His head lay there, in the grass near my feet. Eyes wide with terror, mouth open for a scream that would never come. Blood, and a good deal of it, had been shed here. It glistened red-black in the sunlight, a stark contrast to the cool green of the lawn. I could see footprints, but nothing distinct. Death had come quickly and mysteriously, once again.
It sounds like the opening of a horror novel, but it’s just another day here at the old Acorn and Thistle place. You see, predators are everywhere. We happen to have an eagle fishing out our trout pond these days – yesterday I stumbled across another huge fish head in the grass. Startles me every single time.
Predators are a perfectly natural part of things, and yet it’s understandable that we want to mitigate their effects. There’s not much we can do about our eagle, besides hope it stays focused on the pond and leaves the chickens alone. Even if it wasn’t a protected species, as eagles are, we’d still feel the same way – there’s something truly incredible about those birds, and losing one fish a week is manageable for us at this point in time.
We’ve had others come through the property, from coyotes and owls to the neighbor’s dogs. Each one has to be managed differently, based on the situation. Prevention is always the best first choice, in my opinion. That being said, however, while fences and other deterrents are an important foundation, sometimes you have to take more drastic measures.
One day, we lost a chicken to a coyote. The next day when I was getting ready for work, she came back for more. I heard a ruckus out in the chicken run, so I went outside to take a look. The coyote was running around the fence perimeter, trying to find a way in. At first, all I saw was a fluffy tail, so I ran out yelling, thinking I’d just shoo the “dog” away. When I realized what I was actually dealing with, I had to run back inside to get my rifle – and then run down to the pond where she’d headed. I took one clean, 75-yard standing shot (after running around like crazy! and dressed for a day at the office!!) and that was the last time we lost anything to a coyote.
The owls … they’re another story. Also a protected species, there’s not much we can do besides try to scare them off. I usually just run out with my camera, and take photos until they eventually fly away. (Apparently no one likes the paparazzi, even owls.) So far, they haven’t taken any of our animals – that we know of – so I’m content to just let them be. After all, what would living in the country be, without the wildlife?
There are some predators that are harder to deal with. One time, our neighbor’s dog broke into the chain-link kennel where we keep our rabbits. He literally ripped part of the metal fencing off the frame trying to get in, but wasn’t able to make the opening large enough to get through. Thank goodness. I discovered the damage during my morning rounds one day; I managed to find five of the seven missing rabbits before I needed to leave for work, and found one more when I came home that evening. I was sad to lose the one, but really, it could have been worse. This same dog killed two of my chickens the year prior; unfortunately the neighbors weren’t too bothered by either of these episodes. So, we still have to be careful – especially when we hear him on the loose again.
And then there are the micro-predators … the rabbits, the squirrels, the insects. If you really think about it, we’re practically surrounded. Think a little bit further though, and you’ll realize that they just want the same thing that we do – to live, simply. Managing your predators is an important part of living a rural life; losses can add up quickly. If you’re relying on what you raise, be it animal or vegetable, excessive predation can mean the difference between putting food up and having to spend money at the grocery store.
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