First Cutting Down!

Looking east across Cox's.

Looking east across Cox’s.

Finally hay cut on Cox’s and Winchester’s leases yesterday. Both leases are 16 acres, but Winchester seeded down one of the two fields a few weeks ago, so only one (about 8 acres) was cut. Pretty skimpy, but after the nightmare of irrigating it, I was ready to have it cut and raked–maybe make my world a little easier the next time across.

Only got water across Cox’s once, but wanted to take the first a little earlier than usual and see if we could get a better second. I say “usual” but we used to do hay now. For the past 3 or 4 years, we haven’t been getting first cutting done until the 3rd or 4th week in June. One of the drawbacks of depending on other people–custom hay–to do your hay. Not that the same problems couldn’t happen if we had our own equipment…

Windrows on Cox's taken 6-4--2016

Windrows on Cox’s taken 6-4–2016

For some reason the soils were really dry this year. We just picked up the Winchester lease this year, but Jer started Cox’s back in 2003 (and there’s only been one year, when we moved to New York for 9 months in May 2009, that we didn’t work the ground). We have irrigating it pretty much down to a science, but when the ground just soaks up the water so fast and the water doesn’t get to the end of the irrigates, you just have to give it time to saturate so water can go to the end. Of course, had to be the first year that I was irrigating by myself most of the weeks (with Jer going out of town during the week to work his “real” job).

Winchesters was supposed to be cut last week, but breakdowns and Murphy’s Law got Kendall’s and they just couldn’t make it until yesterday morning. We weren’t even really expecting Cox’s to get done so soon, but they were right on it. Worked out well, I suppose. Hopefully it will all get baled as soon as it dries down–shouldn’t take long, since it was dry-standing at Winchesters and we are supposed to be in the high 80’s/low 90’s this coming week).

Winchesters has been a nightmare. When we took on the lease, multiple people told us there wasn’t enough water. Considering there are 630 shares of Fire Mountain Ditch for about 16 acres, and we irrigate 21 acres (16 hay ground, 5 pasture) on Cox’s with 400 shares from the same ditch, I was ecstatic.

How hard could it be? Answer: Very hard.

The good news: There is plenty of water. The bad news: In order to utilize water (and it really be enough water), the ground has to be properly managed and worked to allow the water to move efficiently over it and utilize the water effectively.

Winchester’s field was not managed effectively and was not worked in a manner that allowed the water to move over it efficiently. The field hadn’t been marked in who-knows-how-many years. In the fall only 5 horses were put on it and ran until they couldn’t scrounge for anything else. When they took hay off (which Winchester says first was taken when second should have been done–so a late first–and then they just put the horses on it) the swather missed strips–small strips, wisps–and the baler missed downed hay and maybe some broken bales?

To top it off, the owner of the custom farming company that was refitting the other field didn’t communicate to his driver that they were only working the one field and so his driver got 3/4 of the way around the field I was working before Chuck Winchester could get her stopped. I’m guessing they had words and the driver was really not happy, since she didn’t bother to lift her disc up completely when she was exiting the field.

The above resulted in my nightmare, and me working 8-12 hours a day for three weeks on the single field. Every time I would leave, the water would *stop*.

Becoming so familiar with a shovel was not exactly my ambition in life. One positive side effect: it helped me drop 3 or 4 pant sizes. One negative: I have calluses on my thumb and palms that I don’t know how long it will take to get gone. *Every* mark had to be dug to meet up with the gates and then babied through the discing. After getting through the discing, it had to be babied through the (what I have coined as) “spaghetti.”

I still don’t know how it happened, but somehow there are single marks up by the gated pipe, and single marks at the bottom of the field, but in between is “spaghetti”–six to eight marks where there should be three, and some of the marks are deep and others are only 2 inches. Tracing a mark from the top, that mark would just stop in the middle of the field. Move over a 2-4 inches and there would be another mark. Like I said, some deep, some only 2 inches.

The only workable solution I could devise: pour the water out of the gates, get it through the discing, let it run through the spaghetti, then gather it up and run it down the bottom marks. The problem was that so much water dispersed through the spaghetti, that the flow was down to a trickle by the time it got to the bottom of the spaghetti.

