It’s been ages since I wrote a Reality Ranching, not since last fall I believe. Part of the reason is that I have just been lazy and part of the reason is because things on the ranch have been relatively quiet (knock on wood). The spring calving came and went with nothing out of the ordinary for us. Sadly, our fellow livestock producers in Southwest Kansas went through a fiery “hell” in March.
No rain, an abundance of dry grass and high winds made for a “perfect storm” of uncontrollable wild fires. When the raging fire was finally brought under control it left in its wake thousands of dead cattle and cattle that had to be destroyed due to lung damage or horrific burns. Wildlife fared no better but amazingly and thankfully only two human lives were lost in Kansas. This was too many but hearing all the narrow escapes by many ranchers it was a miracle that more people didn’t perish. Fences were ruined, outbuildings and some houses burned. Even as I type this so many months later my stomach clenches as I think of what those poor folks had to face and how long it will take to recover from the damage, both physically and mentally. In the Flint Hills we had the same hazardous conditions and we know the devastation our friends in Southwest Kansas suffered could just as easily been us.
Not surprisingly, the ranching/farming community stepped up to do what they could to help those that lost so much in the disaster. Money, hay, fencing equipment, and volunteer labor came from all over the country. There were stories that lifted my heart and gave me hope such as the 4-H kids near the disaster area who took in orphaned calves in-order-to relieve some of the pressure on the owners who had their hands full coping with other things. Another uplifting story I read was about a group of FFA (Future Farmers of America) kids who gave up their spring break and went out to help rebuild some of the ruined fences. This is just a small example of the generosity that poured in to help the victims of the fire.
Our dry March was followed by rains beginning in April that have continued into May and June. The dry prairie that had us worried in March has turned into a green paradise with water gurgling through even the smallest streams. The cattle are feasting on the lush grass and the hay we have managed to put up between rains in June is yielding quite well. Since this blog has languished on the computer, our weather in mid-July has been scorching hot and dry.
The wildflowers have been spectacular this year and I have enjoyed watching the ebb and flow of the various species that grace the prairie. The road from the highway to the entrance of our driveway puts on a wildflower show for us. I often walk the half mile from our house to the highway, camera in hand, enjoying and taking photos of the variety of flora scattered along the side of the road. There is plenty of bird song that provides a pleasant background to my morning walks, heavy on Dickcissels, but the songs of other grassland birds manage to weave their way through the four-note warble of the dickcissels. I am cautious if I step off the gravel road to get a close-up photo of a particularly pretty bloom because Paul encountered a large timber rattler while cutting grass along the stone fence near our mailbox. Yikes. The slogan “Don’t tread on me” comes to mind knowing the rattlesnake could be hiding in the grass.
One morning while walking along Soloscheid, I notice a few Compass plants are wilted as if they have been sprayed. That’s odd. I see that some weeds are also dying and assume Paul has sprayed them but I can’t figure out why the Compass plants were targeted. A couple of days later I see that the perky Black-eyed Susan’s are dying. I’m completely flummoxed by this, Paul is as much into the flowers and plants of the prairie as I am into the birds. Was Paul spraying something nearby and the spray drifted onto the flowers? When I ask Paul about the dying flowers, he grimaces, and says the only thing he can figure out is that the County Weed department must have sprayed Soloscheid Road. This doesn’t make sense either as Soloscheid is a township road.
After discussing the sad situation of the once beautiful flowers, Paul sends an email to the weed department and our County Commissioner including before and after photos of the flowers. He points out that there were no noxious weeds along the road except for a clump of Johnson grass which he had already killed. There is a quick response to our email from both parties. Our commissioner quickly investigates and finds that the township contracted with the weed department to spray all of Farmer township roads which means this is out of the county commissioners’ hands and we must take our questions up with our township board. The weed department employee apologizes but says they were only doing what they were contracted to do. Paul then visits with one of the Township board members who also apologizes. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that we now have shriveled, brown stalks to look at instead of the beautiful, colorful, flowers we had been enjoying. Paul asks the township board and the weed department folks to take Soloscheid road off the spray program in the future and tells them he will take care of any noxious weeds if they appear. The sad reality is we don’t know how long it will take for the wildflowers to come back.
Speaking of noxious weeds, the plentiful April rains brought forth multiple species of the unwanted plants. Whenever we went to check cattle in May we always took an empty mineral sack and a spade along since the odds were, we would find musk thistle in bloom. When any of us came upon the prickly, purple blossomed plants, we would pluck the blooms off, place them in the sack and then dig the thistle up to destroy it. Paul then burns the sack of blooms so the hundreds of fluffy-white seeds one thistle can produce are destroyed.
Paul and I were checking cattle in the Rock pasture on a cool May morning and came upon some musk thistle in full bloom. My job was to pick the blooms off the prickly plants while trying to avoid the sharp barbs. Quite often a sharp thorn would pierce my leather gloves causing me to wince and call out ouch. Darned thistles anyway. When I finish my job, Paul sends the spade into the rocky soil under the base of the thistle, severing the plant from its roots.
The sprinkle of thistles in the pasture led us off the hilltop along a rock ledge where more of the noxious plants are growing. There is a large musk thistle with a dozen or so blooms on it growing next the rock ledge. I proceed to yank the blossom off causing the plant to sway every time I remove a bloom. As Paul steps up to dispatch the tall thistle, I turn to go back to the Ranger. I have taken a few steps when I hear Paul exclaim “Oh my gosh” or something to that effect. I turn around to see him backing away from the thistle in alarm so I ask him what is wrong. “There is a rattlesnake under the thistle” is his reply. I am skeptical and ask him if he is sure it is a rattler because I can’t hear any rattling from an angry snake shaking its tail. Paul says he is pretty sure it is.
We both cautiously step a bit closer and peer at the ground under the thistle just in time to see the snake slowly crawling into a cavity in the rock ledge. Feeling braver we step next to the thistle and see that at the end of the snakes’ tail there are indeed rattles, about four or five. The snake is trying to use its warning system but the sound is hardly discernible. The only thing we can figure as to why the sound is so quiet is that this morning it is very cool along with a heavy dew so maybe the rattles just aren’t working like they would on a dry hot day. I cannot believe I was standing right next to that snake, pulling thistle blooms which made the plant move every time I picked one and that rattler didn’t strike at me. Holy Smokes.
Since I have procrastinated in posting this blog for another three weeks, our searing triple digit heat exited Kansas in late July. We have had three wonderful rains, each a week apart which is perfect and our temperature is below normal for early August. We have dropped to the upper 50’s the past two mornings and I have had to put on a flannel shirt for a couple of hours before the sun warms things up. The grass is amazingly green yet in fact you would swear it is early summer rather than late summer. Wonderful.
My old camera called it quits so I have included a few photos I took below while experimenting with my new bridge camera.