying fertilizer. We are pre-watering for those crops. We are spraying our wheat for weeds and giving the irrigated wheat a good drink. We'll start planting soon for corn, cotton and sorghum.

While I love planting since it is the beginning of a new crop, the best part of spring is calving season! The heifers (first-time moms) started calving at the end of February, and the older cows started in March. The majority of the cows have now calved, and the calves are growing rapidly. They are loving the warm weather and the green grass. Between wheat harvest and calving season, I can't decide which is my favorite time of the year. I think the calves are winning this year. We have some absolutely adorable babies this year!

We keep our cows separated into different groups based on how old they are and who the owner is. We divide by age because each age group needs different care. We have three age groups:

  1. heifers 
  2. young cows (2nd calf mommas) 
  3. old cows (3rd calf mommas or older) 
Since we are a family operation, we have three different sets of owners for our cattle:

  1. Royce and I = blue ear tags
  2. Royce's Dad and Mom = white ear tags
  3. Granny and Granddad = red ear tags
Since Royce and I only have a few cows, Terry, Royce's dad, is nice enough to let us run ours with his young cows, while Terry and Granddad usually keep their young cows and old cows separated.

The heifers live at the farm while they calve. By having them at the farm, we can keep a better eye on them in case of any difficulty they have calving. In fact, we check them multiple times daily and nightly. Royce and I took the night shifts this spring, checking at 6 p.m., 9 p.m. and midnight. Granddad checks them twice during the wee hours of the morning, and then whoever is around on the farm for the day checks throughout the day. Once the calves get to be two or three weeks old, we turn them and their moms out in the pasture across from the farm. Here, we are able to see them daily and also provide extra feed. Since the heifers aren't fully grown when they give birth the first time, they need some special TLC.

The young cows are in two separate pastures at the ranch. By having them separate from the old cows, we keep better tabs on how they are doing. Since they are 2nd time moms, they've pretty well got things figured out, but they still do need a little more attention than the old cows. If I'm being honest, the young cows are my favorite group of cows. They are friendlier than the old cows, and not as needy as the heifers. Plus we have some fun colors in the young cow herds.

The old cows are cows that have been there and done that. They've had calves, know what to do, how to act, and how to take care of themselves. They are pretty low maintenance. Granddad visits them and the young cows every other day during the week to feed them cake and make sure all is well. It usually is.

Since I have some personal stake in the young cow group (and the heifers, but we see them all the time), I've been taking some time to visit the ranch when I can to see my calves. Let me tell you: I'm definitely a proud calf mom! Our girls have done well so far, and hopefully the last couple to calve will keep up the good work. I took my camera with me the other evening and captured some photos. Enjoy!

This is Smoky Cow. She belongs to Royce and I and is one of ours who has yet to calve. She was not thrilled that I didn't take any cake with me.

See that blue ear tag? That's my color! And Royce's too!

This adorable little dude belongs to me and Royce. I just can't get enough of his black mask, aka "mottled face."

Isn't this little bull calf cute?? I love his white markings. He belongs to Terry.

One thing I absolutely love about the baldies (Angus x Hereford) is most of them have little white tips at the end of the tails!

Do you have any questions about how we take care of our calves and their moms? I'd love to answer them!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Winter in the Panhandle

Per the usual of the Texas Panhandle, our winter has been full of ups and downs in weather and temperature. We enjoyed a warm beginning to winter followed by an ice storm over Thanksgiving, a blizzard the day after Christmas, frigid cold, and finally, a couple of freezing fog days. Today, I took advantage of the fog to capture some photos of our heifer herd. These girls will be having their first calves in the next couple of months. We're looking forward to the calves they'll have, and you should look forward to cute calf photos! Until then, here's some snowy and icy cows.

Above: This is Patches. Patches is one lucky cow. She was orphaned as a calf and raised by my mother-in-law on a bottle. As a yearling, Patches fell into our trash pit and was stranded for a few days. After being rescued from the pit, Patches was nursed back to health, and later, was gifted to Royce and I by my father-in-law. We're hoping for a healthy calf this spring!

Above: While the other heifers were checking me and the camera out, these girls took advantage of the less crowded hay wagon and chowed down. Hay helps them stay warm, which is why we sure to always keep a plentiful supply available to them.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Christmas in the County 2015 - Gift Reveal!

For the second year in a row, I participated in the Christmas in the Country blogger gift exchange, and once again, I really enjoyed myself! Not only is it great to meet other bloggers, but really learning their tastes is my favorite part. As it turns out, this December and January have been absolutely crazy hectic for me (hence why I sent my gift on the last day of the deadline and am posting my gift reveal the day after the deadline), but taking a few minutes out of my crazy schedule to research my chosen blogger, shop for her, and get her package in the mail was incredibly refreshing. Also, receiving my gift was a wonderful pick-me-up as well. I know the suspense is killing you so I won't keep you waiting any longer.

