The cicadas in Southwestern Virginia are out and about. It happens once every 17 years. It’s truly a phenomenal occurrence. I can’t wait to get to that topic today.
But first, welcome to all new listeners and welcome back to veteran homestead-loving regulars. That you for stopping by the FarmCast for every episode. It wouldn’t be a show without you. I appreciate you all so much. I’m so excited to share with you what’s going on at the farm this week including all about the cicadas.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
Life goes on at the homestead, right though the rain and more rain and more rain. We trek twice a day out into the pastures to bring up the cows for milking, rain or shine. It’s getting pretty muddy out there.
The cows are not bothered by the cicadas. They continue to carefully navigate that mud and come up to the milking shed twice daily. Last Friday they each got a second trip into the shed. We have started the artificial insemination process. There is a uterine implant and a hormone shot to start. This will make all of the cows cycle together. The reason we want that is so we can breed them all at once and the calves will all be born within days of each other. It makes the calving season short, sweet and predictable. Once they start cycling together, they will continue to cycle together. It’s lovely system.
The next step is removing the implant and another hormone shot. There is a very specific time window when the actual insemination occurs. I believe it is approximately 60 hours after the second hormone shot. I’m learning as we go. Scott is the one with the detailed perspective on this whole process.
The process of placing the implants involved a physical exam of each cow. It was a relief to find out that Buttercup is actually pregnant, though she has a long way to go before she delivers. The vet estimated she is about 6 months along. Cows take 9 months to grow a healthy calf, just like humans. We look for her to give birth in August.
The other four are getting ready for the next phase. They didn’t complain too much during the process. It was quick and painless. Except for those shots. Cows don’t like getting a shot any more than humans do.
Sheep and Lambs
Let’s talk about the sheep and the lambs. These guys are also oblivious to the song of the cicadas. The lambing is just about done. There is one more ewe that looks like she will deliver in the next couple of weeks, but it could be longer. And there is one that does not look pregnant at all. She babysits the lambs a lot. I think she would like to have one. We shall see.
The big news with the lambs is the giant set of twins that was born about 5 days ago. This is a great mom and she didn’t require any assistance. But I have to wonder how she managed it. Normally, our lambs are 6 to 8 pounds at birth. Sometimes less. We had one that was only 5 and a half pounds. Sometimes more. We had one just shy of 9 pounds. But these two from the same mom totaled over 25 pounds. Think of it. Normally, even if a ewe had lambs on the upper edge and gave birth to two lambs 8 pounds each. That’s a total of 16 pounds of lamb. This 3-year-old ewe carried a set of twins totaling over 25 pounds. The boy was 11 and a quarter pounds. The girl was a whopping 14 and a half pounds. The day they were born, they were larger than the lambs born two weeks previous. And lambs grow fast. The little 5 and a half pounder may have doubled in weight by now. But she is still way smaller than her newest half-sister.
All are healthy and thriving. It’s a great thing to see. So far, so good. No lost lambs. I did just rescue the newest boy. He was on the other side of the creek. Because of the rain today, the creek was swelled and he didn’t want to cross. He was stranded on the other side of the fast-moving creek water. Fortunately, he didn’t try to run away from me. I caught him easily and returned him to mom. All is well. Fingers crossed, the last ewe delivers healthy lambs without issue. I say lambs plural because I think she will also have twins. But you never know. Last year she also had a large lamb, but a single.
I have no idea what the goats think of the cicadas? But I am pleased that they are more and more comfortable with me being near. The sheep also are getting more comfortable with human interaction. Oh they will still run away if you get too close. But the point is I am able to get closer before they run away.
I am happy to report they are staying in their assigned paddock and not sneaking off to wherever they want without regard to our fencing plan and rotational grazing plan.
Of course, the donkeys ignore the sounds of cicadas generated in the trees all around them. They want a little cuddle and a scratch. That’s it. Once they get that, they are happy campers. It’s strange to see their winter coats are still hanging on. It will likely be July before they have a sleek coat. Even with brushing, their winter coats hang on long after I think they should be gone. But what do I know? It’s not up to me.
The tree right next to the quail cages is full of cicadas. Poultry and fowl are pretty carnivorous. The quail would likely enjoy munching on them if they could get close enough but that is not going to happen. The cicadas are too big to get through the mesh cages. The quail are left to hear them and not be able to eat them.
