Up till recently, we have been very lucky when it comes to predators. In our immediate area, we have a couple coyote dens on the surrounding properties and the typical skunks, opossum, fox and minx. We also have a couple of bears and bobcat, too. But what is a homestead predator, what is predator load and why is it important?
Let’s First Answer: What is a predator?
A predator is simply any creature that wishes, is programmed and is able to do harm. That is a very broad definition right? But the reality is that anything could be a predator. The rabbit in your garden is a predator because it wants to harm (eat) your plants. A chicken is a predator to plants and bugs, sometimes each other.
It’s natural to think that predators are only big, scary animals with bigger teeth and claws. And while that is correct, you also have to broaden your definitions when you homestead or care for any kind of livestock. And, it’s not just other animals you have to be careful of. Humans are just as bad, if not worse predators.
What is Predator Load?
By definition, predator load is the amount of predators that come through your property or surrounding property. It could be high, moderate, or low and it can be seasonal as well. If you don’t know your predator load, I would start talking to your neighbors, local extension office, or Google. I would also do this prior to getting livestock.
Just by knowing our neighbors and having their phone numbers, we have successfully avoided several attacks. We alert our neighbors, or they alert us, and we get outside with our animals or put them up.
Why is knowing your predator load important?
Once you know what is going to actively try and kill your animals (besides your goats trying to kill themselves), you can start planning steps to fix problems before they arise. For example; I stated above that we have coyote, bear, bob cat, minx, skunk, and opossum as our homestead predators. This tells me that I need to make sure that I have secured my chicken coop at night. It also tells me that I need to put my goats up at night too. But my day time problems, shouldn’t be too bad.
Next, you need to start researching various predator deterrents. There are several non lethal methods but at the end of the day, you have to decide how you are going to protect the animals in your care. Whether that is trapping and releasing, SSS (Shoot, Shovel, Shut Up), or hoping that they decide to leave a free buffet alone. Otherwise, you’ll need to mark off a section of your property for your animal cemetery.
How We Handle Predator Load
One of the first things we did, when it started getting cooler, was to start working on our goat barn. We knew that the coyotes were going to start coming up into the yard to find food. I was not going to risk my goats lives because I didn’t want to build them a secure enclosure for night.
Another thing we did was order these. They are predator lights. We have them all over the property to help deter predators. It’s not foolproof but it does help. We’ve got them in the garden, around the chicken coop, goat barn, etc.
We also have huge dogs that we have praised for alerting us since we got them. Bear is our smallest at 75# and Kodi is our biggest at a skinny 140#, we are working to put more weight on him. This helps because most predators are not going to come into the yard of dogs that are 2-3x the size of them. We also rotate dogs in and out of the house so there is always a dog outside during the day.
Lastly, we practice SSS. I really struggle with this because I don’t want to harm another animal. Especially one that is doing what it is supposed to be doing. I struggle when we butcher meat chickens. But at the same time, when I bought animals, I took on the responsibility of keeping them safe. I take that very seriously. Not just in terms of predators but also educating myself on the best possible practices for their care.
I tell you all this because we have officially lost our first chicken to a fox. I was at work and Jared sent me a text saying that our favorite chicken was killed by a fox. When I was able to call him, I got the recap. Apparently, the fox was chasing our ducks and chickens around the house before he finally caught one. Jared was too far away from the rifle and by the time he got to it, the chicken was dead and the fox was enjoying his meal. We have since beefed up our protection measures and hopefully, won’t lose anymore chickens, ducks, or goats.
So before you get livestock, save yourself some heartache and do some research. Not just on the types of animals, breeds, and their care. Research the predator load in your area, how to handle it, and how you are going to deal with the predator that maims or kills your favorite chicken.
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