Purchase photos

Combine pressed into service





OGALLAH -- Lester Windholz guided his John Deere combine back and forth through a neighbor's not-so-lush milo field, but not a single bit of grain was making its way into the machine's hopper.

It was all going out the side of the 35-foot header on the machine he was running.

And it was all by design.

He could have used a swather, raking together two windrows into one, but he'd still be left with a dismally small windrow.

"I'm putting 70 feet together," Windholz said.

That cut his work in half, and all it took was removing the center piece of the header's conveyer belt, creating a gap on the edge of the header.

The windrow's a little slower drying, he said, but it's less work and a larger -- albeit still small -- windrow.

"It's not going to make anything," he said of the milo crop being harvested for roughage.

Windholz had tried his hand at the combine-turned-swather on a patch of milo he won't harvest for grain.

"It's still feed for the cattle," Windholz said, and that's critical with feed crops struggling.

The only downside to the idea, he said, is how slow the crop dries, taking almost two weeks before it's ready to bale.

Stalks on the milo he cut earlier still were a bit wet, he said of what he baled, while the leaves were dry and brittle.

Windholz said he purchased the combine last year, and as his mechanic was looking it over, he mentioned the possibility of removing part of the conveyer and turning it into a swather.

"I never gave it a thought," he said.

Until this summer, that is, when it became apparent milo fields weren't going to grow as they should in the hot and dry weather.

Windholz already has harvested nearly a third of his crop.

"I've probably cut 400 to 500 acres," he said. "We've put up a third so far. And we're going to cut some more."

He planted nearly 1,100 acres of milo this year, and he's only going to spot-cut one field, baling or grazing the rest of it.

"If I get 3 to 4 bushels per acre, that's probably all I'm going to get," he said.

But with a cow-calf operation, grain and roughage to feed is imperative.

He also put up 400 acres of corn, but only walked away with 2 tons per acre, far short of the 6 to 7 he would have gotten in a normal year.

He's already sold a third of his herd, mostly those that are older.

"I've been farming since 1976," he said, "I've never had a failure, I've always taken my milo to harvest."

But with less than half an inch of rain -- in two showers -- since May, it was more than his crops could handle.

Nearly 3.5 inches fell in the Ogallah area in the latest round of rain, but it will be too late to help most of the crops.

Those rains, however, will be a salvation for planting wheat.

But if conditions dry back down and the drought continues into May or June of next year, "that would be the end of the cattle."