On crisp, starry evenings right before bed, I can sometimes hear the faraway howl of the neighborhood coyotes. It’s quite a beautiful sound, and comforting for an eco-minded person like me to know that people can still coexist with wild animals.
The coyote’s song also serves as a reminder: Am I sure I shut the chicken coop door?
We’ve had a number of wildlife encounters on the farm in the last year, though I think we have substantially fewer because of prolific “marking” by Arrow the dog. And I definitely think of wildlife differently now — as competition for the food I’m trying to grow.
Take the chickens, for example. When young, chicks are easy prey for a host of wild animals: hawks and owls, raccoons, foxes, minks, opossums, cats, and dogs to name a few, all of which have been spotted in our area. The predator list gets shorter as the birds get bigger, and especially if the rooster is doing his job of protecting the ladies. And then there’s the snakes, crows, and rats that also want eggs for breakfast.
The vegetables, which we hope to market more of this year, have an entirely different set of predators. Deer and rabbits are the primary attackers, and we have quite the burrowing mammal problem — whether they’re moles, gophers, or woodchucks is anyone’s guess.
So I shouldn’t have been surprised when a neighbor asked me if we planned to buy a gun to protect our farm. Now, I’ve never even held an actual gun in my life, and I’d rather keep it that way. Very little makes me more nervous and less safe than a loaded firearm. But I also wonder if I’m making the right choice.
For the sake of political correctness, I’d like to say that I don’t have anything against guns. But that’s not really true. I hate them. I don’t trust that a gun won’t accidentally go off while pointed in a wrong direction. I understand why some people keep them, and I respect that they have the legal right to do so, but my personal preference is to keep them as far from me as possible.
Maybe it’s irresponsible not to be prepared, but it seems equally irresponsible to have a dangerous tool that’s used so infrequently that a malfunction seems likely. Owning a gun would make me feel less safe, so I’ll leave it to experts.
But what happens if I wake up tomorrow and three of my chickens are missing, presumed dead?
Our only line of defense against predators at the moment is the handsome ball of energy curled up at my feet. The fact that we’ve had no livestock losses to speak of is more than likely due to Arrow’s persistent and enthusiastic prowling. Our English shepherd may not know how to herd the sheep, but he has treed raccoons, cornered an opossum, dug up moles, killed rabbits, and barked endlessly at whatever is making that noise under the machine shed. I’ve seen exactly two deer on our farm since we’ve lived here, and they weren’t eager to return after being chased halfway into the next section.
It does make me a little sad that wildlife can’t be more abundant on our farm. Wild animals are interesting to watch, but they also get caught in electric fences and trample produce. I can only imagine the damage they could cause to the high tunnel we’re planning to build. So while I’m not going to shoot them, I don’t want to encourage them to take up residence either.
At least we have a vibrant and abundant bird population. This time of year we see a lot of junkos, woodpeckers, sparrows, and sometimes a brilliant jay or scarlet cardinal.
Occasionally I worry about what happens if an animal — wild or domestic — were to get mortally injured or sick and need to be put down quickly. It’s such thoughts that give me slight pause about gun ownership, as I’m wholly unprepared for this situation. I’d probably have to make a phone call or two and ask someone to come over and do the deed. I hope it doesn’t ever come to that, but at least I know which of my neighbors hunt, just in case.