Tuesday, November 12, 2019

An update on cows, calves, crops, etc.

Hello, readers, it's been a while. Much has changed since I last blogged in late June, so let me catch you up to speed on what you've missed if you haven't been keeping up with my social media accounts lately.

We currently have 130 cows in our active milking herd, a right smart fewer than we are normally milking this time of year. I expect us to be milking around 140 going into December, and from that point forward we should start climbing more rapidly. Off the top of my head, I think we have around 50 cows due to calve between now and mid-January and roughly that many heifers that will freshen between now and March.

young heifers standing around a hay ring
Speaking of calving, we've weaned 25 calves so far this season and have another 28 currently on bottle. Nearly half of those are crossbred bull calves, and the remainder are split nearly evenly between crossbred and Holstein heifers (we've sold a handful of Holstein bull calves). One of the projects we will be working on over the next couple of weeks is building additional calf pens to accommodate the numbers we are expecting in the near future.

In between the cows and the baby calves, we have older Holstein and crossbred calves spread out in five different pastures across the farm. There is still a little grass that can be picked through, but most of the groups are now eating hay along with the heifer feed we give them each morning. We have quite a few that are nearly old enough and large enough to breed, and I expect we will be doing a lot of that come first of the year.

Our summer crops were disappointing, but nowhere near the disaster that so many farmers have faced this year. Our corn silage crop yield beat its five-year average but didn't come close to touching the 2018 crop. And our bermudagrass hay crop was below par as well, roughly 200 bales less than we normally roll up. We were able to cut and ball a fair amount of crabgrass, though, which will definitely help keep the cattle fed through the winter. We also planted 40 acres of pearl millet which we harvested as baleage, and we've been able to use it in place of some of the corn silage in our milking herd's ration. We have 110 acres of wheat planted now (with a few more acres to go) and anticipate either rolling and wrapping most of it as baleage or chopping it for silage come springtime. 

And now for couple of items to file under the "miscellaneous" category...

For the first time in years, some of our heifers found their way into a show ring. Extension agents that work with Colbert County's 4H program contacted me earlier in the year about the possibility of leasing a few heifers. They came and got ten in August and prepared them to show at the Fayette County Fair and the Alabama National Fair in Montgomery. Both the heifers and the kids did a great job, with one being awarded the Junior Reserve Champion - Commercial at the ANF. 
Colbert County 4H student Erin Grimes showed one of our heifers at the Alabama National Fair.
photo cred: Alabama Farmers Federation

Last week I had the honor of  representing my fellow Alabama dairy farm families during a Milk2MyPlate grant presentation the Dairy Alliance made to the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama. The funds will allow the food bank to expand its capacity to offer milk and dairy products both at its main location and through its mobile pantry.
Lanier Dabruzzi (center) of the Dairy Alliance and I presented a $35,000 Milk2MyPlate
grant to Elizabeth Wix of the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama

And finally, a bit of personal news. I made a decision back in January to run for a regional leadership position in a statewide agricultural organization I'm a member of. I guess I attended somewhere around 30 county meetings and made who knows how many personal visits and phone calls over the course of six months, but I pulled the plug on my campaign in mid-September. I like to think I had a pretty decent shot of getting elected in December, but I decided the demands of the position would take too much time away from my three biggest priorities: my family, my farm, and my faith/church. And speaking of church, a few weeks after making the decision to withdraw from that race my church family elected me to serve as one of our seven deacons.  I'll be ordained this coming Sunday afternoon at 3pm, and I'd be honored for any of you folks to make the drive over to Vernon, Alabama to attend the service.

Looking ahead to the first part of 2020, we should be milking lots of cows, raising lots of calves, breeding lots of heifers, and hoping we have enough hay to get us through until the pastures start greening up in the Spring. And instead of driving back and forth all over the state several times a month like I had hoped to do, I'll be enjoying more time at home with my family and serving my church family. Honestly, I don't think I would have it any other way...potential hay shortage excluded, of course!

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