HAVRE, Mont. – Harvesting of spring crops and seeding of winter crops is moving along at Vilicus Farms, according to Paul Neubauer, farm foreman at the farm.
“Here on the farm we are chugging along through harvest, about three-fourths of the way done with the crops,” Paul said. “At the same time that we are combining our way through the wheat, we have also just begun to plant fall-seeded crops.”
After nearly uninterrupted hot and dry conditions for all of August, September came in with an inch of rain and one night of below freezing nighttime low temperatures.
“The rain obviously shut down harvest for a few days, which we used to catch up on some rest and equipment maintenance,” Paul said. “It is very good to get that moisture this time of year as it will help with a good start for our fall-seeded crops. Since that change, nighttime lows have been regularly in the 40s with highs between 70 and 80 degrees.”
Paul pointed out that the weather shift, as well as some higher humidity the last few days, has led to some heavy dews in the morning.
“When the dew is heavy on the wheat we have to wait for the sun to come out and a breeze to blow for a couple hours before we can begin harvesting,” he said.
Recently, haze from the fires in Oregon moved into Montana on Sunday, Sept. 13.
“It will be interesting to see how that impacts harvest conditions, which have been good (after the dew dissipates). Today, the sunlight was largely obscured by the haze cover for most of the day, and despite a forecast of 80 degrees, I don’t believe it ever got much higher than 65,” he said.
Unfortunately, the heavy rain spoiled some of the swathed feed that the cattle are grazing and so their utilization of the feed has gone down a bit.
After the rain, the sun came right out and the humidity dropped quickly after that rain event.
“I haven’t seen any sign of serious molding or other quality loss in the feed,” Paul said.
When the cow/calf pairs finish their current farm strip, Paul will check to see what the production was from that ground.
“By comparing it to the other farm strip of swathed feed the cattle previously grazed, I should be able to determine what kind of loss we saw from that rain event,” he added.
Paul believes that will offer data to factor in for the future when making decisions about whether to graze swathed or standing feed.
“The cattle are starting to put on their coats with these cooler nights coming in, and the pairs appear to be doing well despite the big shock of an 80-degree day, then a wet cold night, and a 40-degree day following,” he said.
Over his career, Paul has enjoyed working with cattle for several reasons.
“Farming and ranching offer a way of life that allows me to be outdoors every day. More so than just being outdoors, production agriculture has allowed me to have a close relationship with the land,” Paul said. “The act of observing the weather and its shifting patterns, carefully monitoring the state of the grass or the swaths that the cattle are grazing, being attuned to the changing time of the sunrise and sunset, these are all facets of my work that give me great fulfillment.”
Paul said he needs to do all of those things everyday in order to have all the information he needs to make informed decisions about how to best care for the animals, the growing plants, and the soil.
There are few careers available that allow a person to practice such a varied style of critical thinking and decision-making as working in agriculture. “Having living animals that depend on your decisions and actions for their growth and well-being adds another aspect to that complex equation, which in turn gives me greater fulfillment in my work,” he concluded.