The breeding groups are doing very well. There are 13 hens there and we get anywhere from 8 to 11 or 12 eggs a day. Nine or ten is most common.
The young ones are doing really well. You would not believe how big they are now. They are barely three weeks old. They went from being the size of my thumb to larger than my whole hand in that short period of time. They still have a little way to go to reach their full size. Their unbelievably fast growth rate will slow down a bit and they will become fully mature over the next five weeks.
Scott is off the farm right now. He had to go to town to pick up that special grout I talked about last time. I think tomorrow he will be finishing up that smaller cheese cave. How exciting is that? I think that is what he has planned but I could be wrong. He is also diligently working on that roof over the milking parlor and open-air animal barn. There is an attic area over the milking parlor. That is the part where we stand when setting up the cows for milking. This roof and ceiling are a couple of feet higher than the rest of the building. Over the past few days Scott has been building a stairway from the attic over the rest of the building to the attic floor of the other roof. It looks really good. His talent with building is always amazing to me. I look at that stuff and think, “how does he do that?” It seems so complex to me. I think it is complex. He is simply very talented with creating buildings.
Let’s get on to the main point I want to talk about today. The cicadas. There are pictures posted on our Facebook page. Go over there and check them out. There is at least one video where you can hear their mating calls there as well.
I don’t know how many cicada broods there are. They are numbered from I to XXIII, but there are numbers missing after XI. Brood IX is emerging in north-central North Carolina, southwestern Virginia and southern West Virginia. It began in mid-May and will end in late June. They started emerging when the soil, 8” beneath the ground, reached 64 degrees. A nice, warm rain will often trigger an emergence. We have had plenty of that.
This brood, and other species like it, referred to as magicicada periodical cicadas, emerge every 17 years. Other magicicada periodicals emerge every 13 years. There are seven magicicada species. There are hundreds of other cicada species that emerge every year.
Life Cycle of the 17-Year Magicicada
Cicadas begin their life as an egg which the female deposits in a groove she makes in a tree limb. The egg looks like a grain of rice. The groove provides shelter and exposes the tree fluids, which the young cicadas feed on. These grooves can kill small branches. We hope we have no problem with our orchard trees. The brood is emerging all around it.
Once the cicada hatches from the egg it will begin to feed on the tree fluids. At this point, it looks like a termite or small, almost translucent, white ant. Once the young cicada is ready, it crawls from the groove and falls to the ground where it will dig into the ground until it finds roots to feed on. It will typically start with smaller grass roots and work its way up to the roots of its host tree. The cicada will stay underground approximately 17 years. The cicadas are active underground, tunneling and feeding, and not sleeping or hibernating as has been commonly thought.
After 17 years, the cicadas emerge from the ground as nymphs. We are seeing this now. There are hundreds and hundreds of small, perfectly round holes, about the diameter of my pinky finger, all over the place. The emerging nymphs climb the nearest available tree, and begin to shed their nymph exoskeleton. We can see lots of this going on now. All over the trees there are nymphs in varying stages of shedding. Once free of their old skin, their wings inflate with fluid and their adult skin hardens. They have red-orange eyes. Their wings are longer than their body. It’s an odd-looking creature. Check out our website. The featured image is a cicada. Once their new wings and body are ready, they begin their adult life. It is quite brief, only about a month.
The adults spend their time in trees looking for a mate. That is the song that we hear every morning and until sometime after mid-day. The males sing. The females respond. Mating happens and the cycle begins again. Eggs laid and hatched. Young cicada falls to the ground and digs in for another 17 years.
Why Are There So Many Cicadas All at Once?
One answer is predator satiation. The first cicadas that emerge are eagerly consumed by predators. Birds, raccoons, squirrels, dogs, cats, snakes and so on. They eat until they are overwhelmed. They fill themselves to the point of exhaustion. This gives the remaining cicadas a chance to escape.
In areas where there aren’t enough of them to satiate the predators completely leads to dwindling populations. Some eventually die out.
I look forward to the next few weeks as this phenomenon continues. Who knew we would be one to have part of this brood on our property?
That’s it for today’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed the cicada information and the homestead updates. I look forward to next week when I hope to have some garden updates to share – if it ever stops raining long enough to get anything planted.
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Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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