In our four years of poultry raising in an urban backyard in Montana, we lost a total of three birds to predators. And two of those were by the mouths of domesticated dogs. In our first seven months here at the farm, we’ve already seen five birds succumb to the jaws and the hunger of the wild animals that we share this land with.
Raccoons and raptors have dealt the death blows. And we always say ” well they have to eat too”…but in four of the five deaths, the predator ate just a bit of skin and meat from the back, and maybe a liver in the case of the raptor, but left the vast majority of the animal in the field. Perhaps they were scared off before they could finish their meal, or maybe they took a nutritious bite of fat or organ meat, and then moved on.
Though we wish they would at least clean their plate when they kill our livestock, we still hold no ill will toward these carnivores. While it is heart breaking to lose an animal we’ve come to know, we none the less welcome the meat eaters that come in from the woods. We love to hear the coyotes in the morning, and we can’t wait to see the black bear that roams the edges of the pastures. We also understand that it is our prime responsibility to protect our animals, both the $10 chickens and the $500 hogs alike, from these hungry creatures.
In the early days, we lost a few birds to a failure of management (we let the ducks roam free at night, since they hate to be put to bed in the coop), but our recent deaths have occurred in the middle of the day. So the moral conundrum arises-do we we lock the animals into small predator proof pens during the day or do we continue to let them roam far and wide? The free range is full of food and interest, but it is also wrought with peril. We choose for them, as we did for ourselves, good food and potential peril. A good short life is better than a long dull one.
The coyotes, hawks and bears were here first, and our fence lines, our weeds, our smells and our sounds have displaced them from a bit of their world. A good land management ethic must first admit to this displacement, and then must reconcile with those wild things through appropriate design, conservative development and active restoration. And that’s one of the main reasons why we bought this farm: to find a way to grow food for ourselves, and at the same time create a landscape that is diverse, productive and inviting for the wild animals that call this place home as well.
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