Headin’ for the Last Roundup
pring is in the air. Not here yet, but close.
And for the first time in many years, there is moisture on the ground. Lots of it. Mud in some places in fact, and ponds that were bone dry when winter set in last year are now full and running over.
It is time to work our ground, to develop the plans that were planned during the long winter nights as we crossed our fingers, hoping we could once again see weather that we often times jokingly referred to as “normal.”
Just what is “normal” in southwest Missouri anyhow? Truth is, we only call our weather normal when it accidentally suits our needs.
Perhaps the worst is over, and astute observers of weather trends are as apt to be wrong as right. We are all too familiar with what we long ago began to call “Tornado Alley,” a broad strip of land stretching from central Texas through the corner of Arkansas and Oklahoma and then through southwest Missouri.
For decades this path was worn bare, creating property destruction and death in their wake. I remember bad tornadoes in the Stockton area, then a shift to the Joplin to Springfield area. I remember one that tore up downtown Republic, roaring through the Springfield Airport and overturning airplanes before it lifted and went on to St. Louis.
Another hit Joplin and my editor at Springfield Newspaper sent me to cover the damage. On the way I met another twister down the alley to Springfield that, by my calculations, would take it directly to our home. I stopped to call home and warn Helen. She gathered up our family in time to go to Grandfather Farmer’s cellar, where they escaped as the cloud lifted on its way north by northeast.
And so it seems as the years have rolled by that the tornado alley path moved a little further in the north-by-northeast, each year.
And now this November, we witnessed a continuation of this movement, as the storms moved more deadly than ever, but always a bit more eastward.
Recently one hit and resulted in death to a young mother as she was talking to her own mother on the phone, holding her baby in her arms. She died. But miracle of all miracles, the storm lifted the baby away and carried or blew it a hundred feet away. The child was found by searchers, lying on its back on a bed of soft grass, with only minor injury.
Now, hopefully this year’s quota of tornadoes is finished. But don’t bet on it.
My thoughts turn now to our fields, and you are probably doing the same, as the end of winter approaches and spring is not far off.
What was once lush alfalfa was killed last year by a combination of late frost and subsequent invasion of insects. Then, just as the fields had been plowed and worked down, the rains came. The timing was such that the fields had to lay out for the rest of the year. Now they still lie open, save for wild grass.
What to do? All seed is high in price, as is fertilizer. The thinking is oats and sweet clover, followed by no-till fescue in early fall. Why sweet clover? It will provide nitrogen and ground cover for the oats which will provide some early hay. That will release the clover to make a sturdy growth until time to broadcast or no-till fescue.
Bad as I hate to do it, I may forget alfalfa. But I may sneak in one ten-acre field just for the heck of it. I love alfalfa beyond all other crops. But from now on, we will have a strictly grass farm.
Andy’s lovely Angus cows are dropping calves in the most bitter weather. It is amazing how hardy they are, how those powerful cows can calve in zero weather behind a bush or windbreak, lick them dry, get them up and within a few days the little ones are running and playing. After all those years of making sure the Jerseys and Holsteins calved in barns, wiping the calves dry, helping them to nurse and, on occasion, taking them into the house to save them, this is a great relief.
That made me recall the many years ago – 50, to be exact – that Helen and I went to the Pitchfork Ranch in the Texas panhandle and bought 100 Hereford cows. The price? One hundred dollars each. We were just coming off the old Soil Bank program and had fescue up to our shoulders.
Those range cows never saw such grass and they did well with a pound of range cubes a day per head. When calving time came, a bad spell of weather – snow, ice and wind – I was beside myself with worry. What to do?
I finally called the venerable manager at the Pitchfork, Dee Burns, at late night and put the question to him: “Should I put them in the barn?”
“Have they got a wind break?”
“Are their bellies full?”
“Do you have a warm place for you and your family to sleep?”
“Then you and your wife go to bed and have a good night’s sleep. Your cows and calves will be all right.”
We had 93 calves born, none lost. The next three years we bought more cows or heifers from Pitchfork Ranch. It was a grand experience, and we made some money. And now, I wish I had it to do all over again.