Loretta and Martin Jaus farm with animals in mind. That doesn't mean they raise meat.
It's a dairy farm, so cows come first, no question. But anything else with feathers or fur also has, as the song goes, a place in the choir.
When I drove to the Jaus farm to visit, I had explicit directions. Even without an address, I would have known it as soon as I saw it. It looked like a weedy field, neglected, abandoned and very wildlife-friendly. It was a Jaus pasture.
The Jaus farm is an ark in the middle of an ocean of corn and soybeans.
Fighting erosion first
It hasn't always been that way. Martin first started planting wind breaks to cut soil erosion.
"We didn't have wildlife in mind when we moved back here in 1980," he said. "We saw the response from birds when we planted the wind-break trees. We built on that."
It helped that Loretta has a degree in wildlife biology, Martin in wildlife management.
The two had been working on a wildlife research facility and hunting preserve just outside Chicago when they bought the farm that had belonged to Martin's father. In the northeast corner of Sibley County, about two hours west of the Twin Cities, they decided to start an organic dairy farm.
"We viewed wildlife as a hobby," said Loretta. "We didn't realize the impact organic would have on wildlife."
Their 120 cows and calves share the land with upland sandpipers, bobolinks, Eastern bluebirds, tree swallows, clay-colored and grasshopper sparrows, a variety of woodpeckers (including red-headed), mourning doves, common yellowthroat and other warbler species, a variety of ducks, pheasants, owls and hawks. And the list could go on.
There's also a wealth of mammal species, including a particularly a robust community of rodents -- jumping mice, voles, shrews -- which explains the raptor population.
Sensitive to wildlife
Martin and Loretta have managed to encourage such diverse wildlife by farming without chemicals and by being sensitive to the needs of wildlife as they use their land.
Their 105 acres of pasture are divided into 25 paddocks for livestock grazing. Cows are moved to a new paddock daily. Each paddock is used about once every three weeks, giving the plants that grow there time to recover. I say plants because the pastures are more than grass.
"There are lots of native plants out there," said Loretta. "We give the cows a smorgasbord. They pick and choose. They know what their nutrient needs are."
The resting grass and native plants, of course, explain the grassland birds, species becoming rarer in Minnesota because of farm-to-the-last-foot agriculture.
The crop fields -- corn, small grain and hay for the cows -- are separated by untilled boundaries of trees, brush and tall grass. Dead trees are left standing. They grow 5 acres of corn especially for the wild animals. And there's a small marsh perfect for frogs as well as a pond the size of a football field, good for ducks and a swim on a hot day. Being organic means that the pond water contains no ag chemicals.
They have 10 acres in the federal Conservation Reserve Program, set aside for trees and prairie grasses. And they put 11 acres into the Reinvest in Minnesota program. This is seasonal wetland, with cottonwoods, willows and marsh grass.
"This is a working farm," Martin said. "We have to make a living."
"But we decided to work with nature rather than against it," said Loretta.
"This is where our values are," Martin said. "It's a personal choice. It sounds sort of corny, but conventional farmers get satisfaction from production and the prices they receive. We have some of that, too, but we get immense satisfaction from the bluebirds and the upland sandpipers. We have things that give us satisfaction every day."
I wondered if a nonorganic farm could be as wildlife-friendly.
"Not to this extent," said Martin. "I'm shocked at the songbird response we've had. I don't think it would happen if we weren't organic. When you drive to our farm, you won't see a bird until you get here. They know something," he said.
And you don't have to be a bird to recognize that.
Jim Williams, a lifelong birder, is on the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge Birding Initiative Committee. He also is a member of the American Birding Association, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and Delta Waterfowl. Join his conversation about birds at www.startribune.com/wingnut. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.