August 12, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.

Mowing thistles

By Tim Zweber | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

There may not be much more hay to mow this year since we put up the first crop as it continues to forget to rain at our farm. The lack of moisture hasn’t bothered the thistles. We usually clip pastures once or twice a year to keep the thistles in check that seem to move around but never go away. The places they grow thickest tend to be hardest to mow them off, which is under the cattle lane fences. I suppose that’s why so many successfully grow there. The cows can’t step on them, and I can’t mow them as cleanly. It probably doesn’t hurt either that the sides of the cattle lanes are very well fertilized by the cows on their way to and from grazing.

Thistles never last long in the hayfields. Now and then, I’ll see one while mowing hay, but the frequent mowing seems to kill them off pretty effectively. We have four species of thistles at our farm: Canadian, plumeless, bull and musk. They each seem to have their favorite ecological niches with the plumeless thistles being the least picky but most obnoxious ones. Carduus Acanthoides, plumeless thistle, does not seem to be edible to even the hungriest of cattle. This is unlike Canadian thistles. I have seen cows eat the tops off of Canadian thistle and sometimes the whole plant. A little Wikipedia research taught me that particular scourge of my fencelines was brought to North America from Europe or Asia in the 1800s, most likely in some crop seed. I really wish it had been left over there. It would have saved us countless hours of mowing pastures and fencelines.

We finally got our first significant rainfall in months last week when we got a 1.5 inches of rain. It had surprisingly little effect on the dormant grasses in our pastures and yard but should save our third-crop hay from being even more disappointing than the second crop. Our family was talking at dinner last night about how we’ve only mowed our backyard once or twice this year. Now and then, we take the mower out to mow off the thistles, burdocks and a couple other weeds, which are the only green things in our yard but have no business being there, green or not. The drought is saving us a couple hours a week mowing the only grass we don’t feed to the cows and a couple bucks in gas, but I’d trade those two benefits for more rain.

Another benefit of the drought causing most of the grass to go dormant is that the kids’ fair animals aren’t as tempted to drag them around from clover patch to clover patch when they are supposed to be practicing parading around a show ring since there are none growing currently. It’s almost county fair week, and the kids are getting excited to show off the animals they’ve been working with all summer. They each have a cow and a heifer they are bringing as well as ducks and/or chickens. They also prepared projects like photography, computer science and a performing arts act. Next week will be busy, shuttling kids and animals to and from the fair as well as catching up with our friends there and enjoying the many fair foods. 

It will help out a lot with the fair week logistics that our oldest son Erik got his driver’s license last week and can now get himself and his siblings to the fair while we get chores done. I’m hoping this equals more relaxed chores during fair week if we just have to get ourselves there in time to help the kids with the finishing touches before the show. 

Until next time, keep living the dream, and pray for rain. If you have plenty, then ask God to send some our way. You have to be pretty specific with those kinds of asks. Four years ago, I just wished it would stop being so muddy all the time, and for the last three years, it rarely rains. I got what I asked for, I guess.

    Tim Zweber farms with his wife, Emily, their three children and his parents, Jon and Lisa, near Elko, Minnesota.


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