Please note, that the images here are only to make me feel better after a bad week of predation! Dinners from the farm that include our pastured poultry, kale, sage lamb sausage from KyLamb, asparagus, eggs and sweet potatoes. Eat real food and it will make you happy.- J
I value the guardian behavior of our animals as one is charged to protect the other. We have house cats that are free to go outside; barn cats that mostly hang out in the garage; a companion red heeler mutt who rarely leaves my side; and a Maremma livestock guardian dog (LGD). Baxter, the LGD, has challenged our thinking in owning dogs. He has reinforced that animals follow their instinct above all else. He is not a pet, rather a worker that is a critical component to keeping our farm alive.
And, to that point, this week has been a challenging one. On Tuesday morning, after doing morning rounds to open the barn and check on the pastured poultry, Andy says there is some good news and some bad news. I get butterflies in my stomach when he says that. Apparently after our 75 laying hens were freed from the security of the barn for the day a fox did a morning grab? Two dead just south of the blueberries; I was charged with disposal but by the time I got back there they had returned to actualize the meal. I was glad they returned to take the birds because I would rather they not go to waste, plus this was how we were able to determine the likely predator as fox. Dogs kill for sport; fox kill for sustenance. Oh, and the good news, Andy added, was that our 102 Freedom Rangers (a chicken breed we raise for meat) down in the nut grove looked great.
So, during the day on Wednesday, while I was away, it seems the fox returned. There were additional 6 or so scenes of struggle. Not every pile of feathers corresponded to a dead hen; and there were several missing their tail feathers (sort of like a lizard.) By our best count I think we lost 4 or 5 hens that day and all I kept thinking is that the fox will keep coming back if I don’t do something.
So, yes, we live with constant anxiety over who might be dead in the morning-or afternoon! To allay this anxiety we have employed Baxter to the nut grove to patrol the area where our pastured poultry are rangeing inside of an electrified fence. He does a great job keeping the fox from even thinking they can take a chance. But on Thursday morning it seems that our configuration was a bit off. The nut grove is perfect for free-ranging chickens because the trees actually deter aerial attacks by hawks. Well, it seems the way we arranged their little A-frame shelters allowed for a clear aerial path between the row of nut trees and 2 little Rangers got it. The viscera was left behind which is an indication of a hawk strike. This batch of Freedom Rangers was special because up until Thursday morning we were at 100% success rate. 102 chicks came in the mail and we still had 102 chicks at 1 month. Damn that hawk? Or is it our faulty configuration?
Okay, now it is Saturday morning, a lamb is born on the 15th anniversary of my my father’s death due to prostate cancer. I like the idea of rebirth so this marked the occasion well. But, as I was checking on the lamb Andy was noting we had a problem again from the other end of the pasture. 3 more broilers dead! No heads or neck! We finish the chores and I head to Lexington to sell my blueberries. There I described my dilemma to 2 seasoned poultry farmers and both immediately said OWLS!
So, ultimately it is playing out like this: Baxter was being freed from his pasture patrol in the morning to go back to the barn area as I pick blueberries to maybe deter daytime fox predation? Now we are going to ride it out for a few days and just keep them in the barn. The broilers in the nut grove are going to get a netting strung between 4 trees to thwart an aerial attack…..or that’s the plan at least.