Renewable Farming

On our farm, every day is turkey day. And we’re thankful

We have front yard turkeys (and back yard bucks).  

We thought our Thanksgiving turkey would cost a lot less this season when a flock of wild turkeys took up residence on our 40-acre research farm. But they’re so beautiful, and so trusting, that nobody in the family has felt like getting a tag and shooting one. 

We wound up buying a turkey, again, from our friends at Genuine Faux Farms at Tripoli, IA — they manage a CSA and have tasty turkeys.

We are a little non-GMO oasis in a sea of transgenic corn, soybeans and Roundup. Turkeys seem to sense that. They patrol a regular circuit each morning and evening: Gleaning a cornfield across the creek, roaming through the alfalfa, then topping up on a few soybeans from the south field. At night they roost in trees near the two acres of prairie preserve just south of our pond, or in one of the trees near the creek. 

Whitetail deer are even bolder. We’ve lost several young fruit trees in the back yard to bucks rubbing off the bark. They prefer the most valuable trees; never touch willows around the pond. They’ve become a menace in test plots too, sometimes scavenging 30 or 40 foot patches in our strips. We have less mercy on the deer than the turkeys.

Squirrels have multiplied here too. Several times we’ve seen the demonstration of their preference for non-GMO ears of corn, versus triple stacked.  We impale ears on a little tree platform and let them choose. They know.

At an International Ag Labs conference, a staff member showed a photo of standing corn just before harvest, taken from a long distance. Every 16 rows, two of the rows were visibly torn up: stalks broken, empty shucks hanging. Challenge to the audience: What caused this lodging? Most people said that the end box of a 16-row planter had a poor hybrid that went down.

“Partially right. Non-GMO corn in that hopper. This is deer damage.”

We keep two or three Havahart traps going much of the year, “releasing” raccoons, possums, groundhogs and skunks from our habitat. The muskrats are given free reign, even though they also devour sweetcorn. At least they simply carry one ear at a time back to their den in our pond. And they offer lots of entertainment as they play on the banks of the pond.

One of our favorite “demonstrations” of animals’ preference for non-GMO grain is the Prairie Hybrids photo of corn left in their shop over winter. A neighbor’s ears of GMO corn were untouched by mice. The Prairie Hybrid ears were all gnawed down to the cob.  Our friend Hal Brown of Indiana reports seeing a similar “choice” by mice in a storage area.  “They know,”  Hal says.

Curiously, birds like the resonance around here too. Ducks, geese and water birds are also regulars. The number of songbird species we see each season keeps climbing. We don’t know why they should care about crops, but since we never use insecticides or fungicides, perhaps that’s the difference they pick up. Soil life here is very active, especially where we’ve rotated cover crops.  Birds like the cover crop we tested this season: Spring wheat together with tillage radish and clover.  Wheat heads have kernels too small to create a volunteer wheat problem next spring, and the tillage radish will freeze out.  Below, you’re looking over the amber wheat toward some green strips of tillage radish drilled following sweetcorn harvest.

I hope our former Farm Journal colleague, Gene Logsdon, will see that we’ve learned a few things from him — our “Contrary Farmer” mentor — since we both escaped big-city life in Philadelphia in the early 1970s.

 By Jerry Carlson   Published Nov. 14, 2015  Happy Thanksgiving!

Foreground: spring wheat intended as a cover crop. Background: tillage radish. Photo Nov. 14, 2015