Aside from pack rats our biggest animal problems have been ground squirrels, rabbits and deer.
Ground squirrels inhabit most of our area, leaving unsightly (and dangerous to livestock) mounds of earth around holes they've burrowed into the ground. They'll literally consume everything you've planted in the garden in a short time if you don't keep them out of your garden and flower beds. Our dog kills them outside of the garden fence but inside the fence we have to use guns, traps, and sometimes poison.
An air rifle is an efficient and economical replacement for a conventional firearm for eliminating small garden pests and predators. I prefer .22 caliber over .177.
This summer we returned late from our snowbird location then immediately had to go to Kansas for a few weeks after my stepfather died. When we got back home it was too late to plant a garden. The ground squirrels had pretty much taken it over anyway since the dog was with us. They'd had their litters for the spring so they were everywhere. My record was 23 shot and trapped in one day. About two-thirds were the youngsters. Even now, weeks later, I'm still averaging two per day in my traps in the garden. Next year I'll come home early and try to get them under control right away.
That cute little bunny rabbit can do a lot of damage to your garden in a very short time.
I once thought the little rabbit hopping about in the garden and playing with the kitten was cute. I let it go all summer long. It was still around when we headed south in the winter. When we returned the next spring I found out that the cute little bunny had girdled all but one of our apple trees. It was gone by the time we got home and I can only hope it died a painful death in the teeth or talons of a predator.
I shoot them on sight now. We have snowshoe hares around here and they are edible if you pressure can or cook them. Otherwise they're tough to chew. (Cottontail rabbits are tastier table fare.)
An alternative to an air rifle or firearm is this Crosman model 1322 pump-type pellet pistol. It has enough power for small pests and predators. The optional shoulder stock makes hitting the target easier.
Deer can cause a lot of damage and the only way to reliably keep them out of your garden is a good fence. Ours are about 6 feet high. We had a spare patch of ground we planted corn, peas and beans in one year. We put up a temporary fence out of plastic drift fencing but the deer discovered that they could tear it with their hooves. They entered the garden area and ate all of the peas and most of the bean plants down to bare ground the first night. My wife had some old bear (pepper) spray and applied it liberally to the corn and remaining beans. When we went out the next day everything was tramped down. Apparently the deer ate some of the sprayed plants then stomped around either in pain, anger, or confusion before leaving. They never came back but then there was nothing left for them to eat either. We called that encounter a "draw." No real winners but at least we got a little revenge on the hoofed vandals!
The other nuisance animals are mostly predators after our chickens. Chicken seems to be high on the preferred food list of about every predator in existence. In our experience this means skunks, badgers, weasels, raccoons, owls, hawks, eagles, bobcats, mountain lions, grizzly bears, and the neighbor's dogs.
We protect our chickens with chicken wire fencing under around and over their "run" and I shut them inside the coop every night. I'm not worried that the chickens will escape ... I worry that the predators will get them if I don't. Weasels in particular can squeeze through very small openings and they'll kill every chicken they can find just for the joy of killing. We also have an electric fence around the coop and run to keep the bears out.
Some will be offended by what I've written. Many people do not want to see animals killed but if you're growing food for your family you see things differently. You also have a duty to protect domestic animals in your care. That means you keep them safe from both disease and predators.
One of the saddest stories I ever heard was of a couple who moved out into a rural area of Montana with their horses. They spent one evening clutching their pocket pooch and huddled in fear in their living room listening to the dying screams of their horses penned up in the barn as a mountain lion shredded their skin off in giants ribbons with its claws. It had to be a relief when it got a grip on the neck of one horse with its teeth and bit through the arteries. The horse quickly bled to death at that point. The other horse, a yearling colt, had to be shot the next day. Its injuries were too great for it to recover.
When I talked to them later they just shrugged their shoulders and said that they didn't believe in owning guns and their dog was too small to fight a lion. Besides, they quipped, the lion was there first.
I sincerely hope no one ever sold them another horse again.
They moved back to California a couple of years later. Seems they couldn't get along with their backwards "gun-toting" neighbors. Their neighbors were glad to see them go.
Predators and pests are a fact of life for homesteaders so its best to have plans in place to protect your property, livestock, and crops.
I'll continue our story in future posts.
If you've enjoyed what you've read so far you might want to check into my book, Creating the Low Budget Homestead, (Available in the Grit bookstore: http://www.grit.com/shopping/detail.aspx?itemnumber=6510). It's filled with homesteading advice you won't find anywhere else. Most homesteading books tell you how to raise livestock, grow a garden and preserve your harvest. My book focuses on how to pursue your homesteading dream on a budget that would make Ebeneezer Scrooge envious.
You may also view my blog, Off-Grid, Self-Sufficient, Montana Homestead Life.
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