A Champion of the Foothills

A Champion of the FoothillsHere’s an inspiring read for youngsters with an interest in farming: A Champion of the Foothills by Lewis Edwin Theiss.

Ned Higgins grew up on his father’s run-down farm, firmly believing that it will never amount to anything.  His sole ambition is to find a paying city job that will enable him to buy a gun and a new dress for his mother.  Then one night his eye falls on a headline in a newspaper: “Alabama Boy Raises 232 Bushels of Corn to the Acre.”

In that instant Ned’s life changes.  He determines to learn how to make farming pay.  His visions grow with time, and soon his new goal is to become a breeder of superior seed corn.

There are plenty of things future farmers can learn from A Champion of the Foothills, particularly about soil health, green manures, and corn breeding.  But much of the book’s value comes from its emphasis on the principle so aptly stated by E. S. Teagarden, author of Growing Corn Successfully:

Do well whatever is attempted and best results will always follow, whether it is growing corn for the general crop, or for seed, or any other work to be done on the farm, whether in connection with growing crops or raising stock, or in any other of the many departments of farm work.

Whether read as a lesson in diligence, a look at the basics of corn breeding, or simply an enjoyable story of one boy’s success, A Champion of the Foothills is well worth adding to the family library.

And for the icing on the cake: it’s in the public domain and available for free download!

Cackling Goose

Cackling GooseThe cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii) is basically just a miniature look-alike of the familiar Canada goose. In fact, the two birds were considered varieties of the same species until 2004. The cackling goose is about the size of a large mallard, but otherwise it is nearly identical to its larger cousin.


Best Field Marks

  • Diminutive size.
  • Short, stubby bill.



The cackling goose has a high-pitched call to match its small size. Instead of a resonant honk, it makes a cackle—hence its name.


Cackling GooseDistribution & Occurrence

The Cackling Goose can be found anywhere in Kansas, east or west, farmland or urban areas.

Like the smaller varieties of Canada goose, the cackling goose still retains its migratory instincts. It typically arrives in October, spends the winter wherever it can find open water, and leaves in March.



The cackling goose behaves similarly to the larger Canada goose, with which it frequently mingles. Generally the only distinguishing characteristic is that the cackling goose seems to feel more at home in shallow water.



Cackling Goose

Most birdwatchers will not be interested in attracting cackling geese to their backyards, and most cackling geese are not interested in being attracted, either.

Hunters find attracting the wary cackling goose to be a challenge. Decoys are used in combination with high-pitched goose calls. These calls must be given at a rapid rate to imitate an entire flock of geese, or the real cackling geese are likely to be suspicious.


Similar Species

Canada Goose
So how do you tell a cackling goose and a Canada goose apart? Obviously, if you see one of each sitting side by side, size will make identification easy. When the goose in question is by itself, however, you will have to rely on more subtle proportional differences. The cackling goose has a shorter neck, a stubbier bill, and a more rounded head. The Canada goose has a more triangular head by comparison. Studying photographs of the two geese can help you recognize this difference.


Helpful Resource

Cackling Goose
Photos, audio, and more information from Cornell’s All About Birds site.


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5 Simple Ways to Enjoy Homegrown Tomatoes

5 Simple Ways to Enjoy Homegrown TomatoesThere is no tomato like a homegrown tomato!

You avid gardeners probably already have a list of favorite uses for tomatoes, but in case you have overlooked a possibility or two, we’ll offer this short list of some of our favorites. Don’t miss out on a single one of these possibilities:

  1. Slices. Just sprinkle pepper on them and eat them all by themselves. Simple but tasty.
  2. On a sandwich. There is no better way to garnish a hamburger!
  3. In pasta. Dice, toss, and enjoy. Canned tomatoes will taste pretty bland in comparison.
  4. Egg salad boats. Core the tomato from the stem end, then cut almost to the base in eight wedges. This takes a little finesse. You don’t want the tomato to come apart, but to spread into a flower shape. Top with your favorite egg salad recipe.
  5. BLTs. Unquestionably the best use for tomatoes ever invented. Toast some bread, spread it with mayo, and pile on the bacon, lettuce, and tomato. Wow!

