The author and her husband, Duane, own and operate a 550-cow dairy in Cochranville, Pa.
One of the many perks of living on a dairy farm is the fact that we are surrounded by wildlife. We have deer in our woods, foxes living close by, and a variety of small, medium, and large creatures that find habitat around our farm.
When I speak to groups, I often mention that our farms are a natural home to a variety of species, many that we never see in a day. Our farms are home to more than just us and the cows. That is often forgotten as we mostly focus on the cows.
Of all the animals that live around us, my favorite by far are the birds. There has been a pair of red-tailed hawks living beside our farm for as long as I have been here.
They always grab my attention, and I often hear them call to each other while I am walking around the farm. They are beautiful creatures to watch, and hearing them typically causes me to stop what I am doing and find them in the sky.
They soar above the farm with incredibly accurate vision, scanning for a stray rodent. They aren’t the type of animal that lets us get close and would rather we let them fly in peace without undue attention. It is enjoyable to watch them from a distance, though.
Hawks are not the only animals that grace our skies. A few decades ago, we started noticing bald eagles around our farm. At first there was only one visible pair that was a mile or two from the dairy. It was rare that we saw them, but every once in a while they would venture over the farm.
Over the years, their presence has grown in our area. There are several eagle nests close to us, and a few years ago a pair of birds built a nest on a power line tower in our cornfield. It is far enough away that I cannot see any activity, but I can easily see the nest.
I love watching the big birds soar around the farm. The way they fly through a storm is incredible. They are majestic, graceful, and beautiful creatures, and I think they like living near us as well. Eagles, hawks, and other flying creatures have a vested interest in being near a dairy farm. Our farm offers a nice variety of food for them. We do not always think of eagles and hawks as scavengers, but they are, and they love to eat items that our farm animals leave behind.
Until eagles were near our farm, I never knew that they love to eat the placenta after a cow has calved. As gross as it sounds, it is food for them. When a cow calves in the pasture, it is not uncommon to see a pair of eagles close to the placenta when the cow and calf are brought into the barn, waiting for the opportunity to have their feast.
The closest I ever came to an eagle was years ago when I walked into our calving barn. Perched on the first gate inside the door was a bald eagle. It was only 3 feet from me, and believe me, the eagle was just as surprised to see me as I was to see it. In a matter of seconds, the big bird was out the window, and I never came that close to one again. I was happy that the eagle decided to make a quick exit as opposed to defend and attack. I don’t need to see those talons up close and personal.
Turkey buzzards are also found where we live, circling our farm looking for their daily meal as well, but I never think of them as graceful and beautiful creatures. They are an eye sore, and we once found out that they can also cause havoc on a community in unexpected ways.
A few years ago, a turkey buzzard flew into a power line that ran past the farm. We, and everyone near us, instantly heard a loud pop and lost electricity. We have a generator so we could keep the farm moving at pace, but it still disrupted the moment.
It wasn’t until the electric company came out to assess the problem that we realized what caused the disruption. It was lights out for both the bird and the community.
Our methane digester takes in food waste from a variety of places. One of those sources is a local grocery store chain. We have a concrete area where the food waste is delivered, and then it is ground to a slurry so it can be put into the digester. This process keeps the food out of the landfill and allows us to capture the methane from the slurry.
Food from the grocery store can be a smorgasbord for all kinds of flying scavengers. It is not uncommon for an eagle or a few turkey buzzards to sit on our fence post and wait for the not so fresh food to be delivered. It is their version of fast food, I suppose.
The big birds should be with us as long as our farms provide the necessities. The stream bank fencing is home to various species for the predators, the food waste gives them easy access to nutrients, and of course, a placenta from time to time adds to the circle of farm life.