Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tickseed & leather-wings

Tickseed sunflower
(Bidens aritosa)

This daisy-like flower appears in late August and blooms well into the fall. I suppose they can grow about anywhere, but I see them mostly in the lower ends of pastures and prairies where the soils tend to be a bit more moist. I saw great sweeps of tickseed yellow in the prairie conservation projects I passed on the way to and from town yesterday. Their presence is less dramatic in our front pasture, but beautiful still.

The common name, Tickseed, no doubt comes from the appearance of the plant's distinctly black seeds, which are about the size of an adult dog tick. The plant self-seeds readily, and it seems about as easy to grow as the domestic tickseeds I plant in my flower beds. I even had a blooming plant in the greenhouse in late spring, a volunteer sprout I let grow out of curiosity. It bloomed from late May to mid-June. No doubt the warmth and long growth season of the greenhouse tricked it into early flowering.

Walking among the tickseed in the pasture, I noticed that nearly every plant has at least one of those distinctively marked yellow and brown bugs among its flowers. They're Pennsylvania Leather-wings (Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus), and according to the information in my favorite bug book, they're a beneficial insect. The adults eat pollen, nectar and small insects. The Larva like grasshopper eggs, small caterpillars, and beetles. My bug book also says that some Leather-wing species native to the Great Plains are used for biological control of Corn Earworm caterpillars. That alone would put Leather-wings on my Good Bug List.

FYI - My favorite bug book is The Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders. Good pictures, clear entries, and well-organized.

Monday, September 17, 2007

We have a herd . . . sort of

Two weeks after the due date, Rosalie finally gave birth to her first calf. Rosalie's a grade Jersey and was born here on the farm. She was bred to the same Limosin bull as Lottie. Unlike her mother, Rosalie chose a nice shady spot at the edge of the pasture that's easily accessible to the humans for viewing, and she wasn't cranky about us looking at the calf.

There's clearly much affection between the cows, who are a mother-daughter pair, and that affection extends to both calves. Yesterday, shortly after the birth, we watched the new calf nurse from its dam's tender udder while Lottie licked its still wet coat and mooed softly. Lottie's own calf, now three weeks strong, stood quietly nearby. Already, the cows are taking turns with babysitting duties - one staying close to the calves and the other grazing a ways off. It's typical herd behavior, but interesting to observe nonetheless.

Cows, like mother animals of most species, have a particular 'voice' for communicating with their young. That early soft-voiced 'mother-talk' always fascinated me when we were actively raising dairy goats. I'm not surprised to find similar patterns among cattle, and I don't think anyone who knows me well is surprised at how much I like listening in to those private conversations.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Just another big box

We bought a new stove recently. The cats found a good use for the old one. I told them they couldn't keep it.