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kansasfarmer's blog

April 2009 - Posts

  • I'm gettin' too old for this.

    When I was a kid, my brother and I took great pleasure making fun of my dad when he got out of bed in the morning.  It wasn't like we all slept in the same room, but you could hear dad all over the house.  First, there was a big groan as he woke up, then you could hear his feet hit the floor, another groan, then a shuffle across the bedroom floor accompanied by a cough or two, some more groaning, maybe a swear word or two.  To make a long story short, he had alot of aches and pains, and we thought it was funny. 

    Well, I make all the same sounds in the morning now as dad used to(and I am sure still does), I am not nearly as humored by my own sounds as I was dads.  I make even worse sounds at night.  At 40, I am one of the youngest farmers in the community, and that is fairly sad.  Today among other things I burned 640 acres of pasture, a 320 I rent and a neighboring 320.  My landlord and the neighbor and I did it as a cooperative effort.  It was our first really warm day, and the fire made it warmer.  We had to fire guard around a cemetary, and around the landlords house, it all took much longer than planned, which isn't that unusual.  When we had the entire section contained, we were standing back surveying our handiwork and talking about the "old days" back 30 or 40 years ago when it was all backfires and wet gunny sacks.  I am constantly reminded by the geezer brigade how in the old days they didn't need all this fancy gear to fight fire(whether fire department or controlled burning) all they needed was a steel rake, and wet gunny sack, and a back fire.  This is actually true, I can well remember my father and grandfather coming in from fighting a wildfire black with the soot stirred by slapping the fire with wet burlap bags, you drug a bucket along with you and soaked your bag every little bit.  There were more people in the neighborhood then, and they were younger.  The county had one solitary 3/4 ton fire truck in this end of the county, and you made do with it and an army of farmers swinging gunny sacks.  My neighbor John (who is about 55 I would guess) pointed out today that in order to fight fire like that now, you would need at least 6 ambulances coming along behind the fireline picking up all the heart attack and stroke victims, because everyone out here is so old now.  The age thing came into play with my landlord Mike as well, as halfway through our backburn he suddenly remembered his paddle boat was in the tall grass next to his dock, and we had to make a made dash to save it. Yes, along with your physical abilities, your memory goes as well.  We were going to burn another 160, but decided we were all too tired, just old I guess.

    As you get older, everything gets just a little tougher.  Saturday after it had rained over an inch, I found myself hopping over a steel hog panel one leg at a time, only to find my foot sinking into the soft mud on the other side resulting in me becoming high centered.  With all the power I could muster, I finally got my other leg over, only to just catch my heel and go down with a thud in the mud.  Only my pride was hurt, but I could remember a time when I could have recovered from something like that without even a bruised ego.  Just the day before I had been trying to tag baby calves.  My grip isn't as good as it used to be, and to my surprise 2 got away from me.  I guess I am not as brave as I used to be either, because rather than tough it out as the cow bellowed and blew snot down my neck, I let go of one calf and ran away(I ran away, not the calf)....I just don't think I could come through a cow mauling as well as I used to. 

    My granddad retired when he was 83...if I can live that long I have about 43 years left.  Problem is, I am not sure I will be in as good of shape as grandpa was...I am not sure I am in as good of shape now as he was when he retired.  Oh well, I have one bright spot in the entire aging saga, a quote from a sign that hung over our old pharmacists desk....."old age and treachery will overcome youth and vigor everytime".  I guess what we lose in physical prowess as we age we make up for in deviousness.

     The PS to this blog is I thought we might start corn planting Friday, but it is raining now, so, I guess we are still a few days out.

  • Spring, is it finally here??

    The weather of the last few days makes me think spring has arrived for real.  The past 10 days have seen rain in generous amounts, easing my fears of an early long lasting drouth, and moving them to a regular old July and August drouth prediction.  Corn planters have stayed in the shed, and seed corn in the bag.  It is raining tonight, but the week ahead is forecast to be dry.  Without knowing how much it has rained, I would guess perhaps we could get in the field by Thursday if we get the temps forecasted, in the high 70s and low 80s.  Our vegetable garden is showing signs of life, with the taters coming up, and the radishes, carrots, spinach and parsnips all emerged.

    Although most grass leases have started, save the few that begin on May 1, there is for all practical purposed no grass to go to thanks to our cold weather of late.  Most pastures are either brown or black right now, with just a few cool season pastures bright green.  Our warm season grasses need nights that don't fall below 50 to grow at all, and really need nights of 60F+ to grow well.  For most, calving is winding down.  I sold 66 head of steers and heifers Thursday with the steers averaging 755 pounds at $1.01 per pound, and heifers 680 at $.9610 per pound.  This is about $.15 per pound less than this time last year.

    There is concern about freeze damage in some Kansas wheat, our 10pm newscast had that as one of the lead stories(go to www.kwch.com ). There is also a saying that wheat gets killed 3 times before harvest, so time will tell how much damage is really out there.

