The recent warm weather here has brought a hatch of deer and horseflies. Telltale welts on the cows and horses show that they are being bitten. It's been said that the busiest part of a cow is her tail, swatting in the summer when the insects bite!
This week's journey Down Nature's Trail leads us into the barn. Why the barn, which is supposed to be a place for cows, calves, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats, and people. Is there wildlife in there too?
Most of the country barns that I've been in are far from airtight. There are lots of places for animals, birds and insects to get in and out. A tiny mouse is one of many who find the barn a perfect habitat. He appears from a small hole near the floor of the barn. He quickly dashes under the feet of the cows and disappears under the door leading to the silo room. He has avoided being seen by the sleeping tomcat, curled up in the morning sun in a windowsill.
Rats also live on the farm, drawn to the grain that is feed to the livestock. If you are providing grain for lots of domestic animals, it's likely that you are also providing for mice and rats. That's why the cats are there, but they aren't the only ones who come into the barn looking for mice and rats. At night, when the cows are bedded down and all is quiet and dark, a large bull snake slithers into a rat's hole in search of dinner. Where there's prey, there are those who hunt. If the barn door is left open, a raccoon, possum or skunk may find their way in to look for a nighttime snack.
A little screech owl waits in the rafters of the hayloft, watching the hay bales below for signs of movement. An unsuspecting mouse doesn't notice until it is too late. The English sparrows who sleep in the rafters should take care not to be restless, for the owl finds them also to be fair game.
The beautiful multicolored pigeons also make their home--a modest nest of sticks-- and raise the young squabs in the high places of the barn and silo. They may be safe from the cats here, but not from the Great Horned owl, who visits the inside of the barn through the open loft door. He knows that this is a good place to find a meal, and a fat pigeon will satisfy his hunger nicely.
In the spring and summer, the barn doors may be left open all the time, and the barn swallows will flutter around inside, above the cows. Their mud nests cling to the ceiling rafters out of the reach of the felines. They twitter excitedly just above the farmers' head as he milks his cows. The farmer knows how beneficial the swallows are; they help keep the flying insects in check. They also lend a very pleasant atmosphere to the barn.
The little brown bats who live in the barn are also welcome, for they can eat as many as 200 flying insects each, per night.
Spiders build their webs in the windows and corners of the barn, to trap flies and other unwanted insects. They may not have much of an impact on the fly problem in the barn, but for them, there is plenty to eat, and it's a good, dry place to live.
People who live on small country farms are fortunate to have wildlife so near them in their everyday lives. Wherever they are, even in the barn, they are reminded that they are close to the land. Nature will provide for them and they return the favor, as it should be.
Organic farmers know how important it is to allow nature into their lives. A harmonious environment is a healthy one, and that's what organic farming is all about. So, if you want to get a close-up look at wildlife, visit one of these farms and ask what's living in the barn. You might be surprised at the answer.
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