The squirrel and the ‘possum: A story of American agriculture


I have had bird feeders close to the house for 35 years. The bear tore them down a couple of times a few years ago, and we had to stop feeding for a month. Other than that we have always fed a herd of a few hundred “livestock” as I call them.

Regular customers

Most of the customers are very regular. The chickadees are nearly tame, and stay in the lowest branches of the tree when I am filling the feeder. One frozen goldfinch let me pick it up on my finger last winter.

Fairly regularly when I take the “boys” out, I have to tap the glass on the door to scare away a squirrel. If not, the “boys,” a black Lab and a white Westy, have to chase it instead of doing what I took them out to do.

Some people try to keep squirrels away, not wanting to see sunflowers wasted, but I figure he is just getting fatter, and he is fun to watch, and he is likely to just be a bigger meal for the Lab some day.

At night I have to watch for the ‘possum at the base of the feeder. If I don’t warn him we are coming, he quivers a little, then passes out. I have always heard that they “play possum.” Not so. Some chemical, the opposite of adrenaline, hits his blood stream when he sees Chubbs, and he never moves another inch.

I think of these animals as I watch the grain markets these days. Corn seems to be headed to zero, if you are a farmer who remembers $7 corn. The bottom has actually been 3.02 on the December contract, but that is pretty ugly if the seed and fertilizer cost you so much that you spent $4 a bushel to grow it.

Frost scare

The market used a frost scare and a bullish USDA Supply and Demand Report to bounce to 3.47 3/4 a week ago, but that didn’t last long. A frost scare requires frost eventually.

We closed back at 3.16 yesterday, but have gained 3 1/2 overnight. November soybeans had a low of 8.92 on the 14th, but was nearly 86 cents higher at one point the next day. The high did not hold, and we are now at 9.21.

Volatility in the markets gives opportunities some times, but the squirrel farmer and the ‘possum farmer miss them.

The squirrel goes energetically to the market feeder with one eye out for something bad, but as he gets started nibbling, the ADD kicks in and forgets to pay attention to what is going on around him.

Suddenly that lumbering oaf of a 100-pound Lab who can’t run as fast as the squirrel if he is paying attention, has chewed enough of him to get him in his mouth with only the feet and tail sticking out.

The marketing ‘possum goes to the feeder tentatively, and at the first sign of trouble freezes in place. Unable to act, he loses his opportunity.

Little birds

The little birds, meanwhile, nibble a little every day and thrive. No matter if the feeder is piled high or just has a few seeds in the corner, they do some regular marketing and don’t worry.

The market Lab can’t bite them if they just do their job and don’t hop onto the ground where they don’t belong.

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