Friday, October 23, 2009

Feeding the Hawk

Farming takes a certain amount of arrogance. The basic assumption of agriculture is that we can create a more productive environment than native ecosystems. While we might be able to produce more human food than the natural system, it is not always an easy interaction between the managed ecosystem and the larger ecosystem around a farm.

One of the most common issues a farmer encounters is that wildlife doesn’t distinguish between our “human” food and “wild” food. In the last week we fed the hawks of Bluebird farm. We lost two chickens in two days to a beautiful red-tailed hawk. The third day we didn’t give it a chance.

Our chickens have been staying inside their coop and Petunia has been put to work. Fortunately, the coop is open bottomed-so with daily moves the chickens continue to have access to fresh pasture. Meanwhile Petunia has been spending her days inside the electric netting formally used for the chickens’ day range.

Petunia learned to watch for birds as “bad” animals in Colorado. In Colorado the Black-billed magpie is an extremely common bird. This cousin of crows, ravens, and jays is extremely intelligent. In Colorado they quickly learned Petunia’s feeding schedule. If there is one thing Petunia can’t stand its other animals eating her food. So she learned to watch the sky and bark at all manner of birds. This habit has yielded humorous results from chasing speeding barn swallow in tight circles to ferociously barking at a paraglider in Telluride (a bird that big would steal her whole bag of food!). Now her bird chasing skills are coming in handy.

It’s always a balance to produce people food in an environmentally friendly manner without simply feeding it all to the rabbits, deer, hawks, foxes, and insects that enjoy vegetables and livestock as much as we do. But maintaining the balance between our managed world and the wilder world around us is part of what we love about farming. We get to keep learning and experimenting all the time to keep producing delicious food.

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