The early morning dew sparkled off the grass.
It was chore time on the farm and Andrew Daniels donned his mud boots and jeans to start the day. He walked quietly along, basking in the first light of the day. His boots squished slightly in the wet pasture, sounding out a soft cadence. The silence around him was peaceful, calming. But as he listened closer, he heard the animals waking from their evening rest. There. A mama cow hummed lowly at her calf. Farther ahead of him over the rise, he heard chickens cackling and from some other part of the farm, a rooster crowed.
Who needed coffee on a morning like this? He loved this job, which really was more of a way of life for him than only a job. When he had moved his family to these beautiful mountains in Virginia several years ago, he never imagined the amount of hard work that would be required. He also never fully grasped the reward and satisfaction that he would feel at the end of every day when his head hit the pillow.
His wife, Elizabeth loved farming more than he ever though possible. In many ways, she was cut out for this life better than he. Andrew knew that without her support, his farming dream would never have been realized. A support system was critical to this life they had chosen. She was understanding when they were late for events, like the last time the cows got out just before they were supposed to leave for her sister’s surprise birthday party. They were late.
She was learning to garden and preserve its bounty with all the gusto a woman could possess. Just this morning there were twenty or so quarts of green beans lined up like little soldiers on the table from yesterday’s battle in the kitchen. She had even gotten Laurie and Trevor involved. Never again would their kids question where food came from. They knew that every morsel of food on their plate was put there because of hard work and dedication. They had participated often enough for that fresh understanding and appreciation.
Exactly what he and Elizabeth had wanted.
They wanted the kids to grow up knowing responsibility and how to be hard working, dependable adults. Andrew knew that even though the economy in this day and age was uncertain, there would always be room for dependable, responsible adults, no matter what field they chose. A good work ethic was like a diamond amidst rocks.
He crossed over the rise of the hill and stopped for a moment to bask in the morning beauty.
Wait. What was that?
Broiler chickens were running around on the outside of their field shelter. From where he stood, Andrew saw some of the shelters in disarray and when a slight breeze blew through, feathers floated on the wind.
Oh, no! A predator had struck in the night.
Heart pounding wildly in his chest, Andrew rushed down the hill, hoping and praying with everything in him that at least the majority of his flock was alive.
How well do you know your predators? A big part of farming is knowing how to protect your flock and what you are protecting them from.
After raising chickens for quite sometime, we started seeing patterns in how each dead chicken presented after being attacked by a hungry carnivore intent on securing the best food in the area.
Here’s a few of the things we have learned:
Headless chicken -usually owl or a bird of prey
Back end of the chicken torn out – usually a skunk
Cages torn to pieces and chicken feathers everywhere, messy kills, rips and tears on the chicken carcass – usually dogs, coyotes.
Chickens found dead up against the wire mesh – usually racoons
Lots of dead birds with random parts eaten, but mostly just dead carnage with entrails everywhere all inside the field shelter – oppossum
Pen sized neck punctures on birds – weasel (this happens very rarely)
Dead carnage in the pen, feathers everywhere, very little of the birds eaten – pine marten
What other predators have you noticed attacking your flocks?