When I was a youngster, I dreamed of being a school bus driver. When Dad bought his first Craftsman lawnmower, I spent hours upon hours driving around our front and back yards, dreaming of driving the bus. I made “stops” at various oak trees, hydrangeas, rosebushes and of course, the front and back stoops, opening my “school bus door,” reprimanding young students via my “rear-view mirror” to “Sit down back there!” This was all before I was 10 years old…I wonder how many 7, 8, and 9 year-olds are allowed to drive a lawnmower these days.
So began my love for mowing. For me, there isn’t much else that’s as relaxing as spending two to three hours, bush-hogging our pastures or mowing the front yard. I even enjoy hand-mowing as a form of utilitarian exercise. And while I love the peace of seeing tall grasses waving in the fields and have great respect for the dandelion and other weeds, I’ve learned that some weeds are toxic to farm animals.
Soon after purchasing our pasture, we had a NC Cooperative Extension Agent (who was nothing like Green Acres’ Hank Kimball!) visit to advise us on our grasses and weeds. She told us that a huge problem to be tackled is milkweed. While this is a beautiful plant and the food source for monarch butterflies, we learned it is toxic to many animals such as goats, sheep, horses and cows. So we immediately realized we needed to get our farm tractor sooner than later and start bush-hogging and mowing. That first time out, the grasses and milkweeds were about 4 feet tall — some even taller than me! We’d pass black snakes sunbathing atop the weeds, grasshoppers hopping to and fro, butterflies grabbing whatever sustenance they could from the remaining milkweed, rabbits skittering into the woods, and the ubiquitous red ant hills.
After a year of almost monthly mowing, we’re gaining some control over our pastures. The milkweed still pops up here and there, which we then mow over. But the grasses are beginning to take over, which the Cooperative Extension Agent assured us would eventually happen. (It was either mow constantly or use an even more toxic weed killer on the weeds, which we were not about to do.)
So, in preparation for our future animal residents, I mow the pastures about every 3 weeks, letting my mind wander as I smell the fragrant wild chives and get drunk on the perfume of the wild honeysuckle that outlines the entrance to our farm. I think back to those early days of my bus driver dreams, and I now dream about the future beloved animals who will hopefully soon be calling these pastures “home.”
Your state Cooperative Extension provides a wealth of agricultural information, from gardening to animal care. If you live here in North Carolina, you can visit their website at https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/ .