Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Just stuff

Sarge had a good go at the social media over at his place this morning.

Sometimes the social media surprises people.

Back in the old days -- if you define the old days as pre-internet -- a person used to be able to have a few indiscretions or “uh-oh moments” secure in the knowledge that only a limited few friends and neighbors would ever know.

But those days are long gone.

A Tuesday, January 24 headline in England’s national newspaper, The Daily Mail, reads as follows:

Couple who set off a huge EXPLOSION that was felt three miles away in stunt to reveal their baby's gender now face up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine

Some of you may have seen the story making the rounds on koobecaf. The headline in Great Britain caught the eye of one of my farmer friends in Herefordshire, who texted "loook what's in the national newspapers this morning!" As my friend noticed, the couple in question hail from rural Scottsbluff which is "just 'cross the holler and over the ridge" from my place. It's interesting that England heard about the boom before I did. There’s no need to go into detail here, but if you’re curious about how the British press treats such a story you can type the following into your web browser:

Old-guy workouts

On Monday it was a pretty morning across the south Panhandle of Nebraska. The temperature dropped to about 28 degrees overnight but the sun rose into a clear blue sky. Having moved more than a third of the way from southerly/wintry nadir to spring equinox, the sun's rays were warm and vibrant and made quick work of melting the skiff of snow that had fallen overnight.

It was a good morning to begin the process of getting back into shape after five months of infection-induced inactivity.

First I did a half-Cindy. What, you ask, is a half-Cindy?

This is a half-Cindy.

And it was pretty easy, except for the pull-ups, which I'm afraid I maxed at five. But I did manage 30 pushups and 45 air squats. Don't get me wrong, it was a good workout considering the shape I'm in. Sweat stung the eyes, the heart raced, and great draughts of air went roaring in and out of the respiratory system.

I finished it off with a brisk two-mile prairie hike. Felt goood.

On Tuesday I was pretty creaky and sore but I persevered. I did another half-workout I had to make the brisk walk on my treadmill for it was snowing heavily and blowing a gale outside.

This morning it was cold and still and I began the day (after quaffing my morning caveman sabretooth) by scooping snow, followed by another half-workout. I let the snow shoveling stand in for the brisk walk, which I believe was a good choice.

Still creaky and sore but less so than yesterday. As Juvat pointed out the other day, I'm not 26 anymore, and I sure miss those days. But I'll just plod along and deal with the world the way it is. As if I have any choice.

Calves and grass

For the first time in living memory there are no gravid cows preparing to deliver new baby calves to the EJE Ranch this spring. There is, however, a large wad of cash choking my bank account, cash that needs to be expended before uncle sugar can get his greedy hands on it. Therefore, I'm looking hard at buying cows -- specifically bred cows.

Didja ever wonder how one goes about buying cows? Here's one of the places I'm shopping at, and here's the sale listing for Monday.

I'll be watching that sale closely, though I'm unlikely to buy anything. It's just a bit too early. It's a tricky thing, buying bred cows. I want the right breeding and genetics and the right looking cows, not too big and not too small, and bred to reasonably good bulls. And I want them to calve in April and May, which means cows that were bred in July and August.

It won't be much of a problem to find the right cows. Finding the right price might be more difficult, but not overwhelmingly so. The real tricky part just now is trying to get a handle on whether we will have grass this year.

To figure that out, though, how hard could it be?

Most of the rangeland across this region consists of mixed cool and warm season grasses acclimatized to a semi-arid vegetation zone. These grass species and indeed the prairie ecosystems have evolved to do most of their growth/biomass production during those periods where peak annual precipitation and occurs. Cool season grasses do most of their growth in the cool of the spring when daytime air temperatures peak at 65-75 degrees. Warm season grasses come on in the summer when daytime air temperatures climb to 80-95 degrees.

Historically about five-eighths of our annual precipitation occurs from April-July and three-fourths of the annual total comes during the March-August period.

