Reality Ranching, June 2012
I decided to take a break from my Peru posting to relate two incidents on the ranch that happened since we came home.
We have been haying as fast as we can since we have come back from Peru. We have been mowing with two swathers, raking, square baling and round baling our brome and alfalfa. With only a few minor breakdowns, we have been putting up hay like crazy. Paul and I are still scratching our heads trying to understand how Randall made a spring for the square baler to keep it running. His ingenuity saved a trip to town for a replacement spring.
A few days ago, Paul left our house by the backdoor; his destination was the big tractor and round baler that was sitting by the fuel tanks. I was stepping out the back door, when I nearly ran into Paul as he walked hurriedly back to the house. The reason for Paul’s hurried return is that there is a big rattlesnake lying across the bottom step at the end of our sidewalk and he had nearly stepped on the reptile. He was coming back to get my shotgun. While he went for the gun, I went for my camera. As I tiptoed up to the edge of the top step, I was not prepared to see a fair-sized timber rattler! The last two rattlers that made the mistake of invading our home territory were massasaugas, which, at their largest (3.5 ft) are equal to a timber rattlers smallest adult size. I snapped a quick photo to document the brazen snake then retreated to the house as the loud report of the shotgun echoed through our yard.
We tolerate most anything around the boundaries of our house. Our visitors include raccoons, skunks, rabbits, squirrels, opossum, deer and once even a bobcat that wandered across the backyard. We often see ring-necked snakes and garter snakes in the yard, ho-hum, they are small and harmless. I might add that Taz has carried both of these species into the washroom. Two of her victims I rescued and released, the other snake didn’t survive. We always have black snakes in the yard and they can get very big. Although it is startling to come upon one of them when you are out in the yard or in some of the out buildings we leave them alone. They are great controllers of rodents and even though they will raid a bird’s nest occasionally we figure the trade-off for all the rats and mice they consume is worth it.
However, a venomous snake around our house is not something we will allow. We can’t be watching our every step while working around the house. We certainly don’t want a certain black cat to run into this type of snake! There are thousands of acres uninhabited by human beings just beyond our farmyard and we leave the rattlers alone that we encounter in the prairie. However, I’m a staunch “not in my backyard” advocate in the case of rattlesnakes!
I am disc mowing three small fields of brome on this day of our hay season. Paul and Randall are baling or picking up square bales or both. I have lost track as the days are melding into each other. As I make the initial round in the second field, I see many places where deer have bedded down. This is a good indication that there could be fawns hidden in the brome grass. I scan the trees that grow along the edge of the field to see if a doe is lurking in the shadows but see nothing. I try to watch the area in front of the disc mower for movement or the color of brown. The trouble with watching for the color of a fawn is that the seed heads of the brome are a good match for the hair coat of a baby fawn. All I can do is be vigilant and hope for the best.
I only have a few rounds left to cut in this small hayfield when I see a tiny fawn standing next to the last windrow I have mown. It begins to totter away and as I watch its unsteady gait, I’m afraid I have injured the little thing. Then I realize that if I had run into or over the fawn, it would never have survived. This fawn must be a newborn and yet it had the instinct to move out of danger plus the sense that it needs to find cover.
I continue watching the baby deer over my shoulder as I cut to the end of the field. I use the old cement well as a way to mark the place where the fawn disappears into standing grass bordering the newly mown patch of brome. When I near the point where I saw the fawn exit the mown field, I stop the tractor, grab my camera and walk across the field. It doesn’t take me long to find the
fawn since he is standing right at the edge of the field. My gosh, he is so small and so cute. We stare at each other for a moment after which I raise my camera to take a photo. I push the shutter button, which overall is very quiet but evidently not to the sensitive ears of this wild thing! The little pipsqueak lets out a bleat as loud as Liberace’s stage outfits. Holy Cow another megaphone bleat emerges from his little throat as it totters deeper into the grass.
I need to get back to the tractor because a past experience with bleating fawns tells me Mama will be making an entrance. I am halfway back to safety, looking over my shoulder the entire time, when I see the doe. Wow, she is a beauty and the sun is lighting her hair coat up like polished copper. The mother is very hesitant taking one slow step then stopping as she watches my every move. Once I climb into the tractor, she begins trotting towards the brome and you can almost see her confusion now that the brome is lying on the ground. When I rev the tractor up and turn on the power take off, she loses her nerve and runs back into the brush.
I finish mowing and drive over to where I last saw the fawn. I am concerned because the little guy was walking towards the county road and I want to make sure the baby didn’t lie down in the road ditch. I find the tiny deer under a clump
of gamma grass a good choice for a hiding place. He is lying as flat on the ground as possible but his eyes are wide open as he stares up at me. I retreat until I feel I am at a safe distance, zoom in and take a couple of photos. The fawn doesn’t move a muscle and I leave him in peace. I know the doe will come out under cover of darkness and retrieve the fawn even though his hiding position has changed. The doe will either sniff him out or call to him until the fawn responds. In the past, I have seen both of these methods used by doe after fawns have run out of a field I have been mowing and they soon retrieved their wayward babies. Later, Nancy