At Home in Nature

  (Agate, Colorado)
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Assembly line farms

Jethro Tull admired one of his neighbors who, not being able to afford horses or oxen or even a plow, took a shovel to the aisles of his cabbage field.  A small field well tilled produces more profit than a large field poorly tilled, and organizing your land - whether it is as small as a patio or as large as several hundred acres - so that you can do your work well is important.  This concept was inspirational to Henry Ford, the manufacturer, who made a new “mass production theory.”  This theory was quickly applied to farming, through the development of tractors and large feed lots. 

However, since Ford, a new “Assembly Line” theory has been developed by leaders such as Edward Demming.  One practical application of Assembly Line Theory may be made to the keeping of animals.  If animals are looked at as sources of manure for the fields (though they usually contribute more than that to the farm!), you would want to organize your fields to be as close to your pens as possible, organizing pens and fields against the same gate and against the same driveway.  Instead of having large pastures and large fields which are easily worked by an expensive tractor designed to easily convey the manure from the pastures to the fields, an alternative is to have numerous small pens (with a handful of animals) and numerous small fields, easily worked by hand.

A further advantage is in disease control.  If one pen gets an infection, it will not likely spread to another pen.  Because manure may so easily and quickly moved from the pen to the field and turned into the aisles, pens stay cleaner: the same farmer who would need to take a wheel barrow 500 feet will have, in the course of 10 pen cleanings, traveled over 3/4 mile further than a farmer who has to only carry the manure 50 feet, saving 3-5 hours of work, long enough to clean a small pen some 6-10 times.  While a farmer may need to make rounds to the animals over further distance, organizing the pens against a driveway in a line reduces this time: feed, water and other provisions are easily provided for along the line, and may even be stocked near to the area of manure production.

Tractors and other equipment are expensive, and while the costs don’t usually outweigh the benefits, the fields may be adapted to facilitate a tractor, with small pens located throughout a field and large connections between fields that can actually be cultivated as well, and if the farmer wishes to drive a truck to care for the animals, a dirt track can be maintained along the line of pens.  A disadvantage to the system is that it requires many more hundreds of feet in walls and fences, and numerous more shelters, but if the farmer is using recycled materials, this results in no actual increase in cost and the line may be built easily. 

A farm assembly line appears in many respects to resemble numerous microfarms, but coordinated to conserve waste.  In most cases, assembly lines are very efficient with labor, so much so that robotics and other mechanization popular with mass production are less efficient than human hands.  As Jethro Tull noticed, the cabbage farmer with the shovel was producing superior work and profit, but the shovel was not adapted to a large field.  We see today that a city garden is more fruitful than some of the best farmland in the exurbs and rural lands.  A farmer needs a large field, but organizing it to accommodate the shovel instead of the plow is smart work.

The system can be scaled back if labor is lacked, and when it is scaled up, a payrolled farm worker or a very used tractor, or an ox and plow may be acquired so that greater revenues are earned from their work than expended upon them.

 
 

Insomnia has 3 cluster predictability

About this time of year, farmers begin to sleep a little better.  No risk of frost!  But there are many reasons why people lose sleep.  Analysis of insomnia by Doctors Vallières, Ivers, Beaulieu-Bonneau and Morin in their “Predictability of sleep in patients with insomnia” (Sleep. 2011 May 1;34(5):609-17) indicates that a 3-cluster predictability exists for the disease, indicating at least 3 classes of insomnia.

The Doctors explain “daily sleep diaries were completed for an average of 48 days and self-reported questionnaires once. Three nights were spent in the sleep laboratory for polysomnographic (PSG) assessment. Sleep efficiency, sleep onset latency, wake after sleep onset, and total sleep time were derived from sleep diaries and PSG. Time-series diary data were used to compute conditional probabilities of having an insomnia night after 1, 2, or 3 consecutive insomnia night(s). Conditional probabilities were submitted to a k-means cluster analysis. A 3-cluster solution was retained. One cluster included 38 participants exhibiting an unpredictable insomnia pattern. Another included 30 participants with a low and decreasing probability to have an insomnia night. The last cluster included 49 participants exhibiting a high probability to have insomnia every night. Clusters differed on age, insomnia severity, and mental fatigue, and on subjective sleep variables, but not on PSG sleep variables,” and conclude that “these findings replicate our previous study and provide additional evidence that unpredictability is a less prevalent feature of insomnia than suggested previously in the literature. The presence of the 3 clusters is discussed in term of sleep perception and sleep homeostasis dysregulation.”