Besides the “spaghetti” there was the old forage to deal with. Putting just 5 horses on 9 acres, with forage being about 16 inches high, the horses selectively grazed what they wanted. That means they ate the alfalfa to the dirt–so much so that when Jer first went in the field, there was absolutely no alfalfa or legumes to be seen. Thankfully when things started growing, there is some alfalfa.

The grass gets tougher and not-so-yummy as it gets taller, older, and more mature, so the horses pass on that, leaving it standing. Eventually the grass gets older and the snow on it weighs it down, leaving it laying on the ground–to act as a sponge and stop water. Seriously, if beavers didn’t have to have something to wear their teeth down (because their teeth constantly grow), they should just use old dead forage. It dams up water great.

Not only the dead forage/grass that the horses left. I had to deal with wisps (handfuls to armfuls) of forage that the swather missed and was then glued to the ground by Mother Nature. And still there was more. They must have baled small squares because I swear I found mounds–like partial and complete bales–of forage in the middle and at the bottom of the spaghetti!

Jer said that all the leases he’d ever taken on (we used to have Gary and Joys, Cherp’s, and Jack’s, but gave them up when we moved to New York. Cox’s was the only one we got back when we returned to Colorado) we like this. Week one at Winchester’s, Jer irrigated one day and said it would take two years to get the field in good shape. Week two at Winchester’s, Jer irrigated one day that week and still said it would take two years to get the field in good shape. Week three, Jer irrigated one day and said he didn’t know how many years it would take–a lot more than two–that the field would have to be refitted to get it into shape. Winchester’s just had too many issues.

Refitting a field is $1,000s of dollars–$4,000 to do that field, by our calculations. We have a one-year lease. No way are we putting that sort of money into something until we have it for 7-10 years. Maybe next year we’ll talk to Winchesters and see…

For now, I got the water across the field (ok, so the last part on the west end missed–about two or three marks–because of the discing and honestly I was really pissed at my shovel by then…somehow those rows stayed green) and we moved water over to the other field, onto the new seeding. Now the west field is cut, with the idea being that cutting and raking it (which the windrows are so small that they will have to be raked together for the baler to pick them up) will get the old, dead forage up and make my world a little easier to get water across again.

With it heating up, I’m not sure how much good it’s going to do me, though. That field is mostly grass–cool-season grass–with just an alfalfa plant here and there. With it getting hot, the cool-season grasses aren’t going to grow so great. I may just have to take what I can get. The new seeding should do well. Alfalfa with a cover of oats. Alfalfa (legumes) love heat. Give them some water, put on some heat, and watch them go.

We’re like one pipe short of being across the new seeding at Winchester and then we’re going to start over and go across it again. New seeding doesn’t have roots to reach down for water in the soil, so it needs extra water to get started.

The hay should be baled by next weekend and we’ll get it picked up when Jer is back home from work. In the meantime, we’re dumping water to the new seeding at Winchesters and on the pasture above the hayfields at Cox’s.

Me, Jer, and Marion irrigating the new seeding at Winchester. Picture taken by Rosie. 6-4-2016

Jer, Marion and Rosie irrigating the new seeding at Winchester 6-4-2016

We also have what was supposed to be 16 acres down the road. Google proves it to only be 12 acres. It hadn’t been taken care of–at all–for at least 3 years. It has been a lot easier to work with, after we marked it, and because it has plenty of water–the only thing the owner was correct (honest?) about. The pipe hadn’t been taken apart or flushed, there’s no way to turn the water off completely. We drilled oats in the bottom field, which is about 5 acres. The upper field just had alfalfa/clover no-tilled in. We got across it with water once and I turned the water off as good as I could last Monday. We don’t plan on taking that ground next year; the owner is too difficult to deal with, we don’t need that sort of grief. We took the lease on a gamble, hoping it would pay off. No such luck.

Must also note: Cox’s hasn’t been reseeded in over 45 years. We haven’t fertilized or done anything but cattle management on it since 2008. We did put ammonia fertilizer on it in 2007. Our custom hay people tell us often that we get the most and best quality hay of anyone else they do hay for. Even though the first cutting is not as good–volume–as “normal,” it is noticeably more than other fields that have hay down. There are a lot of people knocking hay down right now. Love it because many turn their water back into the ditch, giving us a few extra shares to pour on the pasture–which desperately needs it. Can’t put the cows on Cox’s for another two weeks because the pasture is so dry and it needs a chance to grow.

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