As I walked through the sheep this morning, I noticed a dark, feathered back in the midst of a tall clump of grass. As I got closer, I realized it was a hen turkey. While a group of lambs watched me approach, she flushed from her nest, revealing 11 eggs. I moved on quickly as she circled behind me to set on her eggs again.
The sheep have been in this particular pasture since Sunday (for five days as I write this). During that time, she’s apparently remained on her nest – seemingly undisturbed by the grazing animals around her. Even more remarkably, Reno (the livestock guardian dog with this group of sheep) has left her alone. Reno isn’t opposed to a chicken dinner when we have him around our home place, but turkey isn’t on his menu, I guess. Indeed, Reno’s presence probably protected the turkey and her eggs from coyotes, raccoons and skunks.
As a rancher, I get a daily opportunity to see the interdependence between our agricultural production and the natural world around us. Our grazing management is compatible with (and actually beneficial to) so many wildlife species – not just the mama turkey I saw this morning. After we move our sheep off a pasture, I always see raptors cruising above and searching for now-visible rodents and other prey. Beginning in early April each year, the Bullock’s orioles return to our foothill rangelands – I suspect that the insects that accompany our sheep attract them. Our sheep need large, intact grasslands – and so do many wildlife species. Not only do we coexist with wildlife – grazing and wildlife are mutually beneficial!
Sometime in the next day or two, we’ll move our sheep on to the next paddock. Since Reno will move with the sheep (as will our electric fences), I’ll put up a spare fence around the nest to deter predators. Turkeys incubate their eggs for 28 days, so we’ll keep an eye out for hatchlings over the next month. And I’ll continue to enjoy watching our sheep and the wild animals in our environment coexist.