I sent to Kellie from Kellie For Ag. She has an obvious love for beef cattle so when I stumbled on some cowhide coasters, I knew she had to have them! Turns out, I was spot on, or so Kellie said in her gift reveal, which you can read more of here: Kellie, it has been a pleasure getting to know you via blog *ahem* stalking, and I look forward to continue to follow you. You do a great job advocating for agriculture!

As for my gift reveal, I received a perfect gift from Darleen of Guernsey Dairy Mama from Silverton, Oregon. Turns out, she has fantastic taste in books and sent me The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. I had seriously just finished reading Gregory's series that chronologically comes prior to the Tudor Court series so Darleen couldn't have had better timing. For Rori and Ranger, Darleen included a reindeer squeaky toy, which they love to fight over. To round out the package, Darleen added some local chocolates and a coffee mug with the Silverton Foxes mascot. I love to drink my tea out of it and be reminded of my new friend in Oregon. Thank you so much, Darleen, for such a thorough research effort, the letter, Christmas card, and for nailing this gift exchange! You rock!

And as always, thanks to the awesome ladies who put this exchange on. Y'all are the best! Check out the linkup to see what other bloggers received and sent!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Merry Christmas from the O'Neals!

How can it already be Christmas time? Time sure flies when you are having fun!

2015 has been a full year for Royce and me. We've both done some traveling, Royce with Texas Farm Bureau's Ag Lead program and me with my job at Monsanto. Last week I was trying to figure how many weeks I traveled this year, and it turns out I was gone around 17 weeks! No wonder it feels so good to be home when I make here! I've enjoyed almost every second of traveling, too (except those flight delays). Most of my time was spent meeting WestBred seed suppliers and farmers, walking wheat fields and either orchestrating photo shoots or performing shoots myself. Overall, it has been a busy, but fun-filled and wheat-filled year for me!

With Ag Lead, Royce has been able to see and learn about agriculture in multiple places across Texas as well as California. When Royce hasn't been traveling, he's been busy on the farm. 2015 proved to be another challenging year for farming, though in the exact opposite way than the previous few years. We've had record rainfall this year, making it hard for us to get in the field at the ideal times. This spring, planting was delayed, and in the cases when we planted prior to the monsoon of May/June, we ended up replanting those crops. The rain helped our crops, once planted, grow very well, but also gave the weeds a big boost. We spent a lot of time spraying weeds, plowing weeds, and having crews hand-hoe the weeds. Insects also flourished this year, with sugarcane aphids attacking our grain sorghum/milo crops. Rains this fall have delayed harvest. At the time of this writing, we still have late-planted corn in the field as well as some dryland cotton. We might not be able to finish harvest until the new year. From what has been harvested, our crops have yielded well, but commodity prices are making it tough to turn profits. We are definitely thankful for the regular income from my full-time job.

Despite our professional travel schedules, Royce and I both made time for some fun travels too! In March, I got to add Houston to my list of Texas places seen. We saw Ryan Bingham live at the House of Blues in Houston, and let me tell you, it was SO worth the drive! In May, I spent Memorial Day weekend in Michigan with my friend, Sam. I even got to help put in a Channel corn and soybean plot while I was there. In August, Royce and I celebrated our one year anniversary by flying down to Fredericksburg, TX. We determined the duck schnitzel at Otto's is probably the most delicious German food ever! Tomorrow, we are headed to Jamaica for some time in the sun with my dad's side of the family. We're looking forward to the beach, the sunshine and the all-inclusive bar. :)

Another Texas Place checked off my list. Royce and I at the top of Enchanted Rock.
Over the last year, we've been blessed to meet great people and spend time with family and friends. 2015 has been a great one, farming challenges and all. Thanks to everyone who has followed along, given us motivational words, and supported us through all of our adventures! Here's to a prosperous and wonderful 2016!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Much love from Royce and Kaitlyn, Ranger and Rori

Monday, October 26, 2015

Puppy Love

It's no secret I love my red dogs, Ranger and Rori. When our friends come over to cook out or just hang out, the dogs are the main entertainment. They have giant personalities, and I love them for it. Ranger and Rori are half-siblings, out of the same female. Both came from my mom in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. She raises great Australian Shepherds and I'm glad I own two (well, one and a half since Rori is only half Aussie) from her. I visited my mom this weekend, and as it happens, she had the latest litter of Aussies for me to play with.

Take note of me trying to keep my camera from them. I <3 Aussies!

The world would be a better place if we could all play with Aussie puppies every day. Since that isn't possible, here are some photos for everyone to enjoy.

These four boys are all still available for loving homes. For more information, contact Stephanie Nelson at (218) 280-0761 or