Flowers, with a Friend

 

More than wildflowers caught my attention on my first visit to the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge. Here and there, signs of a different form of life appeared: a pond, a working windmill, a well-trod trail snaking through the landscape.

On my second visit, I met the creatures whose presence I suspected: some of the prettiest cows I’ve seen, and some very handsome steers. Grazing, along with fire and mowing, is a useful method for restoring and preserving prairies; these cattle were doing their part to help out, munching their way through some tasty-looking grasses and forbs.

Given the number of milk-heavy cows in the herd, there surely were calves around, but most remained hidden or away from the road. Fortunately, this one had chosen an especially photogenic spot to rest. When I stopped for a closer look, it raised its head as though posing, and graciously accepted my compliments.

 

Comments always are welcome.
For more on grazing as a management tool, this post by Chris Helzer, the Nature Conservancy’s Director of Science in Nebraska, is a good one. For Chris’s entertaining post on the cattle vs. bison debate, click here.

82 thoughts on “Flowers, with a Friend

  1. As you know we are in the process of restoring grassland locally and I keep joking to the owner of the property that he needs to get a couple of bison!

    1. Your comment reminded me of some articles I’ve read about the relative merits of cattle and bison in prairie restoration, and I found this one, also by Chris Helzer. He has a wonderfully humorous and approachable way of writing about science, and I think you might enjoy the article.

    2. As with times past, a controlled(Spring) burn is used where they’ve been rehabilitating (and now maintaining: ) the Tall-grass Prairie here… The native name for the adjoining lake translates to ‘Lake of the Burning Plains’

    1. Its head was down when I discovered it, but it was curious enough about my ‘cattle call’ to raise up and give me a look. I was happy to capture that cute little nose without the flowers blocking it.

    1. There was quite a mix of cattle in the area — Angus, Shorthorn, and what appeared to be Hereford. All of them were handsome, but this little one was just plain cute. There’s something about a calf that always brings a smile.

    1. I still love this cattle call, written by Tex Owens in 1934.

      Speaking of creativity, Owens was in Kansas City when he wrote it (perhaps down by the stockyards) and it was snowing. Recalling the day, he said, “Watching the snow, my sympathy went out to cattle everywhere, and I just wished I could call them all around me and break some corn over a wagon wheel and feed them. That’s when the words came to my mind. I picked up my guitar, and in thirty minutes I had wrote the music and four verses to the song.”

    1. I’d forgotten those cute photos of daisy-bedecked calves. You’re right that this one deserves a halo like that, but she made good use of what was available. A lesson there, I suspect.

    1. Doesn’t she, though? I suspect this herd’s accustomed to people driving through their territory, and that probably contributed to her placid demeanor. Whatever the cause, it certainly worked out well for me.

    1. The trails my snails leave are far more tangled than any snake trail, although they are easier to spot. Perhaps if they were well-shod, their trails would be better trod. That aside, there will be more to see. It occurred to me on Sunday that a week might not be long enough to explore Attwater, or walk all of its trails.

            1. Here you go: auger wagon. You don’t want the semis that transport the grain to the elevators to be running all over the fields, so auger wagons are used to bring the grain to the trucks at the edge of the field. It works great for milo, soybeans, and corn. They may have other uses I don’t know about, but my inner farmer’s not nearly as knowledgeable as real farmers!

            2. Okay. Only ever heard them called a grain wagon, but the auger moves everything in the right direction alright, lol. Lots of those around here too. (Lots more family farms are leased out and the land gone into cereal crops like corn, soy or winter wheat than are run as generalists these days, sadly. (So not many using the natural cycles of soil replenishment any more:/)

      1. Yes, one might be tempted to walk up to her to rub her forehead!
        Thank you for the link. The problem is that most of the fires currently burning are not the “healthy” kind because of the long history of fire suppression. Since you wrote this, 2 new fires have started west of Rocky Mountain National Park and entire towns have been evacuated. The weather forecast predicts snow for Sunday, and all the areas suffering from the current fires are praying that it will materialize.

        1. A friend and I were talking about those fires at dinner last night. She has family in the area and has been concerned, even though her people aren’t in immediate danger. I use a site called Wildfire Today to keep up with things in a general way, or as a starting point for information on specific fires.

    1. If I understand the situation, part of the problem with bringing back bison is their need for land. The lyrical longing for a home where the buffalo roam contains a kernel of truth; bison travel as they feed, and now the land they traveled is gone, as well. So, in some places, cattle it is, and well-managed cattle can make a fine substitute.

