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Friday, 01 May 2015 14:05


A Lesson on the Birds and the Bees

There! Did I get your attention? Yes class, we are going to be talking about the Birds and the Bees. No I’m not talking about sexual intercourse. I’m talking about what is going on in your own environment today.

I have had two pretty sharp lessons in the past two and a half weeks concerning birds and bees and I thought it was good enough to share.

Some of you know me, those who don’t here is a little more background. I grew up on a large two hundred acre farm out in the middle of nowhere, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We were literally sixty miles to the closest grocery store. I grew up on a dairy but we also had horses, sheep, goats, rabbits, chicken, ducks, etc; we had a lot of livestock. We also had a very large garden, are active hunters and fishers. I worked hard sun up to sun down and of course like most farm kids when the time to graduate and move away happened I packed up everything I owned and moved away to college. That was a culture shock. From Wal-Mart that is open twenty four seven to watching movies at the movie theater to getting fast food. These were all novel things because the farm provided everything we needed and for anything else we would have to plan to go into town and that was a whole day affair. There were people and cultures from all over the world at college, there was drinking and parties and all that fun stuff that comes with a college environment. Truth be told though I actually really never partied. I came to go to school and I kept my nose in the books and worked hard in classes, unlike some of my classmates.

However in all of this I did not realize how heavy my heart started to become. I missed my animals, I missed waking up with the sun and crawling out of bed, putting on the stinky farm boots and trudging out into the rain to call in the cows, the nicker from the mares all demanding grain, rabbits rattling feed dishes, the chickens crowing, the spring babies, all of it. I decided on top of going to school full time that I needed to get a full time job so I could bring my ranch horse up with me while I finished college. I thought if I had my horse that I had raised and used for everything on the farm that I could be happy.

That too was not enough. Fast forward a couple years, I graduated, got married, bought a house, got a dog, and brought my old dog from home to live with us too. I bought another horse, but I still lived in town. I worked with the city to create ordinances for backyard chickens and I was the first one in our town to be legally licensed to have birds. Still my heart was lonely and now I was starting to get sick. I developed allergies, my teeth started cracking apart. I gained a lot of weight (coming from the farm I was very fit) I started also having reproductive problems. I started a large garden; I produced enough food in our small city yard to keep us in carrots, onions, potatoes, squash and beans to last us through nine months. I added cats and another dog, plus another horse.
In the end that still did not satisfy the feeling of having land, being able to wake up to the environment, to hear the wolves howl and watch the deer play in the fields. I have to instead hear police sirens, cars honking, children screaming, and when I look out at night I cannot see the stars, back home we saw the Northern Lights almost constantly. The city lights have drowned those all out.

I’m not happy here in town. Our house is for sale, we have been trying to move for three years, but in a bad economy with no real industry in the area that has been tough. In talking to a realtor about why we want out I told her I wanted to move back to the country and be so far away from everyone that I cannot see another human being. She looked at me completely flabbergasted and said “Don’t you know what you will be giving up?!” I grinned back and said “Don’t you know what you have lost?”

The birds and the bees, its about being connected. Not just about being some dirt worshiping tree hugging hippy type but know your environment. I could tell you when the bears were around just by the way animals avoided certain areas of the woods, I could tell you where the deer dropped their fawns in the spring. Where the turtles laid their eggs on the sandbar near the river we lived on. Today as humans we have lost this. I’m sure I could get every student in my class to tell me all about Kim K…whatever her name is. But could they tell me why honey bees are dying in tremendous quantities? Could they tell me why in America we have rates of Diabetes, Cancer, Heart Disease, drug abuse etc? Our environment creates our health.

Ok back to the birds. I have five chickens in my backyard right now. They give me eggs every day that are nutritionally way healthier than anything I can get in the store. (check out the Mother Earth News Article on backyard chicken eggs compared to store bought eggs) I’m not going to go into a lecture about the mistreatment of industrial animals here but rather would encourage you to know where your food comes from. My chickens are great birds. I have raised every one of them, I know all of their little personalities and they will let me know when something is wrong. We have a relationship that is dependent on each other. However I also have just become a Pollorum tester for the State of Wisconsin (which means I am a representative of the State Veterinarians office to check for infectious diseases of poultry) From time to time I have agreed to take someone’s extra chickens and didn’t realize how dangerous that was. I have taught various classes on chicken keeping and have even been able to raise meat birds too. However about two and half weeks ago (just after I finished my certification) I agreed to help a friend butcher some extra roosters that she had. Now I did not know how dangerous agreeing to do something like that was. There are so many diseases that run rampant in poultry and simply having bird poop on your boots can be a carrier such as the recent Avian Influenza is demonstrating. I thought we should be ok though because we are just butchering them at my place. I have all the knives and such to do it anyway.

