Notes From a First Time Front Yard Farmers: Predators #1

I often feel my adventures in front yard farming are one big lesson in what not to do.  The biggest example that comes to mind has been our attempts at predator control.  I live in Alaska.  We have lots of predators that love to eat chickens and ducks – foxes, bears, coyotes, varieties of weasels, the list goes on.  There are also the aerial ones – eagles, hawks, pesky magpies, and ravens.  Even the moose can be a problem.  Moose won’t eat your poultry, but they have no hesitation in jumping over any fencing you have and causing a ruckus.

When the chickens and ducks were still little, and living in the living room, my husband and I looked outside one evening to see a moose browsing on the willow scrub in our swamp.  There were no leaves on the trees yet, so we could see him clearly, and out from the underbrush waltzed a red fox.  He was beautiful, brightly colored with two white feet, and a big bushy tail.  The fox circled around the moose, who was ignoring him, and then it looked like the fox was dancing around his long legs while he kept on munching.  It was really fun to watch, but it also meant we needed to consider building Fort Knox for the poultry.

I can honestly say we did for the chickens.  The bottom of their fence is partially buried so it can’t be dug under, it’s more than six feet tall so it can’t be jumped over, and the top of the fence curls in just in case.  After our favorite chicken, Centuria, was eaten by the fox, no more free ranging.  Occasionally a magpie will fly down into the chicken run to snatch scraps, but the chickens ignore him, and the magpie usually leaves to go about his business.

The biggest problem has not really been the wildlife, but other people’s pets.  So, we had moved our original six chickens into Fort Knox, and later moved in six more that we had inherited.  They were Jersey Giants, four of them turned out to be roosters, and two were hens.   The Jersey’s, as they were collectively called, were okay.  They weren’t my favorite chickens, but they weren’t mean, and had the potential to provide a great deal of meat in the future.  The problem was that they would not go in at night with the other chickens.  Instead, they would line up and wait for me to come out and toss them into the coop.  I didn’t mind this nightly ritual until it got to be -20 Fahrenheit, and the wind was blowing over 30 mph.  At that point, I decided I would give them extra corn, and they could just stay outside.  This actually worked out.  None of the chickens froze, and they got to stay by the food bucket and eat all night long.

One evening we were sleeping, when we heard a great deal of racket in the chicken yard and coop.  There was crowing, thumping, and squawking.  We looked out the window to see what was going on, and all we saw were the Jersey’s hanging about like normal.  The next morning my oldest son went outside to let the other chickens out of their coop, and found one of the Jersey Giants under it, missing his head.

After that, a bit of Chicken CSI ensued.  The yard was scoured for blood, which we found on the other side, nowhere near the corpse.  My husband looked around the outside of the coop, and found cat tracks.  They went from the driveway, across the yard, and up to the nesting box.  We think the cat must have jumped up there, and then onto the roof of the coop, and down into the yard, where it made its kill.

It is irritating when the fox get a duck or chicken.  However, he is getting food for him and his mate, and possibly kits.  That’s how nature works.  House pets on the other hand, do not kill for food.  They just do it for sport, and leave the dead animal behind.  Their owners should be responsible and keep them in their own yard.

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