    After so many cold windy days, yesterday yielded winds of the right speed and direction for me to burn some of my pasture, aided by a strip burned through the middle of the 320 acre tract from a fire that jumped the highway last week.  It took much longer than I thought it would to fire guard around buildings and neighboring property, we started our backfires at 4pm and got done at 11pm.  I have posted pics in my gallery that I think are pretty good, if I do say so myself.

  • Tea party (Taxed Enough Already).

    I see nothing on the BBC about this, as with the left in this nation they are probably doing their best to ignore it.  Today is our tax day, the day our federal income taxes are due(and state in Kansas).  Today is also the advent of the tax TEA party, an acronym for taxed enough already.  This is supposedly a grassroots movement in the spirit of the Boston tea party, during which patriots dressed in Native American garb dumped British tea into Boston harbor in a pre- revolutionary protest against your parliament and its taxes. 

    The left is doing its level best to either ignore these tea parties, or label the organizers and participants as far right nuts. In the case of the tea party organized in our community for tonight, the organizers are a young farm couple(not Mrs KF and I , we are middle aged).  By their own admission they didn't care at all about politics until 6 months ago.  My feeling is this is not a radical movement at all, nor is it confined to the far right.  Millions of us are scared to death over the huge national debt and huge and growing deficits.  We all remember that both the Democrats and Republicans for years have decried both growing deficits and the debt, now suddenly according to those in power, we should just not worry about it anymore.

    I have no idea how many people are going to attend these functions going on all over the nation through this evening.  This may be the beginning of a whole new awakening in our democracy, or simply a blip on the radar screen of history.  Time will tell.

  • High winds yield big fire.

    For most of the the last 2 months through day after day of dry weather and strong winds, with a huge fuel load on our prairies I have figured we would have a big out of control fire.  I had been wrong day after day, through all the red flag warnings and the like.  Just when I quit carrying the camera, it finally happened, yesterday (April 4) we got a big one. 

    The problem really started the day before.  It has to be understood first of all just how important fire is to the tallgrass prairie, I guess the best way to put it is that fire is just as important to the Flinthills rancher as fungicide is to the UK wheat grower.  Fire keeps our prairie from going to trees and brush, it gets rid of the old grass to allow the fresh young grass to grow.  Getting rid of the old fuel also ends the ever present danger of fire we live with every dry windy day from the 1st of October to the time the pastures are finally burned in April.  I have been surprised more burning has not already been done, but we have had such a string of windy high to extreme fire weather days, along with cold temps, that most people have been reluctant to burn.  For one reason or another, all that ended Friday afternoon.  It might have been because high winds were forecast for Saturday, and rain Saturday night, it might have been because we are just a few weeks from going to grass and guys are getting nervous about having so much work to do in such a short time, or it might be all of the above, but mid afternoon Friday the sky began to fill with plumes of smoke, even though it was fairly windy.  In no time at all, the pager began sounding its various tones for the divisions throughout the county as the fires started jumping roads.  By 5pm our tone sounded, a fire had jumped and was going through a 640 acre pasture that will probably be burned in a week or less anyway, problem was a strong southeast wind was driving it straight toward a small town of about 50 people, and if it jumped the next road it would be in some oil storage tanks.  Our snow and rain from the weekend before made for some muddy fire fighting, but we were able to get a handle on that fire in about an hour, a stuck truck led to some yelling by the chief and some sore feelings...not good with volunteers.

    At around 10:30 pm the tones sounded for the 2 divisions directly west of us, in 5 minutes our tone sounded for the same fire, some 15 miles away from home, in very rough terrain.  When I arrived at the firebarn only one other person was there, no doubt in no small part due to the harsh words over the stuck fire truck earlier in the day.  The pager was sounded twice more, and after a considerable amount of begging by me over the radio, 3 more guys showed up.  Our trip overland through hills and draws took us 45 minutes, we had been told this fire had come from the adjoining county and we would meet up with fire trucks from that county fighting the fire....either we did not find the right fire, or we were misinformed, because when the trucks from all three divisions finally met up at about a quarter of midnight in a moonlit pasture, we found lots of fire, and no one putting it out.  The terrain was such we could not get to the fire, a walk by flashlight around much of the perimeter seemed to indicate the fire was contained by a creek, and burned grass on either side.  The area west of here is about 400 feet higher than the area I live in, we were able to get a good view of much of the county looking back to the east and south, there were numerous fires all over, and the thought crossed my mind as the wind was supposed to come up to gusts over 40 Saturday, these fires could become uncontrollable the next day.  We left without doing much of anything, and I crawled into bed at 2:30 am Saturday morning.

