The Independence Journal
Logging and Clean-Up
No way around it, when you have too many trees, there's not too much you can do but thin them out and if possible get some money in the process.
When we bought the additional property next to our existing homestead, we had only some general ideas what we should do with it. For one thing, we were pretty much certain that we wanted to engage in some kind of agriculture, possibly as a tree farm.
We did a lot of shopping around and discovered that there are two ways to approach the problem. One way is to go out and find the best logging outfit you can find and hire them yourself. The other approach, at least in this area, is to hire a "timber manager." The concept is that the timber manager would do a better job of riding herd on the timbering company and would be a more savvy spokesman than the landowner operating without much advice.
Being in my nature to be a "do it myself'er" I elected to find a good local outfit and one that had a good reputable (not to mention being honest about loads out) and strike the deal myself.
The agreement, a simple one page affair, states that between X date and Y, the timber company will harvest from your land and will pay you so much a ton for this kind of wood and so much for that. Again, locally conditions will vary, but the Pines we were getting up to $43 a ton for the old growth good stuff, and as little as $2 a ton for small pulp wood.
I was pleased enough with the company we chose, E-Tex Land and Timber (www.easttexastimber.com) that I built them a web site as a thank you for the office crew that didn't drink beer. The sawyers and cutter operator got beer...
The key thing you want to look for is good equipment. In the case of E-Tex, it was a big John Deere cutter, driven by a fellow named "Scooter."
I won't kid you, the equipment can tear up your land, but we were fortunate in that E-Tex was very good about not working on rainy/ wet days, or a few days after, so ground compaction was minimal. Tire tracks? Oh sure, you're going to have some.
One the property was opened up, I was surprised how much variation there was in the underlying terrain. I don't know why, but it seems like the trees and brush had hidden a lot of the elevation change on the property. I've come to think that land looks best when it has some trees left on it (10-20%). That way, there's enough shade for a house, animals, and yet at the same time, you can plant lots of tree farm, or run small animals.
With the proceeds from the logging in hand (it was around $13,000) the next step to improve the land was to hire a local "cat skinner" with a small machine to come in and push up some of the bigger piles of brush. I located a fellow here by the name of Mac Dempsey who did a fine job. He was using a Deere 1010 as I recall.
This gets to an interesting discussion point. Mac does a fine job with his smaller cat, but he can't go in like a big Cat D-9 rock ripper and tear out stumps in a single pass. "It'd take me about 45-minutes per stump to dig the big ones out," he advised. "But an old gentleman taught me a trick once. You save your old motor oil, mix it up with some diesel, and pour it on the stump for a few weeks. A bit every couple of days until the stump is will saturated. Then you light it off, maybe with a bit of gasoline in the last batch."
Being the b-school type, I ran out some numbers. Mac and his D-1010 were costing $400 a day for a 7.5 hour shift. The big Cats, like a D-6, are running about $130 an hour. D-9? Much too big. I opted for the smaller dozer and I've been pleased with the results. The tread difference alone between the smaller dozer and a D-6 is significant. Something about Cat D-3/D-4 size seems about right for clear up - provided (and this is important) that it has the high "brush blade" on the front end, as Mac's does.
As good a cat skinner as Mac is, there were still some things that the dozer wasn't suited for. One of the quirks in this part of East Texas is that we have a lot of vines that grow up into trees if you don't cut them down regularly. The land we purchased was pretty much vine infested - and the vines were 1/2 to 1 1/2 diameter for the most part. They also have long nasty roots and if Mac had gone after them with the dozer, while it could have gotten every one of them, he would have also dug up most of the property. Answer?
George's new tractor:
The rotary mower on the back is called a "brush hog" or "bush hog" and it does a fine job of whacking the vines down an inch or two over ground level. The scoop on the front will push around about one end of a 50' pine. That's on dry ground, four wheel drive engaged and not trying to be too quick about it.
All that's left now, on about 1/2 of the property are some big brush piles that will dry out for a week or two more. Then, depending on local rainfall, we will ask the local volunteer fire department to stand by while we put a match to it.
One hint passed on by my late fire fighter father: If you want a fire to burn slower, and in a semi-controlled way, then light the pile on the very top. The fire will then burn down into the heart of the pile. On the other hand, if you want to get what a fireman would call a "rip snorter" going, touch the fire off at the very base, inside the pile with some gasoline or diesel to help things along.
And use caution in all this work. The before and after are interesting to see. So's the deposit in the bank. And, one more thing: Be sure and save your timber cutting contract and paperwork. It establishes beyond a shadow of a doubt that you raise trees for a living and as a result, if your property meets your county requirements for agriculture use, you can lower your property taxes a fair amount.
Our tax bill on 113 acres last year was about $1,370. This year on 29 acres with the ag exemption, it will be around $900 on the whole thing.
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