Living with Wildlife


That's not snow on the ground!

I am a firm believer that wildlife should stay wild. While I enjoy watching the wild turkeys or the Canada geese wandering around our pastures and pecking at the leftover grain hay (the turkeys scratch it up just like oversize chickens), I have no desire to tame them. I don’t want a tame raccoon, and while their relatives the ring-tailed cats are very cute, I don’t plan to make a pet out of one as the old sourdough prospectors once did. Unfortunately, wildlife can become habituated to humans, which means the scent of people is not enough to send them scampering. That can cause some problems on a ranch.

The latest of these little kerfuffles is the yearling deer that have found the screenings bag and climbed right in – literally. Screenings are the leftovers from ground grain we feed to our pigs and chickens; finely ground bran and husks with some grain mixed in. We use mostly corn screenings, which all of our critters love. Even the honey bees like them; on a warm day in midwinter, the screenings bag will have dozens of bees crawling around in it, presumably eating the screenings. The bees are as lethargic as though they had been drugged – I don’t know if it’s the sugar in the corn or something else, but they obviously love the stuff.

The deer apparently found the screenings just as appealing, chewing holes in the tote bag and making one heckuva mess. Since I didn’t particularly like the idea of sitting up all night to guard my screenings and I knew if we chained the dog to the tree nearby he would just bark all night (which would keep the deer away but ruin everybody’s sleep in the process), I tried camouflage. I covered the screenings bag with a tarp and weighted it down with some nice big rocks. Not big enough, because the next morning I had more holes, more strewn screenings and more deer tracks. So I covered the bag again and put a nice heavy wooden pallet on it. That did the trick.

If you live in the country, you have to be prepared to keep the critters out of your stuff. Deer can easily jump a standard four- or five-strand barbed wire fence, while turkeys can fly over it and quail can climb through. Snakes can slither into some surprising places. Mice are ubiquitous and ground squirrels are in league with the devil. Short of a ten-foot high slip-formed concrete and stone wall such as those popularized by Helen and Scott Nearing that goes at least two feet in the ground – and frankly, I doubt if even that would stop the blasted ground squirrels – you must resign yourself to a certain amount of damage and loss.

However, you don’t want to go down without a fight, either. Seal animal feed in good solid wooden or metal boxes. My plan for the screenings, for example, is to build a wooden bin large enough to dump the screenings into. We have a couple of steel cargo containers – like a semi-truck body without the wheels – that can keep out everything except ants, and since they can’t carry much, I don’t worry about them. If you are storing human food such as potatoes or root vegetables in a place such as root cellar or a bin in the ground, use metal containers to fend off mice and rats. Keep barn cats to handle the mice that find your hay so tasty (and they have to stay in the barn to be effective). It also helps to encourage owls and foxes if you have too many mice. Just make sure your chickens are in a nice secure coop or Br’er Fox will help himself to a chicken dinner!

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