Notes From a First Time Front Yard Farmer: Predators Part 2

With chickens and ducks around, you have pretty much painted a bulls-eye on your house for the local predators.  If you let them free range you have to be able to accept the risk something is going to come by for the chance at a free meal.  I remember one morning I was in the kitchen washing dishes when I heard the chickens raising a ruckus, I looked out the window, and here comes the fox.  I ran outside and watched as he trotted down the yard, through the driveway, and disappeared into the edge of the swamp.  The ducks stood behind their fence just watching him pass on by.  They had this expression in their eyes, like they were thinking, “Huh, would you look at that.  A fox just came through.”

I decided I would keep them in their yard, and not let them out to grub freely.  It was hard though, because they really liked roaming all over in search of bugs and fresh dandelion leaves.  So, one morning, after not having seen the fox for a while, I let them out.  Our favorite drake, Herman, became the fox’s breakfast.  I was upset, but I had known there was a risk a duck could get grabbed, and I took it anyway.  It’s part of having farm animals.  They are not just part of your food chain, but the local wildlife’s as well.  The problem I have is with people’s domesticated animals.  Cats and dogs do not eat the prey they get, they just play with it.

At the beginning of August I had eight ducks.  McGonagall, a Pekin-Khaki Campbell hybrid, Cranky duck (the other one had also become a meal for the fox), our only Cayuga duck, two Pekin ducks – Fleur and Bill, and six Khaki Campbells.  We were going to eat a couple of them and keep the rest for eggs.  It was fun to let them out in the morning and watch them dive into their duck pond, and hop out for the dandelion leaves the kids and I had gathered and tossed to them.  I found it really funny to watch them run with their beaks open catching flies and mosquitos out of the air.

Part of our former flock.
Part of our former flock.

One morning I sent my oldest son outside to let the ducks out.  I heard him scream, and then he came running into the house, hollering the ducks were all around the yard, dead.  Grabbing my sweater and shoes, I ran outside, and all I saw were their broken bodies.  My husband came out, and we began to look to see if any had survived.  There were a couple still moving, but their backs were broken, and they could not be saved.  I thought the whole flock was gone, until I looked in the duck house and saw Fleur in a far corner, bloodied and a bit injured, but whole.

After we cleaned up the dead ducks, my husband looked around to see if we could figure out what had done this.  He saw in the mud around the duck house dog prints.  We do not own a dog.  It was someone else’s animal who had come to our house, and decimated the flock.

I’m going to be honest here, dogs are not my favorite. Personally, I am more of a cat person.  However, I can understand how people become very attached to their dogs, and I have friends who have dogs I like.  What infuriates me is when people allow their dogs to roam wherever, and do not take responsibility for what their animal could be getting into outside of their yard.    Just because your pet likes you, and is friendly with you, does not mean it is going to feel the same about everyone else.  Not to mention the fact that dogs like chasing birds, and catching them, and playing them.  Playing with the bird usually results in its death.  Unlike a fox, or bear, or hawk, dogs do not eat the bird.  After they have killed it, the game is over, and they wonder on.

After this tragedy, we invested in a better lock on the duck house door.  We got three juvenile ducklings, Napoleon, Nelson, and Victoria (now known as the Ladies) so Fleur would still have a flock.  The ducks are put in if we are going to be gone for a long stretch of time, and I am going to invest in a couple of live traps from the animal shelter.  I am willing to accept the loss of a bird or two from the local wildlife, but not from pets around the neighborhood.

Fleur a few days after the dog attack. She is injured, but happy to have more ducks around.
Fleur a few days after the dog attack. She is injured, but happy to have more ducks around.
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