Farm stewardship brings abundance of wildlife

There’s a prevailing perception that modern agriculture is bad for wildlife habitat. That doesn’t mesh with reality, at least not where I farm. Wildlife has never been so variable and plentiful.

Twenty years ago, if you told someone that you spotted a moose in southwestern Saskatchewan outside of the Cypress Hills, they would ask what you had been drinking. Now, moose are no longer novel. A cow and calf lumbered across the road as I was driving to the combine the other day.

With lots of big trees in farmyards, some of them abandoned, there’s southern habitat for moose.

Twenty years ago, this area was predominately farmed half and half. Nearly half the land was fallow each year and durum was the main crop on the fields that were seeded.

Now, there’s far less fallow and an array of different crops, particularly pulse crops. That has to be a benefit for creatures big and small.

While combining lentils, I was amazed by the number of big hawks that congregated in the field to feast on mice.

At one point, when there was a panoramic view of the field, I counted 36. Many of them stayed for days after the field was combined. Either they were still finding mice or they were too full to fly.

While spraying a canaryseed field in the spring, I just about ran over an antelope fawn. The tiny spotted creature bolted just in time and ran under the sprayer boom to safety.

Later in the year, I scared up a pair of fawns while putting fungicide on lentils. Their mom was concerned, but they continued making that field their home base.

White-tailed and mule deer are also common, and two big owls make the trees around the dugouts their home.

The yard is hopping with bush rabbits. It’s common to see three or four at a time playing.

They get so tame that they’re almost like pets. Somehow the little bunnies seem to avoid the coyotes that you sometimes see and often hear howling at night.

Growing up as a kid in the same farmyard, it was comparatively devoid of wildlife, but there were always a couple of dogs on patrol as well as barn full of cats that knew how to hunt.

Not all the critters are welcome. I don’t mind a few striped gophers, but they have attracted a badger. Mainly you see the badger holes, which are a big nuisance, but I did spot the badger running past the side of the shop one day.

Unfortunately, the gun wasn’t handy at the time.

Geese that live on the edge of a saline slough called Boggy Lake generated a small wildlife compensation claim this year.

Scores of young Canada geese accompanied by a few parents would walk the short distance from the water’s edge to the adjacent canola field, where they would constantly clip emerging canola plants. When startled, the geese would scurry back into the water.

I’ve watched kangaroos jump in Australia, turtles scurry into the ocean in Mexico and alligators bathe in the sun in Jamaica. I’ve also zip-lined in Roatan and jungle walked in Brazil, where we saw virtually no animals.

Over the years, there has been an increasing variety of wildlife right on the farm, and it’s just as much of a marvel as the exotic animals in foreign lands.

As stewards of the land, we’re obviously doing a lot of things right.

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