So she brings the birds. I dispatch all four quickly and cleanly. We go to start butchering them and I find that they are covered in mites and lice. I immediately pack up the carcasses after showing what I found and told them they were now not able to be eaten and she would have to remove them from my property because now I have risked the health of my birds. Well crap, I felt terrible. I was trying to help out a friend, who clearly didn’t know her birds had this problem and now I have to go into decontamination of everything around me even the ground where I slaughtered the roosters because that could be enough to get my birds sick. Environment my friends, she didn’t know her environment and thus what her birds environment contained. She will have to go through costly treatments and possibly loose birds because of this.

That’s the last time I do anything like that. It is too great of a risk and I have spent thousands of dollars on my birds, yes I only have five here in town but my best friend keeps the rest of my flock of thirty plus birds on her property. I raise a rare breed of chicken called Icelandic’s. I cannot take a chance like that again. I do feel bad for my friend but she also is responsible for her animals as well. I was going to use those birds for stew meat. We never let anything go to waste on the farm and I still use all that I can here. I even butchered the big doe my husband hit this winter and used what I could from her. I will always offer help when I can but now it will be more from a distance than direct hands on.

So that brings me to my bees. Honey Bees are at a critical time in our world right now. I’ll let readers do some digging on their own but seriously if we as a human race do not clean up our act right now the honey bee will be dead by 2035. That is a fact. One in three bites of food come from honey bees and I like to eat so my interest in saving the honey bee is an interest to save all of you too.

Environment. Our environment is so toxic that the honey bee cannot survive in it without help from humans at all. Now true the honey bee is not a native creature of North America however we use them constantly in agriculture for many things and we cannot survive without them anymore. I worked again with the city to allow honey bees, long story short and a jerk in zoning later and I do not keep my honey bees in town. PM me if you want more details. Anyway after a year of research and study I decided to give it a try and loved having bees. I was able to afford one colony of bees and I learned about an entirely new world. Fascinating stuff! I struggled to keep them alive all winter (which is a feat let me tell you!) and got them through. However right now a hard time for bees in my area there is is nothing blooming and if they have gone through all their winter stores then they starve. Humans have to help them through this hard point. I thought I had my bees going strong and they ended up also failing and starved. I did not create a good environment for them. I was wrong, I thought they had made it through the tough time. The same day I received three new packages of bees. I went to put them in the new homes we had made for them and I made another mistake. I was trying to give them a good environment in which to create a strong new hive and instead I killed them by spraying them with sugar water. Now down south where it is warm that is a good thing. Up here the temps dropped that night and the next three days we had snow. I made a three hundred dollar, thirty thousand bee Popsicle.

I was absolutely devastated. I did everything exactly right from what the books had said and I was getting stung a lot when I got them and was trying to get them in the hive. My smoker was doing nothing to calm them. Bees can handle cold, but they cannot handle cold and wet.

I actually made myself sick. I had saved all winter what little I could for them and I killed them in less than forty eight hours. I destroyed their environment in that I did not give them a good one to start with. I had a pounding migraine for two days and in meditation I came to a realization. I realized that yes, I certainly had created a bad environment but I also learned a hard lesson again. A mistake was made with the thought I was doing the right thing when I was not. However a master does not become a master because he/she has a textbook life. They have become a master through failure, sometimes thousands of times. I learned and I will never make that mistake again. I am going to get another couple colonies of bees as I can afford to and keep those lessons close in mind.

In talking to my father about it (who totally loves the fact that I want to come back to the farming life) he smiled, patted me on the back and said “That’s farming Heather, you are a farming now.”

It brought tears to my eyes yet again. Know your environment, from the smallest plants to the tallest trees. Once you have invested in that environment you start to notice the small things, from the ants to the birds to the bees. When you care about the environment suddenly you find a new world and even your health becomes better because you are making educated decisions on what you are and where you are. I too need to keep this lesson in my mind and enjoy what I have as well. I know everyone cannot just drop everything and move to the country either, for some that is just not possible and that’s okay too but I ask you to do this.

Think about it. The Birds and the Bees. Oh and go hug a tree. ……..