The Dark Days of Farming

Until today, our blog has mostly been about the joys of running a Bed and Breakfast, attempting to tantalize you with mouth-watering recipes and entertain you with our comedic missteps as farmers and hopefully to educate you about where our food comes from. Today will be different. Today there will be no pictures of calorie laden food, of verdant bucolic pastures or irresistibly cute and fuzzy animals. Today will be a tale of sadness and the dark side of farming.

 “It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.” That’s what the old timers told us when we first started farming 6 years ago. The matter in this case is losing livestock to predators. When arrived yesterday.

The day started like so many other days. We lingered over breakfast with our B&B guests, sharing stories of our adventures in farming. Ironically, we boasted of our luck about our minimal loss of livestock. There is always some sadness to finding a still-born lamb or losing a baby chick to a hawk but those are some of the givens that we fully expected would happen from time to time. We never even begrudged the idea of losing a chicken or two to a coyote as a “fair tax” for all the good they actually do, such as cleaning up carrion and controlling the population of smaller varmints such as moles, voles, and raccoons. A few years ago we did lose more than a chicken or two, not to a coyote or even a smaller varmint but to a couple of dogs that some irresponsible pet owner decided to get rid of by dumping them off at this end of the valley. If you have ever visited us, then you well know how free-ranging our chickens are. Our larger animals are in pastures “protected” by 8 joules of high tensile wire. We have often credited our low loss rate to the presence of our watchful German shepherd, Jessie.

While we visited with our guests, our son Mark, (aka Farm Boy) went about his morning chores. He fed and watered the chickens, milked the cow and subsequently processed the milk. After our guests had left, I was ready to help Mark with the project of the day…moving a large animal shelter into a pasture across the bridge. The sheep were grazing over there as well as Chuck Norris, our 7 month old calf that we recently separated from his mother Dottie, our Jersey cow. Mark immediately noticed something wrong with one of Chuck’s eyes. From a distance it looked like something was in his eye but a closer inspection revealed that his eyelid had been torn loose and was hanging in front of his eye. I will spare you any photographs today. Suffice it to say it was not a pretty sight. Standing in disbelief, we speculated about what could have happened, and then I turned my eyes to the sheep and counted only six. There should be ten. We looked in every corner of the pasture but our four baby lambs were nowhere to be found. We did find some wool on a low strand of barbed wire indicating that something had chased them under the fence. Kitty combed the adjacent woods looking for a carcass and some footprints from perhaps a coyote or a cougar, but could not discern anything more than hoof prints from elk and deer. Some neighboring farmers speculate that it was most likely a cougar. I guess that makes sense as a coyote most likely would have investigated the fence with his nose and received quite a jolt. A cougar on the other hand could easily have climbed a tree and dropped in. I also cannot imagine a coyote going up against a 400 pound steer but then what do I know? The answer will probably remain a mystery. The question now is how to prevent or at least minimize future loss. Soon, nine piglets will be reared in that pasture as well, so we have much to protect. Any suggestions from veteran farmers are welcome.