August 29, 2021
Connecting the dots
Dr. Jonathan Lundgren
Rains have finally come to Blue Dasher Farm, and life here is responding. We had three small squirts of rain all year until last week. Even the prairie plants under the orchard are wilted, and where the sheep were, plants are only now trying to recover. The dried Blue Dasher Pond is a sore and aching casualty of our fight to save the planet. Even so, we have 2 months left to grow and replenish before the cold dark of winter hits. Our minds and actions turn to wrapping up loose ends on the farm, and making it ready to survive again.
Poultry. As usual, the birds have come to star in the show. The turkey flock (we have around a dozen this year) turn up in unpredicted places all day, every day. And their curiosity and fearlessness mean that most evening forays into the farm are followed with by a train of turkeys. Picking elderberries in the north tree line, feeding the livestock, sitting by the fire, picking rocks out of the front landscaping…the turkeys are there and dipping their beaks into the project. One problem is that wherever they go, they poop. Larger birds produce larger poops, and these are becoming…very large birds. Sometimes it feels as though our lives are covered in turkey turds.
The layer chicks are almost of size to be integrated with the rest of the flock. This means they will all be fed together, and also means one less set of chores we have to do on a daily basis. We had one chick that was injured by his peers, and we brought him to the garage to heal up. He was housed with two ducklings that Christina hatched, and soon began to self-identify as a duck. From the rim of the duck pool, he watched his siblings swim, but did not dare to try again after his first discovery that chickens are poor swimmers. He was dubbed Duck Duck, and with age he has slowly begun to find less comfort in us, and more in the coop with the rest of the flock.
Christina and Gabby picked some beautiful birds this spring, and our flock will hopefully continue to produce eggs through the winter months. Every morning, the young birds burst forth from their raccoon-proof chicken tractor in the front yard, running helter skelter around until they settle into their favorite places on the farm. There are few nooks high or low on the farm where you do not find a hen, duck, goose, turkey, or peafowl.
Sheep. #71 must go. Every flock has a caste that is the first to walk into new areas. A pioneer. In our case, this pioneer is better called a pain-in-the-neck. After spending most of the summer figuring out our fencing scheme, the sheep still occasionally break out. The ring leader is #71… there is nothing left to do with her but get her out of there before she teaches the behavior to more members of the flock. Her caste will be filled by another, who we will watch closely. We cannot keep having sheep escapes.
A new lamb was born this week- out of the blue (or into the green pasture, as it were). Lambing for us is usually in April, and we kept Paddington with the girls until the first lamb arrives. This mom’s pregnancy finally took just as the other lambs were beginning to pop out. We hope it is the final birth…otherwise castration didn’t go as planned this spring.
We served lamb from Blue Dasher Farm at the field day this year. That felt really good to feature our animals, and hear good things from our support network. Many thanks to Sandy and Bill and Braden for their incredible help in preparing this delicious meal. Where would we be without family and friends?
Pigs. Every time we walk by the pig fence, we are greeted so enthusiastically by the piggies that it is hard to not feel good about yourself. They run to the fence, proclaiming fanfare and wondering how you are doing and what you have brought them to eat. The fence is cold. We used to run 9000 Volts through their electronet. But they were zapped enough times that we no longer have to put a current through it. They are content and safe in their place. Oso, our not-so-savvy farm dog, thinks that the pigs possess the power of electrocution because he was zapped by their fence. A wary dog, he no longer goes anywhere near them.
As they have increased in size, the pigs are getting more and more destructive to their penned area. We now move them every 3-4 days, and follow behind them with a mixture of seeds for annual and perennial grasses and flowering species. Nothing prepares a seedbed quite like a pig. We continue to learn them and how best to use these powerful animals as friendly tools for accomplishing jobs on the farm.
Bees. It has been a weird summer for the hives. In July, Tia reported that the hives were down to a single box, and even these had only five frames of bees. The drought and environment were killing them. I left for Canada and California thinking that we were goners. When I got back, we drove to the various yards where we have the hives integrated into a rangeland experiment. The hives had completely recovered, and the majority even needed a super! Through August, Tia has continued to add boxes to the hives, and I think we will have a good situation going into the dreaded winter. Where micro-cracks in the hive’s health become fissures. Winter is the test.
I was talking with a bee keeper friend about the bee die off, and how it has been falsely pinned on the Varroa mite. I asked why on Earth he would treat the hives, since the hives are harmed by the Varroa treatments long term. And the treatments don’t seem to work very well. He explained that there are so many factors that are killing the bees right now. He feel helpless and out of control. A beekeeper cannot change agriculture; which is what needs to happen to stem the loss of life on our planet. So as the house falls down around them, the beekeepers hold up the only wall they can. Treating the Varroa mite is something they can DO. And the symptom looks more and more like the problem.
Research. On stage, to get audiences’ attention, I used to display a picture of the planet and list the challenges we are facing in broad categories. Climate change, environmental pollution, biodiversity loss, human health problems, etc.
In 2021, our research team travelled around North America. It feels like these challenges are so much more personal now. So much more real.
Finishing our field season with the almond harvest, Christina and I sat near the Pacific Ocean, gazing at a hazy sky. The Californian mountains are burning. I texted Ian, who was visiting the Atlantic Ocean in New Jersey. The ocean there was cloudy due to the impending hurricane, hitting much farther north and earlier than is normal. Meanwhile, at home on Blue Dasher Farm, people wear masks to protect them from air quality from wildfires, as well as a new strain of Covid. Most of us drink water from an RO-filtered system, because rural water sources aren’t what they used to be. I haven’t seen a jackrabbit in our area in more than a decade, where once there were hundreds per farm. I can remember only one evening on Blue Dasher this summer that was graced with a display of lightning beetles. A growing number of farming friends struggle to have children, because infertility rates are increasing. Families are degrading. We administer more and more drugs to a little girl with an auto-immune inspired rash, because the antibiotics don’t really work anymore. I could go on, but I don’t think I need to.
The planet sends up flares. Each requires attention with immediacy. And so the symptoms look more and more like the problem.
Attending to individual emergencies can be exhausting and distracting. We hack at the head of the Hydra, only to see two new ones spring up.
Our research this year is demonstrating how farmers can save the planet, while making their own operations stronger. We watched as farmers in the prairie provinces of Canada and Kansas reversed the functional extinction of life on their farms in as little as 2 years. We watched as almond farmers in California reduced their water use to 30% of their neighbors, while sequestering carbon, and making their businesses thrive. We watched as ranchers that manage their cattle well in the Dakotas made honey bees on their land thrive. There is so much movement right now in the farming community to change. So many bright points of light and hope.
There is a sense of urgency right now. But there is also a overwhelming sense of hope.