At Home in Nature

  (Agate, Colorado)
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Contemplation - instinct?

It must be summertime again!  The crickets are singing and the temperatures are warming up.  Did you know that crickets can be used to tell the temperature?  The Library of Congress reports that “the frequency of chirping varies according to temperature. To get a rough estimate of the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit, count the number of chirps in 15 seconds and then add 37. The number you get will be an approximation of the outside temperature” (

The crickets are not the only ones singing about summer.  Whirlwinds have been seen, too: these long-lived whirlwinds are believed by many cultures to be the ghosts of people, some good, some bad.  Though rarely as strong as tornadoes, they have been known to reach tornado intensity on occasion.  They occur in summertime, mostly, though sometimes they occur in winter too.  Here on the Palmer Divide, they are summertime occurrences, and I have seen them strong enough to lift metal sheets weighing many pounds. 

Animals react to the changing seasons in many ways.  In physiological and scientific terms, animals are sentient, conscious creatures, with emotions and memories just like people.  What summertime means to them may be a mystery to us, but, just like people, they also experience chemical reactions to the changes in temperature that are as predictable as a calibrated thermometer.  Sometimes, though, animals (and people) surprise us.  I have seen a horse kick at a threatening whirlwind, and wild antelopes stop and watch a whirlwind’s passage.  How we react to warmer temperatures is as individual as our ability to overcome our instincts: I have no doubt that a cricket need not sing faster with warmer temperatures if they wanted to.  But why would they want to?

There are so many of our own instincts as human beings that we don’t even question.  With the change of season, it is easier to see how other people and animals react instinctually, and take a moment to think about our own instincts.  That is a truly human reaction to the change in temperature, but whether it is instinct to be contemplative I don’t even risk a guess.


Raising good father birds

Shelving can be made into a convenient brooder by lining the outside of the shelving with chicken wire, and, using cardboard (which can be replaced periodically in good hygienic practices), lining the bottom of the shelves so that wood chips or shavings may absorb excess moisture.

Excess moisture and drafts are deadly to baby birds, whose feathers are generally ineffective at anything but helping them camouflage into the grasses of their natural home. 

If your birds begin to play in their water instead of drinking it (and they will – they have a self-destructive instinct), it is important to take a towel or papertowel and dry them off, and keep them very warm.  Eventually, they will grow too big to play in the waterer, and they will also grow out better feathers.  It is hard work being a mother bird, especially if you are a human farmer.

Baby birds rely on you to be their mother (or father).  Like human infants, they require you to provide them food, water, medical care, keep them dry and warm.  A brooder should be located in a place where you can absolutely control the environmental temperature, humidity, and other factors, as well as a place that is very easy to keep hygienically clean.

Most baby birds will suffer from pasted anus, a condition which requires you to wash off dried fecal matter from their anus.  This should be done gently and in warm water, allowing the fecal matter to dissolve off: scraping can cause damage to their intestines, bleeding and death. 

Birds are difficult when young because they are very hardy when older: nature’s unbroken rule is that the more indestructible an animal is when an adult, the more fragile it is when it is younger.  This is a “natural check” against overpopulation, and a safety mechanism for the ecology if the predator species suffer  a catastrophe and cannot contain the populations of prey. 

The excessive work that baby birds require may be alleviated by entrusting the work to mother and father birds, especially geese and chickens, who are excellent mothers and fathers – even to baby birds of other species.  Some breeds of birds have been caused to have better mothering and fathering instincts, and any bird with good mothering or fathering instinct should be kept and bred.  It is fairly apparent when the baby birds are young which ones have good instincts – it is a genetic trait, not an acquire d one.  We had an excellent father rooster who, as a baby, defended weak baby birds, and sang to them… and a superior mother chick who would even put her little wing over her weaker companions in a mothering gesture.

Mothers and fathers increase production in numerous ways.  They correct self-destructive and flock-destructive behavior in other birds, prevent and cure cannibalism, help ensure an even distribution of food and other resources, defend their flock against predators (often successfully) and, fathers especially, actually increase food intake by the females in their harem (by constantly encouraging them to eat and finding them more food).  In experiments done on the Coastalfields farm, good fathers increased egg production as much as 15%.

LJ Columella suggests retaining at least 20% fathers in a flock of chickens, and 40% in water fowl.  And this is consistent with economic data collected in modern times, and is close to the economic maximal efficiency.  But economic analysis of managed flocks will indicate in typical situations that even 50% males will result in greater production than the food the males eat.  So, even without using the males for meat production, the dairy farmer will find better profitability with a straight run than with no males at all.

While fathering instincts are largely inherited, there is minimal acquired traits.  For good fathers, play to the birds music constantly to train their songs: they will sing weeks earlier, and this is the largest source of their control over their harem.  Bach, Mozart, Elvis and other melodic classical artists have, in Coastalfields and other trials, have been shown to improve production better than non-melodic music (such as heavy metal or rap).

As the father birds mature, look to good dancers: the dancers are better at exerting control over their harem.  To be a good father, he must be able to sing and dance better than the rest.
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