The National Sleep Foundation's 2002 Sleep in America poll showed that 58% of adults in the U.S. experienced symptoms of insomnia a few nights a week or more.  The causes of insomnia are numerous, ranging from second hand marijuana to physical defects of the brain, but this study presents a new take on this common illness by reducing the number of ways that the body reacts to insomnia – either with more insomnia or less insomnia. 

 
 

Star watching for farmers

Look to the skies just before sunrise and you’ll see something interesting: the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter appear to be in a line!  Though not actually in alignment, our perspective from Earth makes them appear so, but it is a good time to consider that in ancient times, people would look to the stars for an understanding of what to do in their agriculture.  It came naturally, as farmers used the light of the moon to get a few more hours of work done at night.

Though more recently, religious groups have claimed that stars and planets exert influences on our crops here on earth through their “energies,” in ancient times, the farmers would watch the stars to get a better idea of what time of year it actually was.  You see, the modern calendar and all its conveniences was not available then, and sometimes June would be in the middle of the winter, and November would be in the warmest part of the year.  It took the ancients a long time to perfect a solar calendar that actually worked.  Until they did, they relied on the stars to know the season.

The Dog Star, Sirius, was a good indicator that summertime was at its peak.  With the rising of Sirius, farmers would prepare to harvest potatoes and other heat sensitive crops, cease tilling, bring water to their fields, and otherwise bunker down for extreme heat.  By counting the moons, they knew when it was likely to be safe from frost to plant.  Each star and planet had its season.

The farmer LJ Columella was the first to describe an agrarian calendar based on stars and planets.  His work, On Agriculture, is still used by many farmers today even though we now have a reliable solar calendar to tell us the months and seasons. 

As superstition was gained after the age of reason, people began to become confused: did the stars cause the seasons, or did they simply mark the changes of the seasons?  The mythology associated with the stars and planets began to influence people, and new religions based on the ancient worship of the numerous deities that the ancients worshiped arose.  Permaculture is one such modern system that advocates utilizing planetary energies to improve harvests, but even Columella, who worshiped Mars thousands of years before Permaculture was ever considered, would tell you that the stars don’t tell you what to do: your knowledge that the stars are regular in their rising and setting against the passage of the seasons lets you anticipate seasonal trends in weather.

Today, farmers still work late by the light of the moon and still enjoy star watching, but now farmers enjoy starwatching for the joy of it, because they can look at a calendar to know what needs done at any given time.  But one of the greatest parts of that joy is remembering the days before the solar calendar and using the stars and moons to help in your farming.

 
 

Pasture rotation improves production

Pasture rotation is key to the success of your animals.  Animals will selectively graze, eating their favorite foods and leaving what they don’t like.  This is how good pastureland turns into good yucca plantations!  The cattle eat everything but the yucca, and the yucca remains.  Then, all that is left to do is till up the soil and start over. 

However, the rancher may rotate their animals through pastures faster than they destroy the grass.  By allowing the grass time to recover, they may keep their pastures in good condition. 

Another option, which works better on small and micro farms and ranches, is to preventively till up and reseed pasture every year.  By establishing three pastures, the rancher ensures that their animals have plenty of pasture to eat. 

The first pasture is for springtime, and the animals graze on it until midsummer.  Then, the animals are moved to winter pasture, while the spring pasture is tilled and reseeded.  The third pasture, rested for the entire year, becomes next year’s springtime pasture, while the winter pasture is brought to rest… the first year’s spring pasture is next year’s winter pasture. 

The pasture that rests actually can be hayed in the autumn if the rancher uses quick growing grasses, especially rye, or other animal feeds (like sunflowers).  But most ranchers prefer turf, and turf means grass.  Let the rye mature, and harvest both grain and grass for a high energy supplement.  Or, if you don’t like rye, plant crops that overwinter, like wheat.  Wheat needs less water than rye, too.

 
 

Coyotes play hockey and eat pizza

At dusk the coyotes were singing so loud I could hear them inside.  I went out and listened to their songs.  I guessed they were having dinner, but I am still not sure what kind of pizza they were sharing.

