RAPLEJE, Mont. – As spring dissipates to summer and the days start getting longer, the prairies of south central Montana are really starting to come to life.
“It’s been rainy these last couple days,” said Cali Rooney during her June 8 report. “We had a dry spell before that, so it has just really made the crops and the grass pop.”
Cali and her husband Tyler have been busy planting all of their warm season cover crops. These particular cover crop varieties must be planted in soil that consistently stays above 50 degrees, ideally. For Montana, by the end of May/first part of June, soil temperatures usually hit that sweet spot. Cali admits, her field work seems never-ending, but the Rooneys are down to just one more field to plant, which they plan to have wrapped up before the middle of June.
Cali and Tyler may be young in age, but they are tenacious and extremely business savvy. They set yearly and long-term goals centered on herd management, conservation, range health and capital improvements. This year the Rooneys have decided to purchase a new-to-them skid steer, which the couple is very excited about.
“Hopefully we can go today and pick that up. Once we get back we will start on some corral adjustments. More cattle means we need more room in our corrals,” she said.
Skid steers really are a “do-it-all” piece of equipment, and the Rooneys are looking forward to having one in their equipment arsenal. After the corral project, Tyler plans to keep the machine busy hauling rock and gravel to various places on the ranch to fix roads, wash outs and culverts.
For the first time this year, Cali and Tyler opted to AI their replacement heifers. They placed CIDRS in the heifers on June 6 and they will be removed on June 13. The plan is to breed all the heifers the week of June 15.
“We need those heifers to be on really good nutrition while we are trying to get them to breed, so we currently have them turned out on some cover crops so we can get a really good flush out of them,” Cali explained.
Cover crops can be divided into two broad categories: annual or perennial. Annual cover crops are quicker to establish, so they can be planted and then grazed just a few months after. The Rooney’s replacement heifers just so happened to be turned out on a field of cover crops that was just planted in April of 2020.
Perennial cover crops can take a year or more to establish, and Cali says it is best to not graze them, or at least graze them very minimally until they have had plenty of time for the roots to take hold. The Rooneys did put in some perennial cover crops this year, which they planted with a nurse crop to help protect the establishing cover crops.
After Cali and Tyler finish seeding their last field of warm season cover crops they will only have a short break before it is back in the tractor to cut and bale hay. The Rooneys put up enough hay to feed their own cattle, and on some years they have even been able to produce enough extra to sell.
“Our alfalfa is starting to get nice and tall. We like to start cutting when it’s just barely starting to bloom and I’m estimating by the end of June we will be able to start,” she said.
Until then, the Rooneys will remain busy with a host of daily tasks. There is always fence that needs fixed and some that even need to be built. There is cattle to move and soon the couple will start going through haying equipment. Day in and day out, the Rooneys are thankful they get to live the life they do, even if it keeps them hopping.