Friday, April 19, 2013

Predators!

Starting out with livestock, I learned very quickly that I had predators to deal with. Either that  or have no livestock. Predators very quickly discovered that a new smorgasbord had opened up in town!

The predator list for my farm includes:
   Dogs
   Cats
   Feral pigs
   Mongoose
   Hawks

Dogs are not a constant danger, but when they are creating havoc, it can be devasting. Around here we seldom see feral dogs. In fact, I'm not sure we ever actually have had them. But strays and abandoned dogs are a real menace. People tend to blame hunters' and neighbors' stray dogs for  the problem, but on my road it is almost always dropped off abandoned dogs. Only three times in the past ten years has livestock on my road been damaged  or killed by another neighbor's loose dog. Only once by an out of control pack of hunting dogs. So the overwhelming number of attacks have been by abandoned dogs. 

So what do I do about dogs?
1- My entire 20 acres is enclosed by either 4 foot high fencing, rock wall, or sturdy gates. This wasn't cheap! But after losing plenty of sheep, I had choose between fencing/livestock vs no fencing/no livestock. I opted for livestock, so over a period of two years, I erected a fence and rock wall. So far this barrier has successfully kept out all but one dog, and luckily that dog had no interest in the livestock.
2- The fence is enhanced with a hotwire top, mid, and bottom. It's main function is to keep the livestock from damaging the fence, but also to deter dogs and pigs from pushing under the fencing. 
3- I keep a farm dog who helps keep strays off the property. She will chase any that she sees along the fence line. 

Other farmers will keep a flock or herd protector. Down the road an alpaca owner kept two Antolian Shepherd dogs. Flock protecting dogs are fairly common. A friend of mine kept a donkey to protect his sheep. Other farmers rely upon traps to capture dogs, thus eliminate them. 

What about cats? What damage could they do? Well honestly, I have never had an issue with cats causing much damage. My farm dogs keep ferals away from the house. I've never had my own cats hurt my chickens even when they were chicks. But I do take steps to keep the chicks protected from cats until they are 8 weeks old (the age that they no longer need supplemental heat). With the dogs keeping the ferals away from the house area, I don't have the problems that other people report-- cat fights, tom cat spraying, bird kills around feeders. So the farm dogs are excellent protection. 

Feral pigs! Pigs are real common in my area. At times their numbers explode and neighbors call in pig hunters to bring the population down. One time a hunter trapped around 150 pigs on my neighbor's place. Yikes! Prior to fencing my land, we occasionally had pigs come by. But our farm dogs kept most of the pigs at bay. I have one particular dog who feels it is his duty in life to chase away feral pigs from around the front half of the farm. Boy, let a pig into your garden and it's history!  They can do an incredible amount of destruction in just one night. 

My pig control methods include barriers (fencing, rock walls, hotwire, secure gates) and farm dogs. This  so far has worked. But I do allow one feral sow access to my back 5-6 acres. Why? We harvest the piglets, well actually a friend does. So far no other pigs have joined her. She knows how to leave the area obviously to breed, but must be possessive enough to keep other pigs out. That's just fine with me. We get pork while doing very little work for it.

Mongoose.....a pervasive pest here. They are notorious stealers of eggs and killers of young chickens. I've lost plenty of eggs to these critters before I ever learned that they would do that. They broke into the chicken pen and wiped out an entire year's half grown chickens. When I was experimenting with chicken tractors, they got the hens twice. Needless to say, I really dislike mongooses around the farm.

I control mongoose by trapping. Being aggressive, greedy meat eaters, they readily enter traps. I have heard of people putting out poison, but I'm adverse to that. Something else could come along and eat the poison. I also hear tales of owners' dogs being used to run down and kill mongooses. But that's not nearly as effective as a havahart type trap. Once trapped, you need to dispatch the mongoose. Different people use different methods. Drowning, shooting, car exhaust gas,  release and let the dog kill it. Some people can't bring themselves to kill it, so they drive miles away to release the mongoose in a remote area.

