If you've got livestock, you've got deadstock

3 years ago

At market I get asked, "Are your chickens free-range?"
at least once a week by an egg customer.

"Yes, sometimes a little too free-ranging," I respond.

While I like to keep my poultry as contained as possible
while still keeping them on pasture
(electric poultry netting, large
fenced paddocks, Hoop Coops),
there's always an errant hen or
two who absolutely insists on
pushing the limits, much to my
neighbors' dismay.

Unfortunately, as I walked out
toward the pasture this morning
I could see the 'feather bomb'
before reaching the body.
Something had taken out one of
the little red hens during the

On my poultry advertising at
farmers markets, I list
"Predator Friendly" as one of my selling points.
Occasionally, someone asks about it. It simply means
that I do not make it a point of killing natural
predators such as hawks, owls, raccoons, opossums,
weasels, minks, skunks, etc.,as many of my neighbors
and fellow market vendors do. Despite being a federal
offense to maim or kill a bird-of-prey,increasingly
I've heard many of my fellow farmers brag about
killing raptors who are biting into their bottom
line as well as their birds.

If I look and listen long enough, I often realize
that they create an imbalance on their farm which
leads to excessive predation. For instance,
free-feeding with large hoppers of food,
while it may be a convenience--especially to those
who have increased their flocks to several hundred
birds--is also a huge draw for vermin such as mice
and rats. Similarly, improperly storing feed will
support a larger rodent population than normal.

When the rodent population explodes, that's
tantamount to ringing the dinner bell for those
higher up on the food chain.

And that's where the problems begin.

If you were a predator, which would you rather
eat---a rinky-dinky little mouse or a nice, big,
fat, juicy hen?

Forget those little nuggets, they're going to go
after the bigger piece of protein, which I might
add, are much easier to catch.

"I've shot six hawks this season and they're
still harassing my birds," lamented a local
grower whose flocks have increased in size
along with the number of farmers markets he

So much for sustainability....

A few months ago I lost a laying hen inside
the fence to a raccoon.

How did I know it was a raccoon?

Through one of the sites that help
chicken enthusiasts figure out what's
pilfering their poultry like this one.

Instead of staying up half the night
with a flashlight duct taped to the
barrel of a shot gun, I simply put
my Great Pyrenees in with the layers
for a few days.
The raccoon never returned.

But last night's victim still had her head intact
with her guts ripped out instead meaning chances
were it was either an opossum or a skunk.

When it comes to predator prevention on the farm,
nothing beats a Livestock Guardian Dog. Mine are
worth their weight in gold several times over and
they're big dogs. But there are other ways to deter
predators such as roosters and adequate shelter.
One poultry farmer I know swears by his Nite Guard,
a blinking red light and others opt for folk remedies
such as dog hair, human hair and even human urine.

But in reality, sometimes Mother Nature wins against
Domestication and in
case there's only one
thing left to do--salvage
what's left either as
compost or in the case
of the errant laying hen
who fell victim to a
marauder last night,
a treat for the pigs.
Nothing ever goes to waste. 
By the way, the entire
carcass was completely
gone--feathers, feet & all--in less than five minutes.
Pigs are the ultimate in body disposal. Kind of makes
you wonder why Tony Soprano and his gang always hung
out in the sausage shop.....

Sandra Kay Miller Farmer, Writer, Cook, Goddess "Life is too short to eat bad food." www.sandrakaymiller.com
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