Most people who live on a small hobby farm have a garden, a field with crops for both food and pasture, and livestock, ranging from animals as small as chickens to as large as cattle. They also likely have a bunch of different wild critters who are interested in stealing their food and killing their animals.
While seasoned farmers have usually established their best management methods for dealing with predators, the new farmer is typically too overwhelmed with learning the basics to have time for predator patrol and animal removal. Each animal has different predators to contend with. As most beginning homesteaders start by raising poultry, here are the basics you need to know about predators and protection:
Predators From The Sky
If you have chickens, guineas, ducks, turkey, or geese, the owls, hawks, and other birds of prey who live in your neighborhood, as well as those passing through, have taken notice. They perch unnoticed, often a considerable distance away, and they wait and watch. Their incredible vision allows them to survey the situation, and when the birds or chicks are put out to free range, they quietly swoop in without you even noticing. Most of the time, an owl or hawk will simply grab the bird with their powerful and sharp talons and carry it off. Occasionally, they will drop it, but the damage from their talons is almost always too severe to save the animal. Small dogs fall prey to hawks as well. Sometimes, if the prey is larger, they will swoop in, grab it by the back, and use their sharp beak to rip the head off in one fell swoop.
Unfortunately, birds of prey cannot be eradicated; they are a fact of farm life there to stay, and they are protected by law. Red-tailed hawks and the great horned owl are the most aggressive and the usual culprits. The only way to protect your flock from aerial predators is by keeping them confined or installing a double net over their feeding area.
- Opossums are great at keeping the tick population down. They're also great at sneaking their way into the coop at night and helping themselves to eggs and chickens both. They may play dead if you encounter them, or they may come running, teeth ready. Opossums also spread disease and are particularly dangerous to horses.
- Raccoons and their opposable thumbs make them the perfect egg stealing bandit and killer of chickens. They can easily open and close latches and doors. And while a raccoon may be cuter than an opossum, they have a high likelihood of carrying rabies.
- A fox will go on a killing frenzy if it gets near your chickens. It will destroy every bird, chick, and egg in sight. It will always kill far more than it could ever consume.
- Coyotes and domestic dogs will typically grab one bird and carry it off before consuming. Bobcats generally do the same.
- Skunk, badgers, and weasels will leave the evidence behind as they generally need to burrow into the coop and can't fit both themselves and the prey back out.
What Can Be Done?
The best option for new farmers is to call an animal removal service. They will help you determine which animals are causing a problem, offer advice on how to prevent future livestock losses, and take care of the actual removal, relocation, or execution depending on the animal and state laws.
Contact a company like Tri-County Dead Stock Inc for more information and assistance.