DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Ryan Wieck is hoping healthy hooves make for happy cows. This past week, the Texas Panhandle farmer enlisted the help of a hoof-trimming service and treated his entire beef herd to bovine pedicures.
"It's so dry here that we have cracks in the soil 2 inches wide, and that's rough on cow hooves. Plus, I've been supplement feeding the herd more than normal because the grass is short. I'm just hoping to head off lameness. We found a few that already had issues, so it was good to get them treated," said Wieck.
Battling drought is unrelenting whether it is cows or crops. Keeping irrigation rigs running this time of year is another chore that can't be ignored, he added.
Dayton, Iowa, farmer Kellie Blair should have her own irrigation tales to tell by this time next year. The farm just completed building a 3-acre pond that will use recycled tile water to irrigate crops. It's one of two projects in the state that is examining ways to sustainably use tile water.
Blair and Wieck are DTN's 2021 View From the Cab farmers. Selected from volunteers from around the country, they report in each week on what's happening on their farms and in their respective regions throughout the growing season. This is the 16th installment of their diary reports that cover everything from crop progress to cows to cover crops to children.
Follow along this week as these farmers gear up for harvest, prepare to plant winter wheat, pamper cows, talk water conservation, and deal with the realities of sending kids back to school.
KELLIE BLAIR -- DAYTON, IOWA
When school days ended last spring, the summer seemed to loom endlessly into the future for Kellie Blair. Now, as the children start back to school and she starts to juggle sports practices and backpacks, she's wondering where the time went.
"I'm not going to lie, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed right now," said Blair, whose children are 12 and 10. "Suddenly, we have all these events again, and everything seems to be on the same night or overlapping."
Blair is dealing with a scenario all parents invariably face -- how do you balance the demands of career, family and extracurricular activities. "I feel the need to allow my children to sample a wide range of experiences -- church, 4-H, sports, etc. But there's also the need to maintain my job on the farm and still have a family meal occasionally," she said.
"I didn't think we'd run up against all these commitments until they were a little older. I'm glad they have a lot of good choices, and I guess every parent wants their child to have opportunities they either had or didn't have. The challenge, though, is not to overload and sort priorities."
Every season brings a need to establish new rhythms, no matter how well organized or prepared. But harvest is particularly challenging, Blair noted. Beyond the need to get all the crops you've worried over and worked for all summer in the bin, there's planning for next year.
This year is particularly interesting as prices for fertilizer and other inputs rise along with worries about possible shortages of some products. "It comes at a time in the year when we are typically getting tighter on cash flow, too," Blair said. "But this year, the increase in prices have us looking hard at taking advantage of some of the early ordering and discounts that come with that."
On the plus side, crops look better than she might have ever hoped early in the season. Recent rains have helped kernels and pods fill. Pest pressure has been amazingly light on corn, soybeans, oats and alfalfa, she noted. Harvesting equipment is being readied for action.
The farm has been involved in a drainage recycling project this summer as part of a drainage recycling pilot project with the Iowa Department of Land and Stewardship and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The idea is to empty water from tile lines into a holding pond and reuse the water through an irrigation pivot.
"The early drought actually worked to our advantage for building a pond. Typically, we would have had a mucky mess, but not this year," she reported.
Recent rains are now starting to fill the 3-acre earthen, clay-lined holding pond. The system taps into a drainage district main that runs under the field, which was already pattern-tiled. A sump pump transfers water to the reservoir.
"It should be really helpful this time of year when, normally, we are starting to need water to finish out the crop," she said.
"Mostly, I'm really excited about the fact that we are recycling the water -- it's water and nutrient management. Not only are we using what's available, but we are filtering it back through the system by using it as irrigation and not sending it downstream," she said. "We're hopefully making our fields a bit more resilient and helping water quality."
RYAN WIECK -- UMBARGER, TEXAS
Up to one-half inch of rain fell on most of Ryan Wieck's fields on Monday. Every drop helps. Drought had become so desperate in the Panhandle of Texas where Ryan Wieck works to produce wheat, cotton, milo and cattle that he's been turning off irrigation pumps for several days at a time.
"The wells get pumped down, start pumping air and less water. So, we shut them off for a few days hoping they can catch up," he said.
DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick said there are chances for isolated showers and thunderstorms each day over the coming week for Wieck's area. "The chances are low each day, very hit-or-miss," he noted. Since he's missed on most of the isolated showers to date, maybe Wieck will get lucky this week, Baranick added.
So far, Wieck has been able to nurse the irrigated crop along. "The cotton has bloomed out the top, which means the plant is done with flowering," Wieck noted. "It is loaded up and we have some good-sized fruit, but we need more rain to finish. The wells can't keep up."
Dryland cotton is still a big question for Wieck. "It withered up and was shucking fruit before these most recent showers," he said. Yield isn't the only concern; drought takes a toll on cotton fiber qualities of length and strength, as well.
Milo can handle short-term drought, but long-term gasping causes the grain heads to be smaller and the berries to weigh less, he noted. Reports of sugarcane aphids abound, but Wieck has yet to have a treatable problem.
"We're keeping an eye open. When they hit, it can be fast," he said.
There's no rest for the thirsty, though. The shop is filled with a tractor that's torn apart and the drill being prepared for winter wheat seeding. He plants TAM 111 wheat, a white-chaffed, hard red winter wheat variety, released by Texas AgriLife Research. It's tall stature for a semi-dwarf and drought resistance makes it suited to dryland production in the area.
"If we get a spot more rain, we'll start sticking wheat in the ground soon after Sept. 1," Wieck said. Generally, he likes to have wheat seeded before cotton picking starts in October. Working through the cows and calves last week was all part of getting ahead so they can be busy with crop harvest.
Hoof care for cattle tends to be more of a practice in dairy herds, but Wieck had noticed some long toes and a few head having walking issues. He knew of a traveling trimmer with an excellent reputation and decided to give it a try.
Before the trimmer goes to work, each animal is secured onto a tiltable table mounted into the side of a trailer. "He shapes the bottom of their hooves with a variety of electric tools and checks for bad spots and bruises. It only took 10 to 15 minutes for each one, but I asked so many questions I probably slowed him down," Wieck said.
"It cost me some money ($25 per head for females and $50 for bulls), but it was so educational, and I could already see the changes in how those that had splits or other issues walked after the trimming," he said.
It felt good to accomplish something positive, he admitted. "There's been so much uncertainty here, and the last few weeks, the crops have been pretty tough to watch.
"We really don't know if we're going to be rolling like gangbusters with all kinds of crops to harvest, or it is just going to go ahead and dry up and die. We just keep praying for rain and doing the best we can," Wieck said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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