Of course, the list could go on and on and on. There are whole cookbooks out there devoted to nothing but tomatoes. These ideas, however, are among the simplest. Sometimes simple is the way to go.

Body Condition Scoring: Beef Cattle

A body condition score (BCS) is a subjective evaluation of an animal’s weight relative to its size. It helps livestock owners determine whether an animal is too fat, too thin, or just about right by noting the location and thickness of fat deposits. Over the next few weeks, we will summarize the scoring systems generally used for cattle, horses, swine, sheep, and goats.


Body Condition Scoring: Beef CattleThe body condition scoring system for beef cattle uses a nine-point scale, with 1 representing emaciation, 9 indicating obesity, and an ideal score ranging anywhere from 5 to 7.

  1. Emaciated. Visibly weak, very little muscle, all bones easily visible. Long-term loss of growth and fertility, even after recovery. This animal is at risk of death.
  2. Very thin. No fat, little muscle, bones visible. The main difference between this score and BCS 1 is that the animal is not weak yet. Long-term loss of growth and fertility, even after recovery.
  3. Thin. Some muscle visible, but no fat on ribs or brisket. Backbone easily visible. Long-term loss of growth and fertility, even after recovery.
  4. Borderline thin. Backbone and last three to five ribs somewhat visible. Some muscle in the shoulder and hindquarters. Reduced fertility in next breeding season.
  5. Moderate. Not fat, but not too thin, either. Last one or two ribs visible. No fat in the brisket, tailhead, or rib area. Muscle in the shoulder and hindquarters. This is the minimum optimal weight for cattle, but is not sufficient for the high energy demands of calving, lactation, and rebreeding.
  6. Good. Smooth appearance with no ribs visible. Some fat in the brisket, and a little bit around the tailhead. This is the minimum ideal weight for cows at calving time.
  7. Very good. Smooth and well fleshed out. Brisket full, back smooth and square with fat, some pockets of fat around the tailhead. This is the maximum ideal weight for cows at calving time.
  8. Fat. Square, blocky appearance from excess fat. Hip bones not visible at all. Fat deposits in udder and tailhead. Impaired fertility.
  9. Obese.  Extremely fatty, particularly in the brisket, udder, and tailhead areas. Impaired fertility. This score is rarely seen.

Grassfed producers with beef cow-calf herds often use body condition scoring to minimize hay usage and ensure maximum fertility. Cows go into the winter with a score somewhere around 7 and burn fat for extra energy, much as animals do in the wild. Come spring, they score around 5, but they quickly build condition on lush, fast-growing pasture, reaching 7 again before calving so that they will rebreed without difficulties.


Helpful Resource

Body Condition Scoring Beef Cows
This publication from the Virginia Cooperative Extension provides more detailed information and helpful photos that illustrate each score.


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Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses

Kansas Wildflowers & GrassesIf you want to identify a plant in Kansas, here is the first website you should consult: Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses.

The site is maintained by Michael John Haddock, author of Wildflowers & Grasses of Kansas (read our full review).  Those of you who have enjoyed the field guide will love the website, which contains all of the information in the book with some useful additions:

  • A section on trees and shrubs.
  • Additional photos from across the state.
  • Hundreds of grass and wildflower species not found in the book.

At the time Wildflowers & Grasses of Kansas was published, Haddock had listed over 380 plant species on his website, 323 of which were included in the field guide.  At the present time, Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses is a repository of information on over 800 plants, illustrated by over 6,000 photographs.

As you can imagine, Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses is an incredible source of information on the diverse plant life of our state.  And it’s easy to navigate, too.  You can look up specific plants by common or scientific name.  You can also identify them by comparing photographs after whittling down your options to the correct flower color or flowering time.

Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses is an essential resource for those who want to learn more about the flora of the Sunflower State.


BrantThe Brant (Branta bernicula) is a small goose, only slightly larger than the Ross’s Goose.  Birdwatchers are not likely to confuse the two, however, because one of the most notable characteristics of the Brant is its overall dark color.  Its head, neck, and breast are black, while its back is dark brown.  The underparts are typically gray, fading to white.  The rump and tail coverts are also white.  The bill, legs, and feet are black.

