Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Day 23 - Predators (No, not the fly kind!)

31 Days of Homestead Living!

Today I am going to talk to you about predators.  No, not the fly kind I told you about the other day.  Every year we have a predator problem on the farm, and it's usually not the same two years in a row.  This year the problem has been with something getting our chickens and other small animals.  It's gotten rabbits, chickens, ducks, a kitten, all kinds of things.  We still aren't certain what it is.  All we know is that it puts its "hands" in the cages to hold still the animal it targets.  It eats as much as it wants, and leaves.  The chickens' heads will be gone.  A rabbit had it's head skinned.  The animal is probably some sort of cat or a raccoon.  But a neighbor told us there are weasels around here, so I guess that is what it sounded like to her.  It's smart, too.  It can get an animal used as bait, out of the trap, without getting caught in the trap itself.  We have hardly any chickens left.  And none will lay eggs.  I don't know if that's due to the season change, or some type of fear reaction.  I definitely need to get new chickens in the spring.  Husband has varmint-proofed the chicken house, and we haven't had a problem in a few weeks.  Just no eggs.

Some of our laying hens

Young rabbits

One year, something got every baby goat we had, in a week's time!  I came home from work, and my husband said, "Please tell me you sold all the baby goats and forgot to tell me!"  I, of course, had not.  We lost the whole goat crop.  That predator was a coyote.  At the time, our large male dog had died, and we didn't have a dog around the farm.  So we got a puppy to raise up for the next year.  We also put out hair trimmings all around our fences.  We got these at barber and beauty shops.  One beautician trimmed her dogs and put those scraps in the bags, also.  This puts out scent, that the animal will avoid.  Now, we try to keep the baby goats and their mothers put up for a week or so until the kids gets a little bigger and more active.  And we keep them up at night for a while.

GrandBoy carrying a baby goat just born

More baby goats

For a while we had something that would bite all the ducks' heads off.  It was a large turtle.  My husband finally caught it in our pond, in a trap.  That incident was very upsetting to the children, to say the least. NOTE:  I read this to my husband, and he said this story is not true.  He did catch a turtle, but a racoon was biting the ducks' heads off.   

When we first moved here, one of our daughters had a pet duck named Feather.  Well one day that daughter came running into the house, telling me that her duck was flopping around in the water.  So here I go, running down the hill toward the pond to save a duck.  I thought that the turtle had Feather by the foot or something and was trying to pull her under.  Instead, the duck was having seizures.  We believe it was bitten by a snake.  So I wrapped Feather in a towel and brought her in the house.  We put her in our bathtub.  Daughter wanted to stay with her, so she slept on the floor, and I sat up with the two of them.  The duck passed away during the night and daughter was sad.  Those things happen when you live on a farm.  A friend's wife, who is a big animal lover, got mad one time when we didn't take an animal to the vet, in an instance similar to this.  Husband tried to tell her that these are farm animals, not pets, and we can't run up a huge vet bill over a $15 animal.  She never got it.

One of the oddest predators we ever had was a horse.  He was a certified mustang.  We couldn't keep him with anything except cows, and no little calves in his pasture, or he would kill them.  Well, we got a female horse as a companion for him, and she had a baby.  We wouldn't let him be with the baby.  We noticed, also, that the mother horse always tried to stay between her baby and the mustang.  But other farm people, who had been farming forever, thought we were crazy.  They said, "He ain't going to hurt that baby!  He knows it's his!".  Well, we quit guarding them, and put them back together.  Within about a week, the baby was dead.  She died in the night, before she was two weeks old.  Husband woke up, and felt he needed to check on things.  He found her body in the pond, and the mother horse wouldn't leave her.  We sold the mustang.  We had an ad in the paper for the mustang and another horse.  An old horse farmer from the community came by.  He said, "I don't want no mustang, but I'll buy that quarter horse there!"  I said, "That quarter horse IS the mustang!".  He was really a beautiful horse.  The farmer told me "a mustang will wait thirty years to hurt you".  I guess he was right.  In defence of the mustang; before we got him, he was on a stake, tied up on the side of a mountain.  I think he remembered that and wanted his own space.  Well, we don't have enough land so the horse can have his 15 acres to himself!  Or maybe the horse was just mean.

You can't put Jack donkeys in a pasture to guard the animals.  He will kill the babies, and run the animals sometimes.  We didn't know this, until we experienced problems, and then we read up about it.  Now we only use females to guard our herds.  Also, some people put a pair of donkeys in a pasture, to be company for each other.  Well, two of anything is a herd of its own, and it will be less likely to protect your herd if there is a problem.  Just use one Jenny, and she will make friends with your herd and everything will be fine.

Some years we have lost young calves, too.  No sign of them at all, just disappeared.  A professor at a local farm college told me that he had seen coyotes carry off calves.  Coyotes are a real problem around here.  At a pasture we rented this year, coyotes are a great big problem!  There has not been cows in that field in years, and it is very isolated.  The coyotes are so bad there, that the two cows and donkeys we put in to test the fence, busted out, and ran off.  Cows will get out, but they don't usually run off.  We have a photo of our cows at the local downtown restaurant.  They were out for about a week, and one cow turned crazy and had to be taken to the sale.  Hope we never have that happen again.

UPDATE to this story:  Husband said I forgot to tell you about the real Predator in this previous story.  The animal control man.  He was called by a neighbor when the cows were out, and began to chase them.  He chased them for six hours, and never caught them.  That is why the previously-good cow went crazy.  Oh, what a day that was.

nursing calf

Dogs can be a problem also.  They will chase animals until they can't run any more, then kill them.  That is why a lot of farmers carry guns. 

Owls are bad news on a farm.  They will kill and eat a lot of rodents, but they sometimes go after chickens and such also.  Husband killed one here in our hen house.  It was huge.  Its wing span was unbelievable.  His feet are still outside in our General Store. 

The last predator I am going to tell you about today is a hawk.  They will fly over, pick up small animals, and carry them off.  One day, I was in the yard.  I love Silkie chickens.  They are a "fancy" type of small chicken, and I think they are so pretty.  We keep ours in a separate pin, because they are smaller than regular chickens, and kind of delicate.  Well, I heard a ruckus in the silkie pin.  I headed that way, and I see a bird has swooped inside the pen somehow, and has a hold of a silkie.  The hawk is slinging my silkie around, banging it on the ground, and the silkie is screaming.  I take off running toward the pen (I really don't run as much as this article makes me sound).  In my head, I'm thinking,  "I really need a gun".  I yell, but all my children are inside and no one hears me, so it is me against the hawk.  I pick up a stick and get to the cage.  I beat on the pen and went to open the door.  The hawk let go of the chicken and flew out a hole in the roof.  I was so glad that he left, and my chicken was OK.  She just got up, shook herself off, and clucked to herself for a while. This is the reason people cover their chicken yards with netting or screen, so the hawks don't pick up the chickens or their baby chicks.  My husband said he would have paid a lot of money to see that event.

Well, I guess that is all the predator tales I can think of at the moment.  I read this to my oldest daughter, and she couldn't remember some of these stories.  She now wishes she doesn't remember the horse story!  Check back tomorrow and we'll think of something else to talk about.  Honey

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