Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mating Rituals

Lately, everywhere I turn, everything I do, I see pairings. Nature all around me is courting and matching up. Maybe it’s just the season, spring springing and all that. Maybe it’s because I’ve written a few romances and my mind is attuned to that sort of thing. Whatever the case, spring seems to be the season for love. Just yesterday, I learned of an engagement in the immediate family.

I'm smiling. ‘Tis the season.

Lately, I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time observing the mating rituals of the Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido). I manage to look pretty ridiculous while I’m doing it, too, but there’s rarely anyone else around to see me. Occasionally a farmer drives by on the dirt road behind me at a slow, polite pace that stirs a minimal amount of dust. Or a conservation agent stops a moment to observe the action and note that I’m as careful as I should be about keeping my distance so the birds aren’t disturbed.

As yet, nobody’s commented on the fact that I have a tripod and camera perched on top of the pickup cab roof, and that I’m standing with one foot on a built-in toolbox and the other on the ladder rack. I’m not disturbing the birds, and that’s what counts. Or maybe word’s gotten out about me. Don’t disturb the middle-aged crazy woman with the camera. She’s odd, but probably harmless.

I’m not much of a threat to the professional bird photographers either.

Prairie chickens prefer expansive grasslands like the tallgrass prairie on the west side of the road where I set up my observation post – or the big wheat field with its emerging carpet of green to the east of the road, which is where I usually find them. They’re usually several hundred feet from the road, so even with my 500mm telephoto lens, the results aren’t impressive.

Here it is, cropped and blown up. If you squint just right, you can see two males dancing to attract the attention of a single hen.

Back at the farm, we’ve all sorts of romantic entanglements to observe. There’s Winifred the goose, who lost her mate a year ago. After a period of mourning, she took up with a strapping young rooster. They’re close companions, but she also has a conjugal relationship with Ferdinand, our male goose. His mate, Ingrid, doesn’t seem to mind. She and Winifred both laid eggs in the same nest. Two weeks ago, Ingrid settled in for a month’s setting to hatch out the eggs she thought were there. (I swiped them and replaced them with egg-shaped gourds so we didn’t risk losing the whole batch to a skunk raid like last year.) With Ingrid occupied, and Winifred cuddling up to her rooster, poor Ferdinand now must spend his days alone. Ferdinand apparently wasn’t wired for a solo existence. He’s taken up with a white bucket. Here he is singing love songs to his bucket. He does this several times a day.

To escape the madness of the barnyard soap opera, I headed out to the greenhouse for some weeding and harvesting. And what did I find?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Nature's course

We've had quite a lot of rain lately, which created much more run-off than our little creek usually carries. A lot of debris washed down from the woods, and a couple trees that have been leaning over the embankment fell right in. Branches caught on fallen logs, new and old, and the mess piled up overnight into a series of natural dams like the one above.

They're not pretty, but I'm resisting the urge to tidy up the creekbed for a more photo-friendly view. The ugly dams are an efficient natural method of slowing the current, which eases the erosion of the fragile banks. I care about that because one of those eroding banks is right next to the field road that connects the house and barnyard area with the back fields. If it washes out too far, I won't be able to get the truck through. That would be inconvenient since we occasionally drive the 95-year-old aunt back there to see the wildflowers. The fence needs fixing now and then, too, and that's a lot further than I want to carry a roll of wire, posts, and various tools. Call me lazy, but I'd rather haul them in the truck.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Duck, goose, duck

Sure, they're friendly now. A few hours ago, when I added the gosling to the brooder, the 3 ducklings freaked. Eeek! Gigantor! It took them half an hour to work up the nerve to check him (her?) out - aka peck his head. That's how ducklings get acquainted, peck, peck, nibble. Guess they discovered the gosling's a big mass of warm - great for snuggling.

The American Buff gosling (in the middle, in case you haven't figured out which one is Gigantor) hatched out sometime in the night in the incubator. The two ducklings are in their second day. One has black feet, which means one parent was one of our three Cayugas. The other is probably a Golden Cascade. There's a third yellow duckling wandering around nearby - a Pekin or Pekin cross. It's a whole 6 hours older than the others and too busy being a duckling to pose for a picture.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Daffodil time

Years ago, I had two little snowdrop plants by my front steps. Those were my early harbingers of spring. The first appearance of the snowdrop blooms meant spring truly would come, and the world would be right.

Now, two homes later, it's the daffodils that give my mood such a boost. Mine aren't blooming here at the farm yet, but there's a spot up the road a bit where conditions are just right for the earliest daffodils in the area to bloom.

The flowers are all that remain of the old home site at the next bend in our narrow road. Once upon a time, it was part of a working farm with outbuildings and gardens tended by someone who loved blooms. If you know where to look, you can still find foundation stones for some of the buildings but they're well hidden by the maturing hardwood forest and heavy undergrowth. The flowers, though, show their noses every spring in defiance of whatever man or nature tosses their way. There are other flowers there, too, irises & daylilies, in addition to the usual hardy wildflowers that grow around here. It's the daffodils, though, that I love most.

This roadside batch is tough. They've survived decades of neglect and abuse. Last year, the county added a drainage culvert to their corner and reshaped the ditch. The entire roadside, clear to the trees, was scraped to bare dirt, shaped, molded, and left to recover. The weeds came back. The ragweed thrived. Saplings sprouted forth. And this spring, the daffodils popped up and bloomed with abandon. The patch is a little thinner than before, but I suspect it'll recover just fine.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


The view from the hayloft at feeding time.

This photo was taken a few weeks ago, while the snow fell outside and the wind whistled around the eaves. I'd just given the cattle half a bale of prairie hay and was spreading a thick bed of fresh straw. Notice the chickens scratching through the straw near the doorway. Chickens are like that -- toss down new straw and they rush in like it's an all-you-can-eat buffet for the scratch & peck crowd.

The fat brown cow is Rosie, our younger Jersey milk cow. Her mother, Lottie, is still a bit thin but recovering nicely from this winter's illness and injuries. The two calves with them are half Jersey, half Limosin and growing fast.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


The bull arrived a few weeks late for his conjugal visit, thanks to mud issues. His owner was rightfully nervous about getting the stock trailer stuck while moving him from the last harem . . . err . . . herd he serviced. The big boy's here now though and settling in nicely.

In case you haven't figured it out yet, he's the black one on the right with the huge head, a Limosin with what I'm told is an impressive pedigree. Our Jersey girl Rosie, on the left, doesn't care how good he looks on paper. She likes him because he shares his corn. I like him because he's mellow, mannerly, and throws small calves. (That last trait is farmer-speak for siring small calves, a situation that makes it easier on both the cow and newborn calf at birthing time.)

Our visiting bull's quite sweet and manageable. I'm not nervous about entering his pasture, not even with a bucket of grain when the cattle are crowding up for their snacks. He backs up when I say so, and he stands patiently until I retrieve the feed pan and dump the grain in. But I'm still cautious, and I don't turn my back on him. I just don't. Just because. You can call me chicken. I just call it sensible.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Not quite daffodil time

They grew a couple inches taller this weekend when the afternoon temperatures swelled to the upper 70s (Fahrenheit). They'll get nipped with cold tonight if the forecast is right -- 18 degrees. Brrrr.