Cool season grasses across the region generally have rapid growth periods in April and May, while warm season grasses do their rapid growth in June and July. These are not hard and fast dates and there is often an overlap in May and June, with some warm season grasses taking off early and some cool season rapid growth persisting into June.

We can be reasonably certain that spring and summer temperatures will meet the requirements of the various grass species populating our pastures and rangelands. The uncertain variables are timing and quantity of precipitation.

As 2017 begins we're in a soil moisture deficit. On January 24 the Panhandle of Nebraska had seen 93 percent of normal precipitation since April 1 of 2016, but only 77 percent of normal since October 1 of last year. On the plus side, our ranch is actually at 112 percent since October 1, but that doesn't say anything useful about the future.

The autumnal fall-off in precipitation last year coincided with an extended growing season as autumn temperatures remained well above normal. This extended growing season used up a considerable quantity of soil moisture as forbs and grasses continued to photosynthesize and transpire late into November and even into early December.

We saw a similar pattern in 2011, with abundant spring and summer precipitation tapering off into a dry, warm, extended autumn. The 2011-2012 winter was mild and open, and as spring arrived the rains were sparse and continued below normal throughout the year. At Kimball we saw only half the normal April-July precipitation while average temperatures ran 3-5 degrees above normal. For the year Kimball saw only 8.3 inches of precipitation compared to the average of 16.8 inches. This is what you call a drought. It was ugly, and we didn't have enough grass production. We had a drought plan in place -- which meant selling about a third of the cows -- so we weathered the storm (or lack thereof) okay.
June 2012
June 2016

Similarly in 2001 normal precipitation ebbed during a warm autumn followed by a mild and open winter. In the spring the rains simply failed to materialize and Kimball saw less than a quarter of normal March-July precipitation. A single large rainstorm in August boosted the annual total but came much too late to contribute to grass production, which was essentially nil for the year. In 2002 Kimball saw only 6.67 inches of precipitation, the lowest annual total since 1893. This was the worst drought year we've ever had, and we struggled. We waited too long to sell cows and ended up overgrazing some areas that are only now beginning to recover fully. We learned a lot but paid a stiff price.

Many of the very dry years of the 1930’s show a similar pattern with a dry and warm autumn preceding a dearth of spring-summer rain. 1928/29, 1930/31, 1933/34, 1935/36, and 1938/39.

There have, of course, been dry years following normal autumn/winter periods, as well as normal-to-wet years following a dry, warm autumn and snowy winter. History simply cannot exactly predict the future.

It’s worth noting the weather patterns of the past, though, and giving that information solid consideration when putting together a grazing plan for the coming year.

If our cool and warm season grasses do not receive enough moisture during their rapid growth periods, they will simply not produce biomass, either above the ground as grazable leaves or below the ground as root systems. Grazing grass stands which are moisture-stressed during rapid growth periods will lead directly to root mining and general degradation of the grass resource.

When putting together a grazing plan for the coming year we have to set target dates as decision points. If the rains come on time and in reasonably average quantity, all well and good. However, if the rains do not arrive on time or in reasonable quantity, it’s best to have a plan in place which allows you to step as lightly on the grass resource as possible. There is always a downside to grazing stressed grasslands, and the more prepared you are to aggressively husband the health of your grass asset the better off you will be over the long term.

So. What to buy, and when to buy? It's tricky.


  1. Looking forward to meeting the new cows.

    1. Me too! You've no idea how disorienting it is to have a cowless ranch.

  2. Will you start with a partial herd, and add as climate allows? Did you ever get a VisiBeam?

    1. Well, it depends. If conditions look right I'll buy as many as I can graze within the limits of my grazing plan. Unused grass doesn't generate income. If it looks like it's going to be dry I'll maybe play around with a small number of summer or fall calvers. Never did get a VisiBeam. I'm playing around with NVG's and having pretty good luck.