Friday, January 8, 2010


An ecosystem is defined as the interaction of a community of organisms with their environment. Our farm is made up of several different ecosystems.

First, there is the ecosystem Dave and I have imposed on it by raising sheep and farming. We have a much healthier farm ecosystem today than we did 24 years ago when we began. I was looking at old photographs yesterday and the pastures in those photographs were brown and sere. Thistles were the only green, healthy looking plants. We’ve learned to never overgraze our pastures to that point. In the sheep/ Dave and Joanie ecosystem, we provide food and water for the sheep and they provide food and manure for us. For a farmer, that’s a pretty good trade. The manure enriches the soil in the pasture and the hay fields; the lambs feed our Bosnian immigrant neighbors; and the hard work keeps Dave and I strong and engaged with the out of doors. We give the sheep life and they enrich our lives in return.

The birds at our feeders are part of another ecosystem on our farm. We feed them suet and sunflower seeds in the winter and we provide shelterbelt trees for fruit, insects and shelter in the summer. During the summer, the hummingbirds and other nectar feeders pollinate our trees. Other birds eat insects in our gardens and on our fruit trees. The chickadees, nut hatches, juncos and wood peckers at our feeders this week also provide something not so obvious. The crisp demarcation between the white feathers and the gray feathers on a junco’s back is absolutely beautiful. The nuthatches, hopping upside down along the trunk of the crab apple outside our window make me smile. The pileated woodpecker clings to the suet feeder and then drops and rolls into a swooping flight through the trees. It looks so much like I imagine a pterodactyl would look, flying through the skies of the prehistoric earth that I am reminded of our connections to the past.

And finally, I have ecosystems within my house. This week when I did the laundry, a long overdue chore, I wondered exactly how long the laundry had been waiting for me. At the bottom of a pile of sheets, I found a cluster of squash seeds. The squash have been quietly rotting in the basement since October. I know that I’ve done the laundry more recently than October. So just when did a mouse decide that our dirty sheets would make a good storage facility? Mice are a part of rural living. In the fall, when the nights turn cold and the days grow short, they find their way into the tightest houses. Oolong, the cat, does her part, leaving gifts of mouse parts in surprising locations, but evidently, she’s not working quite hard enough. Usually, we hear mice in the walls, but this year, they’ve been quiet – building granaries in our dirty clothes pile, I guess, expanding their ecosystem to include parts of the house I had always considered mine.


  1. Mice seem to be a part of city living too. Gypsum just left us a mousey gift in the kitchen.

  2. Just came across your blog today and was intrigued to see more sheep ranchers who are paying attention to their ranch ecosystems.

    These ecosystems are integral to ranch operations that rely on them for raising healthy livestock.

    Good post.

    Sk. Canada Sheep Rancher