Vilicus Farm swath

Crews at Vilicus Farms swath crops and let them dry in windrows before picking them up with the combine.

HAVRE, Mont. – In north central Montana, the combines are roaring through the fields of golden grains, either straight cutting or swathing, then letting the swathed windrows dry before returning to pick it up.

That is true at Vilicus Farms where harvest is in full swing.

“Harvest has begun and the entire farm has shifted to that focus,” said Paul Neubauer, Vilicus Farms foreman. “It seems that all of our early-seeded spring crops are ready or very close to ready for harvest. Winter wheat is cut. Peas, oats, and hulless oats are all ready to go, and lentils and the spring wheats are not far behind them.”

The farm crews swathed the winter wheat over the past couple of weeks, and it is lying in windrows waiting to be picked up by the pickup header on the combine.

“We have already swathed our winter wheat, which is needed before being able to combine,” Paul said.

Throughout the region, some producers are reporting seeing the results of wheat stem sawfly damage with stems falling over in the fields. In that case, the wheat is swathed first.

“We did not have much sawfly damage in winter wheat as we planted a solid-stem variety, however we did end up with a lot of kochia, or fireweed, in the crop,” he said. With the green kochia growing alongside the ripe golden wheat, Paul said they need to swath it first to kill the weeds and get them to start drying down.

“Once the kochia has dried down enough for the combine rotor to process and thresh out the grain in the wheat, then we can use a pickup head to lift the windrowed grain from the ground and run it through the combine,” he said.

It is a lot of work for farm crews, especially in the heat of summer, but it accomplishes the harvest.

“Swathing and picking is an approach to harvest we use quite a lot, especially with legumes like peas and lentils,” he said.

Crews have also begun harvesting yellow peas.

“We have harvested about 100 acres of peas so far, with about 900 acres left to go,” Paul said. “Peas are pretty much ready for harvest all over the farm, and each one of those acres will need to be swathed, as well.”

The reason the peas can’t be straight combined is because as an organic farm, there are always weeds with the grain – and the seed is close to the ground.

When peas are cut, the combine is lowered as close to the ground as possible to pick up all the peas. Some producers instead prefer to swath the peas, and not have to deal with all the dirt.

“To keep from eating dirt and rocks with the combine, we find it is preferable to swath the peas and other legumes first; then we use the pickup head on the combine to harvest them,” he said.

Vilicus Farms has had some beautiful harvesting weather, albeit with some very hot temperatures.

“We have had good harvesting weather for the last week with very hot temps in the high 90s and touching 100 once or twice,” Paul said. “There is some rain forecast for parts of this week (Aug. 4), which will probably slow us down in harvesting. We will be moving into harvesting hulless oats this week, which need to be swathed.”

Oats tend to sprout very readily, and so having them rained on while they are in a windrow is a good recipe for spoiled grain.

The cow/calf pairs are currently grazing the barley-forage pea mix that we swathed in June.

“The 30 cow/calf pairs are eating about an acre a day and really cleaning up the swaths, so I am feeling good about the production and volume of forage left for the remainder of the growing season,” Paul said. “The cattle on the farm now are Red Angus, which tend to endure the heat a little better than their all-black cousins and it doesn’t seem to have affected them too badly.”

The pairs’ water consumption has gone up with the heat, and Paul always has fresh, clean water for them.

“The cattle will be grazing that same barley-forage pea mix in swaths for at least the next two months and perhaps longer depending on how the production holds up throughout the acreage,” he said.

Paul said it takes about an hour of work every day to move the pairs onto fresh feed.

“Then, I roll up the old electric fence that held them in, and place a new fence ahead of them,” he added.