When it comes to animal predators, my husband and I take different approaches. I figure it’s my job to keep my ranch animals safe with fences, coops or other secure enclosures. He figures it’s his job to eliminate the predators.
Take chickens. Free range chickens don’t need the owner to supply as much food. They can find their own grit by eating small rocks they pick up in the course of the day. Free range chickens will find their own shade on a hot day or shelter during a thunderstorm. Their eggs are loaded with micro-nutrients from a broad and varied diet, and high in vitamin D from sun exposure. Downside – you lose them all, eventually, to bobcats, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, hawks and eagles. Bears and mountain lions aren’t adverse to a chicken dinner, either. Once these animal predators have honed in on the food source, they tend to keep coming back until the table is bare. Sheep don’t have much in the way of offensive capabilities unless you raise those with horns. Not being the smartest animals on the place, they tend to run themselves to exhaustion when threatened. Horses and cows can protect themselves fairly well, although a mother in labor or a newborn baby are at risk from a lion or coyotes.
In an ideal world, animal predators and their prey would live in balance. In today’s world, greatly reduced hunting pressure (although the automobile is fairly efficient as a substitute except for bears and lions) means there are plenty of predators out there. The populations of bears and mountain lions have climbed significantly since lawmakers in California put an end to hunting them with dogs about five or six years ago. Given our differing perspectives, I give the predators a sporting chance – If I see one, I keep my mouth shut unless it is clearly an imminent threat. If hubby sees one, he heads out immediately with the artillery, whether the animal is menacing the livestock or not. In both cases, we keep the chickens in roomy, secure pens with bear-proof nighttime coops and lock the sheep up at night. The sheep also run with larger animals like cattle and the horses. Even though they’re different species, our cows and horses tend to think of the woolies as part of the herd and will protect them.
One of the biggest predator problems we have, however, doesn’t come from the wild animals. Feral dogs and especially feral cats can be a major problem. We were once awakened in the middle of the night to a tremendous commotion in the yearling paddock. Two feral dogs had cornered the yearling colts. Hubby grabbed the shotgun and barreled out in his underwear. He had to shoot both dogs, not only because they were menacing the colts but because when he yelled at them, the dogs came at him as well. Since the colts were right in the corner and he had to shoot over their backs, it was extra traumatic for the youngsters. Feral cats are notorious for killing songbirds, quail, ducklings and goslings, and will also kill chicks of domestic birds. Yet in my experience, most domestic cats don’t seem to have any interest in baby chicks – darned if I know why. We usually use a live trap for feral cats. If the cat is young and amenable to being tamed, we do so, either keeping it ourselves or finding it a good home. If not, sayonara.