Coyotes are very picky eaters.  Contrary to popular belief, they are little threat to agriculture, and in fact are a beneficial predator for your farm and ranch.  Even if you have chickens.  Or baby calves.  Or dogs and cats.  Coyotes will not break into coops or barns, or into your home.  If you want to keep animals safe, give them shelter.

But even still, coyotes do not prefer to eat our domestic animal friends.  They prefer to eat rodents, insects, rabbits, small birds, eggs and other things that are smaller than they are.  They only rarely hunt in packs like wolves, and therefore do not hunt things larger than themselves.  When they do hunt in packs, they try to wear out their prey by exhaustion, dehydration or other siege tactics.  Voles, prairie dogs, eastern cottontails, ground squirrels and mice are their favorites, but coyotes will also eat snakes and other lizards, too.

Like most animals, they do like human garbage.  Especially pizza.

Like most members of the dog family, they are omnivorous, and do not rely on meat.  They also eat quantities of fruit (when in season, or in the garbage), some vegetables (seasonally), and have learned to like human-processed grains.  They are scavengers, and will eat dead or decaying matter, too.

Occasionally, it is true, they have attacked people.  But domestic dogs have attacked – and even killed – more people than coyotes.  For that matter, domestic cats have attacked people too.  When an animal attacks a human, it is usually out of desperation, and some level of antagonism (however unintentional). 

We humans are very big creatures, comparatively speaking: we are some of the largest animals that walk the earth in terms of weight and size.  While not as big as the biggest animals, we are bigger than some equines and bovines, and quite a measure bigger than the antelope and deer.  Coyotes also fear us because they easily learn that we have extraordinary powers, we can hurt them if we want to.  Most animals will even fear a human child.

Coyotes fear lions, bears, and other large predators that eat them, but most coyotes die more natural deaths.  Though coyotes share their food with older members of their community who are less able to hunt, it is not often that there is enough food to share and many coyotes will die of starvation when they grow too old to hunt.  Or of exposure to the elements.  They usually live 10 years in the wild, and can live twice that in captivity.

Coyotes like to live in old badger dens, but can dig their own.  They are naturally active during the day, but have learned to avoid humans and are now active at night. 

Female coyotes are monoestrous, and remain in heat for 2–5 days between late January and late March, during which mating occurs. Once the female chooses a partner, the mated pair may remain temporarily monogamous for a number of years. Depending on geographic location, spermatogenesis in males takes around 54 days, and occurs between January and February. The gestation period lasts from 60 to 63 days. Litter size ranges from 1 to 19 pups; the average is 6.  50-70% of the coyote pups will not live to adulthood. 

More than 90,000 coyotes are killed each year by the United States government. This is done supposedly to protect cattle and other livestock.  More coyotes are killed by recreational and professional hunters, hired by farmers and ranchers to rid them of this terrifying beast.  Yet the number of coyote kills of cattle and other domestic stock hardly warrants this slaughter.  Especially when they are such a benefit to farmers, keeping down the vermin that would waste a crop: coyotes only destroyed about 2.2% of the total number of destroyed sheep in 2004.  Ranchers would do better by focusing on the greater threats to their flocks.

Coydogs, a hybrid of dogs and coyotes, are more a threat to livestock than coyotes.  And the numbers of coyotes killed is sometimes confused with the population of coydogs exterminated.  Coydogs have become a problem in warmer regions of the United States.

Coywolves are less common – wolves and coyotes generally hate each other – but do occur.  These are responsible for the only two recorded deaths from coyotes (true coyotes were not at fault).

Coyotes in Phoenix have learned how to play hockey.  Or at least a team is named after them.  It is disputable whether the Phoenix Coyotes play hockey well.

 
 

Governments fail to protect invertebrates

As climates change due to human and natural factors, we rarely give thought to the insects, arachnids and other invertebrates that are both necessary to human agricultural industry, and to the stability of the ecology.

According to Endangered Invertebrates: the case for greater attention to invertebrate conservation by Scott Black, Matthew Shepard, and Melody Allen of the Xerces Society (www.xerces.org),  the US Endangered Species Act and international endangered species laws do little to protect the invertebrates.

They report that currently, only 37% of U.S. animal species listed as endangered are invertebrates and only 1% of listed foreign endangered species are invertebrates. 

