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home : columns : ron kuecker
September 19, 2020

8/12/2020 3:23:00 PM
Springtime on the prairie was the best time

Ron Kuecker
Outdoors Columnist

As I look back to my earlier days as a veterinarian in Windom, the spring was the best season of all. Everything was starting to grow. From the green grass, the alfalfa, to the baby animals, it was a good time to be alive.
Little white-faced Here-ford calves, young from all five dairy breeds, Hampshire and Southdown lambs and little Chester White and Duroc Jersey piglets.
Those hams and pork chops from those two breeds were more flavorful than any you can find today. They were also the cutest of all the spring births. Most were delivered normally but occasionally they needed help from a veterinarian that was good with forceps, a delivery instrument.
Seeing them grow and prosper in a pasture setting made drives through the country a heart-warming event.
But things have changed a lot since then in the so-called "livestock industry." Feed the growing nation, then the world became common phrases. So new housing was developed, and animal birthing became a year-round event.
Since then I have had to follow wildlife more closely to get my spring fix. Whether it's a young robin hopping cross your lawn, a batch of wood ducks jumping from a man-made nest or a baby cottontail rabbit nestled in a dugout in your lawn, we all get that spring feeling from animals in the wild.
Probably my favorite is a white-tailed deer fawn.
They usually start being delivered the last week in June, extend through July. With a few more in August. It's kind of a 10%, 80%, 10% in terms of when born.
I had an unusual occurrence in terms of when fawn birthing began this year. Grandson Benson K went up to mow on a second tier lot we have next to our cabin. Curled up on the bluegrass, dandelion lawn was a newborn fawn. It must have thought he was hidden and with his spotted, camo coat Bens didn't notice him until he got fairly close.
He came to the rest of us and a photo session began. Finally the fawn realized it had been spotted and got up and headed for taller cover in a very gangly, newborn gait. I'm guessing it was probably a five-pounder and had been born the last day or two.
Soft-mouthed labs
On that very same day (June 27), Gary Olson, just west of Windom, near the Des Moines River, was walking his treasured black Labrador. She was ranging just a few yards from Gary when she suddenly stopped and picked something up.
It was a newborn baby fawn. She carried it gently, as retrievers should, and brought it to Gary. He took it gently from the dog's mouth, unhurt. The fawn was then released and soon curled up in hiding to await his doe mom, who would find it again at nursing time.
Another "womb mate" was probably a hundred yards or so away. Deer usually hide twin or triplets a distance apart as a means of preventing both babies from being found by predators.
They are very vulnerable during their first two weeks of life and a nursing coyote ma or a pack of young'uns can easily make a meal of fawn veal.
Pheasant brooding
Finally, I just read a very good column about the stress of nesting on hen pheasants as they nest, then raise their chicks. It was written by Jim Wooley, Pheasants Forever senior field biologist, emeritus.
Emeritus means he's now retired but still receives the honor he deserves from his job. He stated that hens lose 20% of their weight during nesting and brooding and another 10% from molting and regrowth of feathers. That nearly one third of their body weight loss results in high hen mortality.
That diminished body condition of hens can significantly be alleviated by the planting of legumes such as clover or alfalfa. Something that was done as we went through a human generation of planting a mono culture of tall prairie grasses. Those include the big three of Big Bluestem, Indiangrass and tall strains of Switchgrass.
It was a colossal failure and is now being corrected by the planting of many species of very expensive prairie flowers known as forbs.
He cited research in Kansas, Illinois and Nebraska that indicated managed habitats with legumes (clover, alfalfa) interseeded produced three times more chicks then grasslands.
The bugs produced by the attraction they provoke will also greatly help those undernourished hens. A small patch of alfalfa in each wildlife area would greatly enhance pheasant production. I'm guessing the prairie purists won't allow that to happen even as they also remove our winter food plots.

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