Hawks-- We have the beautiful I'o (Hawaiian hawk) living in our area. It's an endangered species, thus protected by law. I don't have any quibble with it being protected. It just means that I have to take steps to protect my birds. Shooting or otherwise killing, harming, or harrassing the I'o is a no-no. So is the I'o a problem for me? Yes, but not too bad. I've lost a few chickens to them, but not too many. I take three major steps to keep the predation loses low.
1- Provide the hens with easy access safe hiding places while they are out foraging in the pasture. I keep a few very alert banties who sound the alarm when a hawk is spotted. Most hens who have witnessed an attack quickly run for cover when  the hawk alarm is issued.
2- Pen the hens when I am not around. I built a very secure pen that is dog proof, mongoose proof, and hawk proof. Invariably predator attacks seem to happen when I'm not home, so now the girls go into their safe house if I leave.
3- Provide edible decoys. Now this might sound cruel, but hawks need to eat. I'd rather have them eat some bird that is not one of my hens. So I routinely feed wild birds out under the hawk's favorite roosting tree. The mother hawk brings her fledglings there to learn bird hunting. Many a baby hawk honed it's skills under that tree. By far the most common "meal" is a dove, a bird introduced to Hawaii as a food source.

There are plenty of other methods to deal with predators but this is how me and my neighbors do it.

4 comments:

  1. We get lots of varmints here, too - raccoons are smart and destructive, NOT cute. Weasels or ferrets (same critter) are said to come around, but so far we haven't seen one. Rats and mice have been fed with bait stations, resulting in a significant drop-off in their numbers.

    Do you get trouble with those giant rats, the axis deer? I know they swarm over some places, eating just about everything to the ground.

    I'm figuring out how to spread a bird-netting over the future "free-range" areas when I start raising chickens. I've been told to consider portable electronet fencing as well, which should keep down the marauders. I'm a pretty good varmint shooter, too, if the need might arise. From time to time, I've heard various neighbors do some night shooting, presumably for predators from the national forest behind our neighborhood. We do have some owls, which likely keep the rodents in check as well.

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    Replies
    1. Giant rats? Geez, I hope not! I have the roof rat here. Cute and pretty, but a dang nuisense. If they'd only stay in the woods, I'd leave them alone. But I object to them running along the beams in my living room looking down at me. Not so cute then.

      Axis deer have been caught above Pahala. The officials have been going crazy over it. Hunters want to be able to hunt them, officials want sharpshooters to eliminate them. Of course, the government wins, the hunters/public loses. It's a bit of a controversy here right now because of the growing numbers of families turning to wild game for protein. The government wants aerial shooting and leave the animals to rot. The people want access to get the meat.

      Raccoons are buggers. Smart. Determined. Resourceful. And very destructive. So glad that we don't have them here. You're going to have to be on your toes if you plan to have chickens. I wish you luck!

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  2. Aloha, Su,
    I hope you get this reply, I just meant that I consider the axis deer to be "giant rats". So destructive to the flora, right along with the feral pigs. The stupid idiots in Hawaii's government have long ago forgotten that they are supposed to work FOR the people, not the other way around. It takes no imagination to see how selling hunting permits for pigs and deer could benefit everyone AND the aina! You want venison? Buy 6 permits for 6 kills, no limit needed. Price? What do you think the market will bear? Maybe figure usable meat would average 40 lbs; market beef, cheapest cut would come in at, say, $1.50/lb, so 40 lbs = $60; permit sells for around a third of that, $20. Win-win-win, I say. Lots of secondary benefit, too, with merchants selling supplies, crafts using leather, bone, da kine, scraps feed livestock [you know how!], and intangible benefits, such as waking the stuporous public to become more self-sufficient, as their forebears were! Hey, I can dream, yeah-yeah-yeah?

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  3. Hi Su Ba, I wanted to return the blog visit and thank you for taking the time to comment on mine. I started reading through your blog posts and had to comment here. We don't have all the same predators you do, but I can relate to the problem, particularly stray dogs and hawks. We have four foot fences too, and the neighbors dog climbed our 4 foot fence to chase my chickens and goats. Fortunately no loss. Hawks have taken their toll too. White tailed deer help themselves to my garden! I think one has to have livestock to appreciate the problems of predators. I can see you've put a lot of time and effort into your solutions.

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