Immature Brants look nearly identical to their parents.  However, adult Brants have small traces of white on either side of their necks just below their heads.  Immature Brants do not share this characteristic.  They also have white bars on their wings, while the wings of adult Brants are solid-colored.


BrantBest Field Marks

  • Dark head.
  • Dark breast.



The Brant gives a throaty, purring krrr-onk call.


Distribution & Occurrence

Brants are rare birds in Kansas, mostly preferring to live on the coasts.  However, they can be seen on a casual basis during migration and throughout the winter, generally in the eastern part of the state.  Another good place to look for a Brant is among the flocks of Canada Geese at Cheyenne Bottoms, particularly in February.

Painting by John James Audubon


One unusual characteristic of Brant geese is their disorganized flight formations.  Sometimes they fly single file, but often they travel low in the air in a jumbled bunch, frequently jostling for new positions.

Brants are vegetarians and typically dabble for their food.



Birdwatchers are not likely to have much success attracting Brants.

Hunters use decoys, as well as a special Brant call which gives a series of high-pitched brrr notes.


Similar Species

Canada Goose
The Brant bears a striking resemblance to the familiar Canada Goose.  However, the two species can easily be distinguished by the color patterns of their faces and breasts.  The Canada Goose has a light breast and a broad white “chinstrap.”  The Brant is dark overall in these areas, having only a trace of white on the neck.

The Canada Goose is also the larger of the two geese.  It is much more common in Kansas and other landlocked states.


Helpful Resource

Photos, audio, and more information from Cornell’s All About Birds site.


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4 Uses for Fresh Cucumbers…and a Bonus

4 Uses for Fresh Cucumbers...and a Bonus

Yes, we all know that cucumbers were made for pickling.  But not all of us want to go to that much time and trouble.  We’d rather enjoy a nice, fresh cucumber straight from the garden.

Please note that not all cucumbers are suitable for eating fresh.  Some varieties are bred specifically for pickling, and they are too bitter to be a pleasant experience for most.  If you want to enjoy fresh cucumbers straight out of the garden, be sure to raise a “slicing” or “burpless” variety.

So what can you do with a fresh slicing cucumber?

Continue reading 4 Uses for Fresh Cucumbers…and a Bonus

Why are Healthy Plants Bug-Resistant?

Why are Healthy Plants Bug-Resistant?We all know that healthy plants are resistant to bugs. Unfortunately, we all too often forget to ask ourselves why this is true.

In nature, weak organisms are typically attacked first. In the animal kingdom, predators see and smell the weakness of their prey. Gardeners have long suspected that diseased or dying plants put out some sort of “distress signal” that attracts scavenging insects to the scene.

Dr. Philip Callahan, a USDA entomologist from the University of Florida, has a theory about what this signal might be. Entomologists have long known that insects can detect infrared radiation from plants, and that they use this radiation to identify which plants are food and which are not. This is because different plants vibrate at different frequencies, and each insect is looking for a specific frequency to identify its next meal. A healthy plant vibrates at a different frequency than an unhealthy plant. The insect identifies the unhealthy plant as food and bypasses the healthy plant, which is producing infrared radiation in a manner that is less than appealing.

Another theory proposes that an unhealthy plant oozes nutrients in a last-ditch effort to restore balance within its systems. These nutrients collecting on the leaves of the plant become targets for insect pests.

But there is yet another possibility. Some gardeners have noted that the few insects who do feed on vibrant, healthy plants later act sluggish, as if they have been poisoned. Entomologists agree that insects have relatively simple digestive systems compared to mammals. As plants become healthier, they produce increasingly complex nutrients, better suited to the specially equipped digestive systems of ruminants and humans than to those of insects. When an insect feeds on a healthy plant, it will suffer from nutrient overload—in other words, poisoning.

Perhaps all of these theories are true to some extent. Perhaps the bugs know instinctively that one kind of infrared radiation means an easy meal and that another kind means food poisoning. Scientists have yet to find the complete answer.