On Life, Death, and Predators
This spring marks our third season bringing home chicks to raise and add to our egg laying flock. It’s our first year with ducklings and the first that we’ll have a goat kidding on our farm. Soon we’ll be tilling the earth and planting seedlings for our summer garden. Springtime is a season of new life, and that’s probably why it’s my favorite. As the days grow longer, I feel re-energized (coming out of that seasonal-blahs-funk) and full of hope. I get excited about all the new babies in the barnyard and about all the things we can build or do when the warm temperatures arrive.
It’s easy to forget that death is as much a part of our lives, and a part of what we sign up for we decide to raise livestock. You do your very best to practice good husbandry of your animals, feeding them, sheltering them, and keeping a vigilant eye out for any signs of illness or injury. Despite our best efforts though, sometimes we lose an animal. Sometimes it’s a mystery illness or an injury that can’t be fixed. Other times it’s a predator that somehow slips past a fence or into a coop.
It’s always a learning experience, and it pretty much always sucks.
Chickens are pretty much THE favorite target of every predator out there — weasels, hawks, coyotes, foxes, fisher cats, raccoons — you name it, and it likely has a taste for your poultry. We were lucky our first two years with our chickens and ducks. We didn’t even see signs of predators snooping around. That probably gave us a false sense of security. This year, we’ve lost one duck and one chicken to predators, and two hens to unknown causes (one I suspect egg binding, the other I haven’t a clue).
For me, the worst part is not knowing what happened. In the first case of a predator attack, I witnessed the culprit in the act — a Cooper’s Hawk picking our poor hen’s carcass clean. So I had my answer there. In the case of the second predator attack, it happened in the middle of a sunny day (some time between 10:30 AM and 3:00 PM), about 2 or 3 feet INSIDE the coop, and it removed my duck’s head but left the rest. My rooster attacked whatever it was too, because he sacrificed quite a few of his own feathers in the tussle. We don’t know if it was a weasel or raccoon (both known for taking off heads, but not typically out in broad daylight) or if the hawk came back (though I can’t imagine it swooping inside the coop). We can’t know for sure, and that’s frustrating because the only solution is to throw everything you’ve got at it — traps, cameras, electrified netting. Personally, I’d rather have a more strategic approach by knowing exactly what I’m dealing with, but it doesn’t always work that way.
Of course, it’s not just chickens. We’ve had rabbits who had difficult births and lost one or more of their kits. We have a pregnant goat due to kid in late-April or May, and I’m already a hovering midwife–waiting, watching, and worrying. With the excitement of new life comes the knowledge of what can go wrong bringing that life into the world. While I hope our first kidding will be completely successful, it’s still new territory for us, and there’s always the chance things won’t go as planned.
We read. We make sure we have supplies and medicines on hand. We have experienced friends and our veterinarian on speed-dial. We do our best, and we go on, taking the good with the bad.