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Natural Cruelty

December 29, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo often we in agriculture hear how a practice we do isn’t “natural.” I was reading recently a book “Gardening for the Birds” which stressed the natural landscape for birds – flowers, trees and in some areas cactus that provide the birds food and shelter. The book was well done in photographs and descriptions about the birds and the plants recommended, with a definitely natural or native plant base.

I moved from that book to The Wildlife Friendly Vegetable Gardener – yes wildlife and working with it as much as possible is an interest here – and it speaks of composting for soil enrichment. Bear with me a moment.

We use – and produce! – compost, and absolutely see a difference in our garden areas from a few years ago. But the thought hit my mind that many of the plants we use today are not native (natural) to the area of the US. Indeed, we’d be pretty hungry if we truly stuck to the natural route.

And nature can be much more cruel than farmers and ranchers, who try to do the best they can for the animals in their care. We put birds under shelter and nets to keep the owls from making them a meal (which would be natural). Many move animals into barns to protect them from predators and the natural world.

When the blizzards hit South Dakota it was natural, but that was little consolation to the cattle and horses lost. There was undoubtedly wildlife, too, that died, and other wildlife will feed on the carcasses.

Watch any nature show and it often edits out the nature, or has people saying “save them.” The prey animals are not stunned before they are ripped open by the lion or wolf or other predator.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn helping songbirds, it is one little oasis at a time for the birds. We’ve had several generations of cardinals hatch in the bushes around the place here, and enjoy the bright red males and the chattering of their mates. The fledgling, in the photo on the left, was getting used to the big wide world when I zoomed in from the brush cover, as mama watched from near by. We even had a nest just outside the rabbit hoop – eye level – and the cardinals were not overly concerned by the many times per day passing right near their youngsters. They aren’t bothered and have been seen sharing bits of corn and even a stray layer pellet taken from the chickens.

Natural could be argued – certainly they chose where they built their nest. They could have built it far from human contact rather than in an area that is frequented by multiple people. The above fledgling, indeed, was raised in the branches over the poultry pen!

We have nuthatches, too, that frequent the place, and welcome them as an insect eating bird that includes aphids in their diet. We’ve had songbirds fly  into the open window, perch on the door, chatter at me and fly back out – not afraid at being in the house, certainly not confined, but not exactly natural.

Our gardens have many things that were grown in other parts of the world but not natural to here. If it was natural, presumably, it wouldn’t need the extra nutrition from soil amendments (including compost!). The soil needs to offer more, much like our rabbits need more nutrition than wild cottontails – there is more demanded of them.

Natural is good – but sometimes nature adapted is better. We don’t have to sacrifice songbirds for raising poultry and rabbits. We don’t have to sacrifice to support both. The owls take care of mice, rats and other “unwanteds” in the area.

And we believe we benefit from their presence.

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