Published in the Wadesboro Messenger and Intelligencer, April 13, 1939
Use Discretion When Clearing Up on Farm
Too Much Fire Harms Birds and Other Wild Life by Destroying Plant Food of Great Value
By F.H. Jeter, Extension Editor, State College
The smell of smoke is in the air. Here and there are little piles of cotton stalks and big piles of corn stalks ready for the application of the torch and soon the organic matter in these piles will be released through the action of fire and all to be left will be a small pile of greyish ashes. Not only will these piles of organic matter, so badly needed by the soil, be burned but the torch will be applied to ditch banks, to the edges of woodlands, sometimes to the old-fashioned terraces and the owner will look with pride at his handiwork complimenting himself on his wisdom in having such a clean field where potential insect quarters have been destroyed and where the ground is ready for the spring seed bed.
If we had only a few acres on the farm, such “cleaning up” might be excusable. But the average farm has enough land that these edges are not needed for crop production. The other day I was on a man’s farm in Franklin County. He had constructed his terraces so that they emptied into a ditch or waterway at the edge of the field and instead of cleaning this ditch with brushhook and fire, he had sodded it with Bermuda grass and on both banks had seeded a heavy growth of lespedeza sericea. As I walked along the edge of the field, it seemed as if hundreds of doves flew up ahead of me and the owner told me that his supply of quail had more than doubled since he had provided this protective covering and feeding ground.
His nearby woodland was beginning to be thinned as he needed fire wood for his house and the finer trees were left standing to grow into maturity for lumber. Birds could use this woodland during the night and go out into the field during the day to feed. In addition to the sericea, there were also seedlings of annual lespedeza about over the small grain to improve the land and to control erosion. I found that this man was using honeysuckle vines the head of his larger gullies and was setting kudzu along the sides to bring these washed places back into such state that they could be cultivated. He had stopped further erosion and his valuable top soil and costly fertilizer were not being washed away to the Atlantic Ocean.
It occurred to me that many of us who own land should begin to think of the possibilities of encouraging wild life on the farm. There are lots of folks in the towns who would like to do some hunting in the country. All throughout the piedmont section there are mills and industrial plants of all kinds where hours of labor have been shortened. In some instances these folks have taken their guns and dogs and without asking permission, have violated the farmer’s land and stripped it of his quail and other game. If these people want to hunt, they should get the permission of the landowner and the landowner should charge a fee for such permission.
I know what I am talking about because when I began seeding lespedeza over my small grains and then planted sericoa along the banks of the waterways and down at the edge of a steep slope, I soon found that birds were making themselves at home on the farm and that quail were rapidly reproducing. Soybeans and cowpeas also added to the food supply of the wild life population.
It so happened that there was a good hunter in that neighborhood, however, and when he lost his job, he spent most of his time hunting. He was not particular about whose land he hunted on but he got the game where the game could be found. The result was that my supply of quail was almost completely destroyed and I had received no return whatever from it. Now the land is posted and more fortunately still the hunter has a job. But I had a selfish reason for wanting more birds on the place. It is a fact that birds will control more insects than will the fire which destroyed their hibernation places or the insecticides which may be used to dust or spray. In other words, a good supply of quail, doves or other such birds will eat more insects than can be killed with poisons.
Therefore, in addition to protecting the wild life and providing feed and cover for them, I believe one is justified in killing off all stray cats and other vermin which eat young birds. Certain sections of the woods ought to be left undisturbed where the birds might gather and live in peace. If this is done and our present plan of growing lespedeza and other such crops continued, we shall soon have a plentiful supply of wild life. Then, we can say to the city man who wants to hunt on our farms that he can hunt to his hearts content for a price. We can point out to him where he will possibly find a “covey” of birds and when he departs satisfied, you may be sure he will send back some of his friend. Thus by a little foresight in the spring and summer, we may add to our income during the hunting season. It may be too that we shall also find time to go out and bring in enough for a fine quail supper for the family some evening.