    When I reluctantly awoke later in the morning, the first thing to greet me logging into the weather was a red flag warning.  The strong south wind picked up strength all morning, just as I was about to sit down to a wonderful lunch Mrs. KF had prepared, the phone rang from our chief, telling me there was a good deal of smoke coming from the general area we had been in the night before.  His unsaid message was he wanted me to drive the 15 miles on my own to see what the situation was, I did not take the bait and did not offer to do it.  So, he had dispatch set of our pagers, and with my lunch sitting on the table, off I went again.  On the way to town I called one of the ranchers in that area, John.  John is never much for putting out a fire this time of year, as he says, "it'll all be black in a week anyway".  However, John was some 7 miles north of the fire in a 5000 acre pasture he rents checking his calving cows, the fire happened to be heading that way.  He further commented, very slowly, that "it is rolling right along Brian".  It was agreed he would get closer to the fire while we headed trucks that way.  Within 5 minutes my phone rang again(John talks with a very slow drawl) with the following report, "weeeellll I reckon it has gone 2 miles in about 15 minutes, this whole country will be black in a few days anyway, buuutttt this wind is blowing pretty good and there are alot of oil wells and tank batteries in the path of it to catch fire...I think it will stop at the creek, buuuuttt, the creek ain't very wide and it might jump it.........if it does, well, then Katy bar the door....the only cattle between it and the river are my cows......fellers, I reckon we better stop it, I guess if we can't the north branch will stop it by evening" (meaning the river I live on, 10-15 miles away). 

    The fire was somewhat closer to town than the one early in the morning, although it appeared to have traveled about 3-5 miles back toward us when we got near it, I am unclear yet if it had started from the fire we did not put out because we felt it was contained,or one of the remnants of the half dozen other fires we drove through to get to it. At any rate, when our first 2 trucks arrived we faced a fireline of about 3-4 miles, that we could see.  There was a discussion with the owner of the ranch, and back and forth over the radio as I pleaded with our chief for more trucks.  He agreed and 7 more were dispatched to us.  Meanwhile, John and another rancher began a backfire on the other side of the creek against a road, in case it jumped.  By this time, the fire was running nearly 2 miles wide at the head fire.  The owner wanted the fire stopped at a 10 foot wide mowed path across a mile of pasture, because he was in a government program to preserve bird habitat.  This was impossible, and I told him that with as much diplomacy as possible.  He did not want any back fires set either...however the two other ranchers went about setting them all the same.  Our first two trucks tried a frontal attack on a fire coming down the hill toward a tank battery, after only 10 minutes of trying to plow up the steep hill in mud and rock I called back to the boss that the situation was impossible running head on into it.  3 trucks came from the far south end and worked the east side, our tanker set up at the tank batteries we were trying to protect to nurse everyone.  The two trucks we brought and 3 others from neighboring divisions worked the line from the tank battery to the north backfire, perhaps a mile and a half long, or 2 miles.  As the afternoon wore on, what had appeared to be an impossible situation gradually was brought under control, 8 attack rigs, one tanker, and 2 pickups with water tanks and pumps provided by the owner, 22 volunteer firemen and 8 ranchers were able to move to the west fire line by about 5pm and to get it controlled and out by 6pm.  We lost no buildings(to be fair, there were just a few outbuildings in the area), no oil tanks(there were lots of them) and no stock.  Just a rough guess was maybe 2000-3000 acres burned.  It all would have burned anyway(we even managed to save most of the bird grass), just in a more controlled fashion. Had it gone past the backfire point, it probably would have put a house or two in danger, and many more oil fields, and gone perhaps another 5-8 miles. 

    I didn't have my camera, but half way through the afternoon managed to borrow one.  I took some decent pics, just none of the main action.  Eventually I will get them downloaded and post a few. 

  • Cold and bleak.

    Just in time for spring, and April, cold weather arrives in Kansas.  Snow a couple counties north of us this morning in the range of 4 inches, so says the radio, while we just saw the stray snowflake.   Just when I thought we had missed the worst of it, a wonderful cold rain started.  At 2:40 pm our current temp is 38F(that is 3C, I figured the conversion just for my British friends) as I glanced at the London forecast on the homepage I noted our current temp is 4 degrees below the predicted London low.  Not to worry, Saturday afternoon strong south winds are supposed to usher in temps in the middle 70s, along with a high fire danger and a chance of severe storms Saturday night as a cold front collides with the strong southerly flow, giving us a high Sunday forecast at 42F.  Farm work is at a standstill, once again we are in the fix of it is time for the grass to grow, but too cold to grow it(our warm season grasses need night time temps that don't fall much below 55F to really grow).  I am nearing the end of my silage pit, and the cool season brome grass growing in the road ditches gives the cattle something to aspire too, generally resulting in one or two out every day.  It seems that it is always either too dry with warm weather in April, or too cold with wet weather, either way our grass always gets off to a slow start.

    With our recent moisture thoughts of drouth are not as prevalent for me, we have excellent subsoil moisture, so all we need are warm days and nights and the grass will explode.  Much less has been burned than I thought would be by now, probably because nearly every day has strong winds and the fires are just too hard to control.  The minute it gets dry the corn planters will start rolling in earnest, as we are now within the ideal time to plant corn.  The race is about to begin, I can't believe it is time to start all over again.

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