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WICHE: Continuing to fight the predators

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Sometimes you need new help.

By Jeneen Wiche

It seems only fair to share an update to the story since so many of you have been kind enough to lament my troubles with predation on the laying hens and the pastured broilers. If you missed the column from a few weeks back, it basically chronicled some owl and fox attacks on our pastured poultry we raise for meat down in the nut grove and our egg-laying hens that range freely around the barn and house during the day.

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We protect the layers in a secure barn at night but our luck ran out with daytime strikes as fox picked off about eight in three days. The hens had to be on lock down in the barn for about a week; they still had a great view of open range but were not happy about their limited access. They were let out under supervision-which is really impossible with 70 hens.

I had mentioned that I let our Maremma livestock guardian dog out of his pasture, where he patrolled for predators around the broilers and the sheep. I thought maybe he would help to deter fox during the day around the barn area, but this was not a real solution because it basically confused Baxter.

He had been trained (rather we reinforced his natural instincts) to stay on pasture with broilers and sheep. If you go off routine with Baxter it makes him manic for a few days.

So as the owls continued to pluck a chicken a night, we decided to net the whole area; this was cumbersome because we move them weekly through the nut grove.

We managed to break the cycle and finally return to an unnetted version with no fatalities for 21 days – last week, one got it.

It was very foggy, so we are thinking that this may have worked to the advantage of the very nearly silent owl that Baxter could not see. Andy will be buying some colorful pennants today to string between branches because the netting is now over the blueberries.

So on total we have lost seven broilers to owls. They go to the processor on Tuesday, so a cleared field for a month may help to “reset” the simpatico of the farm and encourage the owls to move on. Or not?

Our troubles did not end with the winged and 4-legged eaters. It seems snakes like to eat baby birds and chicken eggs.

Yep, of all things, one morning we look up at one of the barn swallow’s nests, and there is a big rat snake wrapped around and in it (with a bulging mid-section).

This was the ultimate insult to the farm, because we are named after the barn swallows! We discussed the matter and decided that we needed to protect our investment, and let us just say the snake is no longer in one piece.

Our brooder for baby chicks is also in the barn, so it is critical to secure it from snakes, too.

So at the end of a couple of bad weeks, Andy and I sat down to try to figure what the long-term solution to some of our problems may be, and we finally decided on another Livestock Guardian Dog that would be trained with an emphasis on the barn and home where the layers roam.

Of course my car broke down on the way to pick up a Great Pyrenees puppy, but my neighbor Cindy Danehy came to my rescue, and we came home with Finca.

Finca means farm or estate in Spain, so it seemed fitting for this dog that was used by the Basque people for thousands of years. I have never been around a more laid-back puppy in all my life.

He was not afraid of the thunderstorm that hit overnight during his first night here; never batted an eye at fireworks and has taken to his hens quite well.

I have the advantage of our old dog, Buck, who is proving to be an excellent teacher. Buck never roams off property, does not chase chickens and will put Finca in his place when he doesn’t feel like playing. He has even helped me teach Finca to stay and sit as the pup mimics the old man.

I vowed I did not want another mouth to feed and vet, but this may be just the solution to secure our environment from predatory threats to a reasonable end.

I know it will never be 100 percent, but we will keep on trying.

 

Check out gardening columnist Jeneen Wiche’s work at www.SwallowRailFarm.com. You can find her columns also at www.SentinelNews.com/agriculture. She answers questions once a month in SentinelNewsPlus. To submit a question, send an E-mail to jwiche@shelbybb.netand type “Sentinel-News” in the subject field.