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Atypical, but important, observations about farming and living with nature


Have you noticed that each year the soil and bodies of water in temperate climate zones shift almost overnight from warm to colder as the environment cools each fall and reverses each spring? I can detect the annual thermal declines and inclines at our home water faucets and when I fish.Each fall our farm house is usually still warm from the previous summer months and does not require supplemental heat until a protracted period of cool weather sets in. Our house has 20 inches of insulation in the ceilings and eight inches in the side walls; all our windows are double paned. It takes a while for our home to cool down.Usually, the first indication of the seasonal shift in our annual cooling occurs when I turn on a water spigot and the flow is several degrees cooler than when I ran the faucet a few hours earlier. I know I shouldn’t go fishing in farm ponds for a while, for the water in these enclosures has undergone a thermal shift and the fish are unlikely to bite until they adapt to changes in their environment and metabolism.The ponds are undergoing stratification in which warm water at the surface cools and sinks to the bottom of the pond and bottom water that is still warmer than water at the surface rises to the top. The same phenomenon happens in our soil as the seasons change in temperate climates.In the spring, the warming of ponds and lakes triggers a reverse shift during which cool surface water drifts downward and is replaced by slightly warmer bottom water. Violent storms can alter these shifts temporarily.Why am I bringing this up? Because these shifts are a hallmark of seasonal changes that we sometimes don’t notice and which regularly affect most agricultural regions in the U.S. and other temperate regions of the world.When the spring thermal shift occurs in soil that is farmed, it’s warm enough for most small grains and other cold tolerant crops to germinate. Planting warm season crops, like corn and soybeans, is close behind.Gradual warming of Earth may change the timing of the thermal shifts, thereby enabling and sometimes forcing farmers to plant different crops.The fall thermal shift to colder weather is also a precursor of higher risks for colds and flu like viruses to infect our respiratory systems. According to the CDC (see the CDC seasonal flu website), cold air affects our nasal cavities particularly and reduces the nasal immune resistance by half allowing for increased chances of viral infections.Viral infections during the cold months are also more common among cattle and other ruminants, pigs and chickens as well as humans and for mostly the same reason. The immune systems of these animals are partially inactivated by cold weather, according to the National Library of Medicine, the CDC website and poultry health specialists (www.thepoultrysite.com).Have you noticed that some Canada geese don’t regularly migrate southward during the winter and they are larger than average Canada geese. Why?According to waterfowl biologists, David Graber and Dr. John Coluccy, Giant Canada geese are a Midwestern subspecies of Canada geese that were rescued from extirpation by Harold Hanson of the Illinois Natural History Survey. Hanson found a remnant population in the early 1960s near Rochester, Minnesota.A popular myth plays into this scenario. During the foregoing era when Canada geese were hunted commercially in the US, some Midwestern hunters captured and tethered giant Canada geese for use as decoys to lure migrating geese within shooting range. They selected and cared for these big captive geese year-round to keep as decoys, because, the larger the decoy, the easier it was for other geese to spot them as they flew overhead and perhaps to alight among them. Consequently, giant Canada geese lost their inclination to migrate because they became semi-domesticated by their caretakers.That’s not true, according to Graber and Coluccy, because all geese migrate when diminishing resources push them to warmer areas, even the giant Canada geese. In recent years, giant Canada geese have found sufficient forage in grassy parks and unfrozen ponds in cities and towns throughout the Midwest until snow and bitterly cold temperatures force them to warmer climes where food is still available.Giant Canada geese have fared well, partly due to warmer winters, which have contributed to expansion of the giant Canada stock, not only in the Midwest, but in adjoining regions of the US. Some have found unusual places to nest, such as on rooftops of low-lying buildings that aren’t so high that the goslings perish when they jump to the ground after hatching.Another point of interest, Canada geese are named after John Canada, an ornithologist who distinguished the species from other North American geese. It’s not because most Canada geese breed in Canadian terrain.And, they’re not called Canadian geese!If you have unusual observations about farming and living with nature, please let me know.Dr. Mike is a psychologist/farmer who lives with his wife in Pella, Iowa. Contact him at mike@agbehavioralhealth.com.