This was a rough week on the homestead. In just 7 days time we lost 3 duck hens and our rabbit – they were all killed by a predator. A few months ago we lost 5 chickens in one night. In summer, we were raising 6 chicks in a secure pen, only to go check on them and find them either missing or beheaded. To a large homestead or farm operation this might seems like nothing. But 3 ducks was almost half of our duck hen flock, 5 chickens was half of our chickens, 6 chicks was our succession of youth for the following year and our rabbit was more like a pet (he was our buck when we were raising meat rabbits, but we stopped meat rabbits and kept him because he was so sweet). Raising all kinds of animals is a long-term commitment, with poultry it takes time for them to be productive layers so unless you replace them with adults, you can’t just make up your egg production instantly. When they are gone, so is a period of time of egg production. Replacing them with adults is an option, but it comes with its own risks like disease or lack of acceptance from the tenured flock.
A common question we have living on a homestead that is fairly remote (no surrounding “farms” or neighbors) is – do you have problems with predators? Yes, we do. Then, what predators do you have? Coyote, fox? Well, we have almost every predator you could imagine in the Northwoods, but the one that actually causes us 95% of our problems – the short-tailed weasel. In winter its coat turns white and is referred to as an ermine. Some also call it a stoat. I have some other choice names for it, ha! It’s really cute, and really deadly. What a weasel usually preys on is mice, voles, shrews, frogs, eggs (we’ve also had problems with it robbing our eggs – we’ve found huge stashes outside the poultry pen), bugs and other small critters. Also apparently any type of poultry, no matter the size. The worst part of this little predator is that they just kill, enjoy some blood, and then leave the entire carcass. It seems like such a waste. The additional 5% of our predation problem comes from the sky (hawks, owls).
When dealing with predators that can climb anything and sneak though any little space, it takes a lot of effort. It is one of the most frustrating aspects of homesteading for me, because I feel like we are always a few steps behind this murderous little beast. A year or so ago we’ve fenced in all our poultry to limit predation (they were free range). Then after the ermine went on a serial killing spree of 5 chickens in one night, Tim reinforced the chicken coup (which thankfully we haven’t had any chicken loss since). Now with the ducks being killed, Tim spent a bunch of time this week creating for them an “ermine proof” nighttime pen. Thankfully he’s been able to build this using supplies we had on hand – he’s so inventive and handy. Part of this new pen is that they (our ducks and geese) need to create a new habit of going in the pen at night so we can close them in until morning. The first night we had to encourage them in. The second night and every night after so far they have gone in on their own! Their intelligent behavior made me feel like a proud mother, ha!
I hope these new efforts slow down or stop the predation we have been experiencing. Seeing half your flock that you’ve raised, fed, and cared for die in an instant is a serious let-down. In reflection, a few ideas float in my mind.
1.) I still LOVE nature. We are part of nature (not separate of it) and that means we are often at the mercy of it. I can’t control the weather, but I can be prepared for it. As such, I can’t control the ermines natural behavior, but I can be prepared for it (better shelter, etc.)
2.) Homesteading is not glamorous. If you follow homesteaders on social media and are enamored with their lifestyle, then they probably are only showing you the “romantic” side of homesteading. There are so many amazing things about homesteading lifestyle, but like anything in life, there are plenty of bummer things too.
3.) I choose to enjoy the flow of my life, and not just the outcome. No, I don’t enjoy the dead ducks, but I do love life and this is a part of life. There will never be perfection along the way. There will be ups and downs. And, when it’s not going well, I’m learning.
Moving into a new week, we hope that the new duck/goose shelter that Tim built will be keeping them safe. Also, we are left thinking about how to make up for the loss of our 3 duck hens. On the upside, garden planning has been started and some new seeds have arrived in the mail! There is always something going on here at the homestead, good or bad, I accept it and keep moving right along.