Do wild oats walk?

We've all heard of urban myths, but did you know there are also rural myths?

Keeping a goat with your horses will keep the horses healthy. Adding a bit of salt to chickens' water will keep them from pecking each other. A wild oat can walk.

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Like urban myths - rural myths might be true, false or a little bit of both. Come on along and test your farmyard savvy on eight of the most common rural myths.

1. Keeping goats with horses keeps the horses healthy..

This one is true, with some qualifications, says Dr Joe Stookey, animal behaviourist at the University of Saskatchewan. Goats can contribute to the health of horses. Mental health, that is.

Long ago people recognized that horses are social animals and they form strong bonds. That bond can be with other horses or with other animals including goats.

Since goats are easy to accommodate and transport they became the common companion of racehorses. In fact, says Stookey, this is where the saying - He gets my goat to imply someone annoys you comes from. In the days when the entourage of every racehorse included a companion goat a competitor might steal the goat the day before a big race. Missing his little pal the horse would be upset, probably lose some sleep and subsequently do poorly in the race.

2. Tie a donkey to a cow to teach the cow to lead

This one made David Christensen, Professor Emeritus in Animal Science at the University of Saskatchewan, more than a little twitchy.

"I would never recommend doing this because of the danger of injury to both animals," he said. Nevertheless, he could understand how the story started because the concept does have some validity. If a cow is tied to something that is difficult to move she learns that she can't just walk away and learning that lesson is a valuable first step in learning to lead. So, it probably would work but he doesn't advise it. There are better ways to use this concept and teach an animal to lead.

Start with something about the size of a 4H calf. The first step is to train the calf to accept having a halter

Use a halter rather than a rope around the neck and make sure there's padding over the nose.

Once you have the halter on, snap a rope on it and tie the animal to something immovable for about an hour. Don't go too far away. Keep an eye on things.

Next step- with a lead rope, give a gentle tug. Don't just heave along and pull. They learn that if they take a step forward it relieves the pressure. Most animals try to be co-operative if they know what you want.

3. Brown eggs come from brown chickens and are healthier than white eggs.

It does seem reasonable that a brown hen would produce a brown egg and a brown egg does somehow look more wholesome, like brown bread or brown rice.

But according to Dr. Hank Classen, Prof of Poultry Nutrition and Management at the University of Saskatchewan, eggshell colour has nothing to do with the chicken's colour or the quality of its eggs. Oftentimes a white chicken will lay a white egg and a brown chicken will lay a brown egg, but not always.

A Rhode Island Red which is a brown chicken will lay a brown egg. A White Leghorn will lay a white egg. But a Brown Leg Horn will lay a white egg and a White Rock will lay a brown egg.

4. Adding a bit of salt to chickens' water curtails pecking

This one is valid, says Dr. Classen, Salt or sodium is an essential nutrient for the metabolism of any animal. If it's not present in high enough levels birds will peck at other things, then other birds. Once they taste blood, they won't stop.

Cannibalism is a learned thing, he explained. Once it has started, adding salt probably wouldn't stop it. But too much salt can be a problem too, he cautioned. Don't overdo it. If you are feeding a commercial mix you probably shouldn't add more sodium - it will have been included in the feed formula. Otherwise, aim for no more than .2 percent in water. That works out to 2ml or 2 teaspoon per litre of water.

5. If you plant tansy beside the potato patch it will keep out the Colorado potato beetle.

The tansy is a yellow flowered plant, about two to four feet high. It is found throughout Canada, often growing in ditches and along fence lines. But is it also a deterrent of the voracious Colorado potato beetle? The short answer to that question says Doug Waterer, Associate Professor of plant sciences at the U of S, is no. Tansy extracts do have repellent and insecticidal properties but they are not so effective on the potato beetle.

The beetles overwinter usually outside the potato patch. They need a bit of trash to snuggle into for the winter and a garden with all of the leaves, vines and stocks removed, doesn't provide that. So they head out. They wake up in the spring and start walking. They can smell those potato plants and that's where they're heading. Tansy won't stop them.

A much more effective technique, said Waterer, is putting a small fence or a little moat around the garden. They are terrible climbers and even worse swimmers. If there is some sort of barrier between them and the plants it's all over.@

6. If you want to grow big potatoes don't use small ones for seed. Instead cut a large potato into pieces.

Not true, says Doug Waterer. Small potatoes, roasting size or smaller, will give the best results in the potato patch. And, you will not get a crop of small potatoes.

There are other advantages to planting whole, small potatoes rather than cutting up large spuds. Every time you cut a potato you provide a wound through which disease can enter the plant,@ he said. Also, if there is no cut surface, the seed is less apt to rot in the ground.

7. Pour water down hollow stem of Canada thistle after you've cut the stem off and the plant will die.

The theory behind cutting off the plant and pouring water down the stem is that it encourages rotting of the stalk, says Rick Holm, Director of the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. But I have never seen any evidence that it works.

All the same, cutting off the plant is not a bad idea. For non chemical control in pastures or other non-cultivated areas regular mowing every 2-3 weeks will prevent flowering and seed production while root reserves will be depleted by the constant regeneration of top growth. Eventually, the roots will become starved and the plant will die.

8. A wild oat can walk.

This one is true and it's a great party trick. All you need is a wild oat seed that is completely intact. It will have an awn, a micro thin hair-like appendage with a bend near the end of the seed, like a little leg.

Place a tiny drop of water in the palm of your hand. Place a wild oat very close beside it. And watch what happens. The wild oat will begin to move, propelled by the awn, towards the water.

The awn is twisted. When it absorbs water it straightens out and in the process moves the seed, says Rick Holm. If the seed moves horizontally on the soil surface it may fall into a depression or crack where it is more likely to germinate.

This will also work on a flat surface such as a table but not if the surface is cool. It seems that both moisture and warmth must be present for the wild oat to walk.

© Copyright Carlyle Observer

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