March on the farm

wintertreeeditThe sun is shining, snow is melting, and the flood of life is beginning to return to the prairie.

A few woodpeckers showed up in a brief warm spell in mid-February, but now I see ducks, geese, and huthatches, along with tracks of much more. To minimize S.A.D during the winter and keep the dog happy, I walk from the house mornings and evenings, usually up the deep wooded cut on the east side of the Choteau. It is pretty but a sterile slog mid-winter, and I have been suffering from W.A.D. (Wildlife Activity Deprivation), but now G.L.A.D. (Gobs of Life Arriving Daily).
Interesting how a cow has a multi-compartmented stomach that starts off with a big cellulose digesting vat of microbes, called a rumen. In other herbivores, like the horse, the microbe vat that breaks down cellulose is on the other end of the stomach and is called a cecum. The cow with its rumen is more efficient than the horse with the cecum, but the horse can usually handle a little coarser feed. Native American horses managed to survive heavy spring snows fairly well on young cottonwood bark. My spoiled cows can get more energy and food value out of the good hay I feed them than would a horse, but forget surviving on cottonwood bark. Biggest thing is that the cow isn’t programmed for just survival anymore.

The steers that I will be butchering this coming early summer are currently in that 1000 lb. plus category and, so far, each has eaten a couple ton of hay during its life. They pick through and waste some hay, and I’m okay with this. The poorest, picked through hay gets used as bedding. This, in the eyes of conventional ag, is poor management. In the industrial model, grain, poor hay, good hay, ethanol by-products, straw, and any other inexpensive material the cow can digest and get some feed value out of, is ground up all together and augured into long concrete troughs so the cattle can’t pick and choose. They eat what the feed guy thinks they should eat, not what the cattle’s instincts tell them that they should eat. It is cheaper that way.

Linda is the premier gardener in this household, and she starts spring planning around the first of the year when the garden seed catalogs start showing up in the mail. After study, deliberation, sketched plans, rereading, eraser and redrafting, ordering, and waiting, the Fedco packet finally arrived. Two months of anticipation and then the trays and plant starting soil mixture came out. By March all the south facing windows are full of plants. Some are ready for planting out. They will have to wait for the snow to clear off, but by then we will be able to just sit at the dinner table here by the bay window to pick out of the window trays and make our salads.

I see a few box elder bugs exploring the house on nice days, and I think of an old Wentworth SD farmer and weather observer, Don Seedorf, who has passed on; but one of many poems he left behind was this:

AN ODE TO THEE-BOX ELDER BUG
A salute to you, creature of orange and black,
for supporters, I know you certainly lack.
It’s obvious you never “get no respect”,
almost all regard you as a loathsome insect.
But you are innocuous, you never bite or sting,
you never really harm anyone or anything;
squished, swatted, maligned you walk the second mile,
box elder bug, frankly, I admire your style.