This is particularly troubling considering, as the Xerces Society did, that a 20% extinction of total global diversity is possible by 2022 if the present rate of environmental destruction continues—and that this pressure is concentrated among the invertebrates: freshwater bivalves, for instance, are among the most endangered groups of organisms in North America.

 

Great Urgency to Protect Invertebrates

 

In the United States, freshwater mollusk fauna, especially rich in mussels and gillbreathing snails, is the largest in the world and the most well studied.  The species have been steeply declining in numbers from the damming of rivers, pollution, and introduction of alien mollusks and other aquatic animals.  In 1995, it was observed that just under half of all the freshwater mussels were imperiled.

But it is not just mussels.  Many insect species are vulnerable because their populations have a severely restricted distribution, often just a single locality. “The giant flightless darkling beetle (Polposipus herculeanus), for instance, lives only on dead trees on the tiny Frigate Island in the Seychelles. The Socorro sowbug (Thermosphaeroma thermophilum), an aquatic crustacean that has lost its natural habitat, survives in an abandoned bathhouse in New Mexico,” explains Xerces. 

Although freshwater and land mollusks are sometimes widespread species, they are generally vulnerable to extinction because so many are specialized for life in specific habitat conditions and are unable to move quickly from one place to another.

As a result, isolated populations are highly susceptible to change. “Rare insect species often have subtle habitat requirements and have even been lost from reserves as a result of apparently minor habitat changes,” explains Xerces.  “The large blue butterfly (Maculina arion) larvae is an obligate parasite of red ant (Myrimica sabuleti) colonies. Accordingly, in 1979 this butterfly went extinct in England because plant communities were not managed for the ants. (The large blue has subsequently been successfully reintroduced to appropriately managed sites in England using a subspecies from Sweden.)”

 

Invertebrates Require Specialized Microecosystems

 

Studies of some European grasslands have shown that areas not grazed or reforested harbored significantly higher butterfly species richness and heterogeneity, and hosted more endangered species than grasslands in the early successional stages (Balmer and Erhardt 2000). Oldgrowth forests in temperate zones also have higher invertebrate diversity than younger stands because of the development of the microclimates that invertebrates thrive in.

Yet tropical rain forests however hold the majority of terrestrial invertebrate diversity and with rainforests and temperate old growth forests around the world being lost at a rapid rate, invertebrates are bound to go with them.

 

While Larger Governments Fail, Local Governments, Citizens and Homeowners Can—and Must—Act NOW

 

“The widespread destruction of the earth's biodiversity occurring today must be matched by a conservation response on an order of magnitude greater than that which currently exists. Ultimately, the key to protection of any species is protecting its habitat,” explains Xerces.

But with little leadership found in governmental agencies, community–level conservation will be required. 

And this may be best developed through the development of amateurs who enjoy watching—and watching out after—invertebrates.

It should be hoped that these amateur enthusiasts would advocate in their local governments for the designation of wilderness areas, conserved for the benefit of many species, or for the protection of invertebrates in particular. 

Since many invertebrates only need small areas to thrive, this  goal is easily obtainable by even the smallest local government…

Or the homeowner.

Backyard gardens can function as adequate reserves for many invertebrates and encouraging homeowners—and the cities who would otherwise require them to destroy the weeds and ecology the invertebrates require—to undertake the necessary private action to save invertebrates is urgent.

Yet habitat must also be protected for marine species and marine reserves will require larger governmental action.

The power of citizens to petition their governments will be important at this juncture in our planet’s history as we embark upon a trying period of extinction when many wonderful creatures will be lost forever.

 

Assistance in Writing Petitions

 

The Meadowlark Herald will provide free assistance to any citizen interested in conserving invertebrates in their Town, City, County or State through the conservation of wilderness, the illegalization of the environmental toxins that threaten invertebrates, through the legalization of homeowner conservation efforts, or other effective means.

Petitions are easy, usually free of cost, and highly effective ways for an individual who is concerned about the interests of their neighborhood to make necessary and good laws.

Politicians do not have a monopoly on lawmaking any more than professional biologists can monopolize the joy and important observation of wild creatures.  

And it is the obligation of those interested amateurs who enjoy the invertebrates—and all the other living creatures of this world—to stand up and speak upon their behalf, and defend those beautiful and important ecology they love.

 
 
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