  2. Cows are actually quite lovely animals with such pretty eyes. Your new friend is a good example of that. We don’t have any roaming our fields and meadows, unless it’s an escapee, so many of our meadows become reforested without human activity.
    You certainly did catch her in a nice posey.

    1. Oh, my. Coffee and puns can be as tasty as coffee and buns!

      I have a feeling this one would make a good show animal. A little clipping, currying, and tail fluffing, and she’d be quite the looker. Her expression suggests she might enjoy the attention.

    1. I’m glad it brought a smile, Pete. I smiled, too, when I realized that my stopping and chatting wasn’t going to send her off into the brush. Once I had some photos, I lingered for a while, waiting for her to leave, but she obviously wasn’t going to do that — so I did, instead.

  3. A nice-looking cow. I was going to say, knee-deep in the salad bar, but looks like in over her head is more like it. The bison-cow discussion reminded me, this summer, I saw a herd of beefalo, during a visit to NY. They’re more cow than bison, and I wouldn’t have ID’d them, but there was a sign on the gate. They’re actually a lot less shaggy than the Scottish types like the Belted Galloway (one my uncles had some of those for a while). That’s probably the prettiest pasture I’ve seen.

    1. I’ve always liked the Belted Galloway. There are some here in Texas, and when I first saw one, I was astonished. I called them the ‘Oreo Cows’ until I learned their real name. They’d look pretty good in the midst of these flowers, too.

      Beefalo used to be quite the thing. It’s been a while since I’ve heard the word. As I recall, it was marketed as a healthier (i.e., lower fat) alternative to beef. There’s a place under one of Houston’s freeways where you can get the best buffalo burger in the world. I haven’t been there in a while, but it was great food.

  4. Sharing the trail with a sweet-natured bovine certainly beats some of the alternatives. And when she poses for a pretty portrait, even better!

    Due to your recent posts, I’m itching to return to Attwater!

    1. This gal and her friends were my only companions that day. I was passed by two USFWS staff members in a truck, but that was it. It wasn’t a day for birders, for one thing — I saw two turkey vultures, a few swallows, and a few LBBs in the grasses, but that was it. Still, I was surprised by the complete absence of people.

      I’m still processing some photos, but my next post will be all Attwater, and a little more expansive.

    1. Of course I mooed. I tried a little yodeling and cattle calling, too. Speaking of which, have you come across the practice called Kulning? It’s beautiful, and just vaguely reminiscent of how my Swedish grandmother would call us home. She wasn’t kulning, I’m sure, but there are echoes. I wish I could hear her again.

      1. Glad you mooed. I had never heard of Kulning, It’s quite beautiful. Thanks, Linda. I never had a Swedish grandmother. Mainly it was “Curt, Marshall, get in here. Now!”

  5. That’s an exceptionally pretty cow! I have a long-ago memory of being on a farm in very wet weather. I was wearing waterproof trousers and one of the calves had a busy time licking them – a very strange feeling that still makes me laugh!

    1. It’s rather like a rough kitty tongue. Calves can be a little more slobbery, but their ‘kisses’ still are fun — especially when you can just wash off your trousers!

    1. She might be; she certainly has the look. I was surprised to see such a mix roaming together. I was fairly sure of the black and red Angus and the Herefords, but there were some I couldn’t identify. When I dug a little more deeply into the role of cattle on the refuge, I found this interesting paragraph:

      “You might think the heavy hooves of cattle pose an immediate threat to prairie chickens if they happen to be anywhere close by. The opposite is true. The cattle you may see on the refuge help this bird with every mouthful they munch. Their grazing creates spaces between the clumps of native grasses that serve as pathways for young chicks.”

      1. Cows have been getting a bad rap from people who eat only veg… Cattle left to browse with proper apace to do so, cause little to no harm and return nutrients to the soil they feed from (as natural cycles are meant to do)

    1. And now that you’ve said that, I have fudge on my mind! Not only that, I don’t know how I missed mentioning that our famous Blue Bell Creamery uses a cow named Belle in their logo!

    1. You can trust a cow! Well, as long as you honor their preferences. Mrs. O’Leary learned what can happen when a cow kicks over the lantern — just as I learned about cows kicking over the milking bucket.

      1. Yes. I would like to send you a photo of a young Charolais bull I photographed here in Montana this last month. What a guy! I turned 70 in October. Now THAT was a shock.

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