Predator Protection on a Suburban Homestead

Friday, May 15, 2015


When you think of a suburban homestead you do not immediately think of predators killing your livestock. But you should, because your perimeter fencing, whether it be chain link, block wall or wood fencing, may not be sufficient to ward off animal attacks. Suburban homesteads are just as vulnerable as any other homestead or farm, maybe even more so because of the proximity of domestic dogs and feral cats.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, predator losses can be prevented. But, it’s the homesteaders’ responsibility, obligation even to be cognizant of the area in which you live and what critters live around you. Do not mistake the cute cartoon characterizations of raccoons, skunks, weasels or foxes as harmless. They all have the potential to wreck havoc on your small livestock. A raccoon can literally pull a chicken right through a wire fence and weasels can kill a nest full of chicks or kits (baby rabbits) in just a few minutes. Even foxes will kill, given the chance. Then there are the airborne predators – like eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls that can swoop down and pick off rabbits and chickens.

Free-ranging chickens will look good to stray cats, while the smell and noise of your livestock can be an attractant to wandering dogs. (Personally, I think domestic dogs are the worst most indiscriminant predators. A wild animal killing for food is heartbreaking, but somewhat understandable. But, a domestic dog that runs an animal to death or grabs at legs and flesh just for play, with no intention of consuming it is intolerable.)

With information about local wildlife and domestic animals in hand, you can plan and build structures and pens that will keep out what you don’t want in.

Barns, Sheds and Outdoor Pens

Structures and fencing do not have to be extravagant or expensive to provide proper protection, but they should be solid and secure if they are going to be successful in protecting your animals.

Livestock enclosures should be solidly constructed of wood or metal with no spaces or holes where predators can gain entry. Outdoor areas, like those for chickens, ducks, turkeys or geese, should have a wire or solid roof to keep out predatory birds and animals that can climb. Even outdoor runs for pygmy goats and miniature sheep should have a top to protect smaller animals.

Entrances to barns and sheds should have doors that close tight, while outdoor pen areas should have gate latches that lock securely.

If your structures have windows, make sure they are closed each night. A hungry animal, regardless of size, can tear right through a window screen.

Fencing

There are all kinds of fencing on the market, but attention should be paid to the type of animals you have and the kinds of predators you’re protecting against. It’s not necessary to build the Fort Knox of chicken runs if your only danger is predatory birds or feral cats. A strong, small-holed chicken wire or wire fabric would be sufficient.

If larger predators are a concern, then heavier gauge wire or a wooden/wire fence combination may be appropriate. Livestock fence panels (also called cattle panels) can be an option. They are strong, usually 4-gauge welded wire, and come in a variety of heights. The draw back, for a suburban homesteader, can be the 6” x 8” spacing and the 16-foot length of the panels. Depending on the type of animals you have, it may be necessary to lay a small spaced wire on top of the cattle panels. Also, the length of the panels may need to be cut to fit your pen arrangements.

Another fencing method is the “floppy fence” where the top few feet of the fence are allowed to move. This can be effective because predators like stability. Most predators don’t actually clear a fence when they jump over it – they either climb the fence or use the top of the fence for support as they go over – or both. If the top few feet of the fence are “floppy” the predator is less likely to attempt entry. Climbing predators are very uncomfortable trying to scale this arrangement because they can’t get a good grip to pull themselves over.

Predators that are prone to digging under a fence can be stopped (or at least severely discouraged) by placing a barrier on the ground outside the fence perimeter. Woven wire or cattle panels, cut length wise make good barrier material. Two foot wide cut sections are laid flat on the ground and attached to the bottom of the solid fence. The flat section is then covered with dirt and rocks. When the predators dig they run into the panel extending out from the fence and can’t dig through. The fence sections can also be buried, vertically in the ground then attached to the solid fencing. Remember, predators are looking for an easy meal. If you cause them too much trouble they will go elsewhere.

Regardless of the type of fencing you choose make sure it is appropriate for the livestock you have, because:

Stuck heads can kill - The openings between fence wires should be small enough that even the smallest animals head can’t fit through. If an animal gets its head through a fence that is just adequate it may not be able to pull it back out. This can cause other threats like the stuck animal being beaten or pecked unmercifully; scared cries from the stuck animal can alter predators; or the animal can either strangle or suffer from “capture myopathy”, meaning it just shuts down and dies.

One of the least thought of, but equally destructive predators are domestic dogs. And, yes that means our own dog. There isn’t a homesteader out there whose own beloved pet hasn’t killed a few chickens, maybe even more before they understand that animals are off limits. Please don’t be naive enough to think that the family pet, the one you feed and play with is immune to harming livestock. Given the chance, the family dog will attack a rabbit, chicken or even goats and sheep.

If neighboring dogs are a problem, contact the owner and discuss the situation with them. If that does not resolve the problem, contact the animal control office in your county. (In most states, harming, attacking or killing livestock by a domestic dog is covered by civil codes or ordinances. Contact your local office for specific laws.)

Proper animal shelters and fencing is only part of what can be done to help prevent predator attacks. Giving predators something else to focus on can go a long way to deterring them from going after your livestock. You know those mice and pack rats you hate? The garden-destroying gophers and voles? Predators, both ground level and aerial will kill them before going after a caged animal. So, unless you’ve caught them in the actual commission of a crime, leave the varmints alone.

Intelligent management practices on your part will ensure a full pantry, eggs in the fridge, and a freezer full of meat. Sure, it is a bunch of work up front, but homesteading, even suburban isn’t a vacation. Put on those gloves and get to work!

It is up to you to provide proper protection for their livestock. So, put your chickens and rabbits away at night, as well as the sheep and the goats. Lock the barn doors, shut the windows, and securely latch all the gates. These are the imperatives, our own management routine.

Just lock them all up at night. It is us, not the predator that is the problem.



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