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!