One of my editors who runs a monthly outdoor page suggested I do a column on “When wild animals encroach on your yard and eat stuff they shouldn’t.” Welcome to spring in the Kansas outdoors when all the critters are on the prowl around chicken coops, corrals and even backyards looking for quick, easy meals to feed dens and nests full of youngins.’ I’ve already had a call from a local sheep farmer asking me to come trap coyotes and a bobcat hanging around his sheep pens. Those coyotes and that cat would undoubtedly be hanging out there anyway, but usually at night, unseen. This time of the year emboldens predators to hunt and prowl during the day when they would otherwise never think of it. A reader from Abbyville contacted me over the weekend telling me they have lost most of their chickens to what she believes to be a fox, which by the way, do quite well living in towns or on the outskirts of towns in our part of the state.
In late spring a few years ago, my friend was busy in a big round top shed that sits toward one corner of his yard, when his little Blue Heeler dog began raising cane from outside. He stuck his head out the door to see what was agitating the dog and noticed the roosters and the rest of the chickens in his chicken pen crowing, cackling and nervously milling about. He glanced behind the barn nearest the pen and noticed something bounding around wildly just behind the corral, less than fifty yards away. He headed around the barn and through the corral and found a whitetail doe jumping and dodging frantically around something in the field drive ahead. That “something” turned out to be a pair of coyotes with a small whitetail fawn pinned to the ground between them.
Like springtime on the farm, springtime in the wild is a season filled with babies everywhere. Just as that whitetail doe had her fawn to protect and feed, you can bet those coyotes had a den full of hungry little mouths to feed also. It is no coincidence that there is more prey available in the form of young, easily caught critters at this time each year, just exactly when every wild animal needs extra prey to feed its young. Isn’t it amazing how everything seems to come full circle back to the fact that God knew exactly what He was doing when he engineered the order of things! Even with the glut of easily caught “wild” lunches right now, predators are still opportunists at heart and will not think twice about grabbing a young farm animal or even cats, kittens and small dogs if given the chance. As spring turns into July and August, increased predation seen in the spring will slow again, but in the meantime, there are a few extra precautions that can be taken to at least make the opportunists think twice about grabbing’ something from the coop, corral or backyard.
Even though you can’t keep an eye on poultry and young farm animals 24/7, giving them a place under roof to spend the night will help dramatically. Giving poultry a place to spend the night behind a closed door is a good thing any time of the year. Remember, despite their willingness to prowl more during daylight right now, a predator’s favorite time to hunt is still after dark. Keeping the grass and weeds mowed and trees pruned around pens will help also, as removing any cover predators can use to sneak close to a barn, chicken house or yard will help deter their presence. Sadly to say, there’s not a lot that can be done in town to deter predators aside from keeping cats, dogs and chickens within a fenced yard or enclosure of some sort.
Playing a radio and keeping a couple lights lit in the barn where sheep and goats spend the night will sound like human activity to a predator and can help deter their presence.
The most effective predator prevention is probably a good watch dog, even if it’s small. Dogs of any size make predators nervous, and even though any coyote, bobcat or raccoon worth its salt can easily overpower most small dogs especially if they catch them out in the open, a noisy little mutt relentlessly yapping away at them as they slink around the barn or sheep pen might at least make them question their plan, and will likely alert you in the process. Unfortunately a yappy little dog will probably not work well in town, as they might help keep predators at bay, but will surely keep you in hot water with the rest of the neighborhood.
Yup, its spring time in the Kansas outdoors again, and all the critters and predators have families to feed and might “Encroach on your yard and eat stuff they shouldn’t” as they follow their God-given instincts to protect and feed their young. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning that, after all, I’m a coyote trapper. But I am saying that understanding why it happens helps me look at it from a slightly different perspective. ….Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors!
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]
As a side note, Bob and Margaret Massey, friends of ours near Winfield say the prairie chickens are beginning to “boom,” which is an interesting part of their spring mating ritual every outdoorsman should see. They have a trailer blind set up for viewing and a place to stay if you wish. To make reservations to witness this amazing rite of spring, email them at [email protected], or call 620-415-7001.