Musings of a Retired Hobby Farmer

Nan York

Farmers world-wide and throughout history have delt with animal predation of their livestock.  Let’s face it, corralled and tethered animals are seen as fair game by feathered and furred predatory hunters alike.  Hobby Farmers are constantly finding innovative methods to control/eliminate these gutsy and lusty hunters.

In previous musings, I talked about raising donkeys, goats, and chickens, and a few turkeys.  I did mention the ‘evil black snake’ who consumed, not only eggs, but a few hatchlings.  Snakes have excellent sensors and are able to detect the heat animals give off as well as the sounds they make.  Coming out of hibernation in the early spring, snakes are quite hungry and are drawn to the ‘cheeping’ sounds that baby chicks make.  As a result, they zero in on the sounds and the heat the chickens give off and are soon seen slithering into the chicken coop for a tasty meal or two.  The hens and roosters sound the alarm when the intruder is seen and soon the ‘farmer’ comes to the rescue with the “snake-catching-kit” which consists of a 5-gallon bucket with a laundry bag draped over the sides of the bucket, leather gloves, a snare, and a lot of guts and overflowing with adrenaline.  The snake is spotted by the farmer who ‘gently’ prods the snake into the open bucket.  The laundry bag is drawn closed, and the ‘evil’ snake is driven to nearby woods and released.  After this chicken coop drama has ended, the hens will stop laying eggs for several days until they have recovered from the trauma.

Our 1200 square foot chicken yard was protected by a 6-foot-high chain link fence, cinderblock edging around the base perimeter of the yard, and bird netting that was strung to make a see-thru ceiling.  A small Fort Knox to protect birds, that in the Farm Supply Store cost about $1.25 each!  And yet, the predators came and saw and tried with all their might to conquer and taste the smorgasbord they thought was available to them.  Critters like raccoons and possums climbed over the fence and chewed through the ceiling to get a tasty morsel or two.  Live traps were set and critters caught and released into nearby woods.

The most challenging predators were the winged creatures who would sit in a nearby tree and watch and wait.  They knew my feeding schedule and would try to attack shortly after I left the coop area about 5pm.  They knew I would be back about 8:30pm to lock the birds up for the night.  The Hawks would watch the chickens in their yard and dive through the bird netting, capture a hen, and fly back through the hole they made coming in.  Bald Eagles would be attracted as well and successfully took out a white turkey.  To deter these winged menaces, we would play tapes of shooting guns & firecrackers to make enough noise to discourage them from landing.  This was our ritual each spring and summer until the hawk and eagle hatchlings flew from their nests. Our nearby neighbors were in on this distraction as they too had chickens and other fowl that were prey.  What a way to solidify a neighborhood against a common enemy!  Friends to this day!