We have been raising animals on our farm for over 10 years—sheep, dogs, cats, chickens, turkeys, guinea pigs, ponies, donkeys, and a pig.
Farming and Wildlife
One of the great pleasures of owning a farm is experiencing the vast amount of wildlife that traverses and resides on our small piece of Canada. All animals benefit in their own way, yet these delicate ecosystems have been pushed out of balance resulting in most of these animals being seen as pests.
Most solutions for these unbalanced ecosystems involve killing off the "pests" rather than changing farm-management practices to support this natural equilibrium. These animals are supposed to be here, so we should set up our farms (and yes, and our cities) to coincide with them.
Deer and Elk
As I write this article, I can see a doe grazing outside our window. Maybe it is one of the fawns that were here last winter with their mother. As long as we keep the garden fence locked, she comes and goes without any issues.
For us, however, the elk herd poses a more serious problem. 300 strong, they move through each year and can easily eat through 30 hay bales in two nights (unfortunately, we've seen it). But I can't really blame the elk for destroying most of our apple trees when it was my brilliant idea to keep the hay next to our orchard.
They pull down miles of fence they pull down each year, but that problem that can often be minimized by lowering the top strands of wire during the winter in areas where they are known to travel.
Birds, Birds, and More Birds
Our land was quite heavily farmed before we took possession, and when we moved in, the only birds we saw were ravens, hawks, robins, and chickadees. It was not a very balanced selection, but the next year we let the cattails grow around our pond and the red-winged blackbirds came. The second year saw the bluebirds return to the old broken nesting boxes that had been forgotten around the farm.
Now, we have several dozen kinds of birds that migrate through or have permanent residence on our farm. By doing something as simple as letting wildflowers bloom, supporting berry-laden bushes, leaving spaces natural, and encouraging trees to grow, we encourage new varieties of birds to join the menagerie. And I certainly can't blame them for eating my currants when I haven't put the netting up yet!
Grizzlies, black bears, cougars, wolfs and coyotes are all very good reasons for us to not go walking after dark and to put our sheep into a fold every night. These predators are especially active with the cold weather approaching, but we stay out of their way and they (mostly) leave us alone.
It makes me sad to hear about cougars or wolves being shot. I will never understand the philosophy of killing the prairie's great predators and then struggling to farm under the destructive damage of the ungulates who are naturally kept in check by these predators.
Another predator we coexist with is the coyote. We have had a coyote den on our farm for several years with very little issues. A few of our pastures are quite remote and hilly, so we have had a few coyote attacks in those fields. But this was a problem with faulty pasture management . . . not a faulty coyote.
Ground Squirrels and Gophers
Ground squirrels and gophers are the most out of balance on our farm. They are overpopulated in our fields, and I am sorry to say that we have put traps in our garden, but this is again a management issue—not a grab-your-gun-and-can-of-poison issue. Ground squirrels generally inhabit short-grass prairies with high visibility, but they also do well on human-modified land such as overgrazed pastures and cultivated or perennial fields.
Keeping the pastures rotated and the fields healthy has had a positive effect on the number of critters. Someone told me that every tree planted will displace 20 ground squirrels or gophers. I'm not sure if this is true, but we have noticed a reduction in the population in the areas where we have let the decrepit shelter belts regrow.
And the badger family who has lived by our pond for the last 10 years definitely eats their share of rodents!
I love free-roaming chickens, but this has led us to have some very smelly (though cute) squatters—skunks. Trapping skunks is fairly easy, but getting them out of the trap is a more involved process! Keeping our chickens behind a solid fence and removing junk that makes an attractive den has made these stinkers move on. We still get the occasional skunk in the fall, but they usually just wander through, spray our dogs, and keep on moving. (We have found that baking soda and peroxide mixed into a paste works best for getting the smell off our dogs.)
My tolerance for wildlife gives out at wasps. They are the only creature that I have a can of poison waiting for. We coexist as long they build their nests way out in the far fields, but heaven help them if they infest near our house or animal shelters.
More Is Better
We do everything we can to encourage wildlife on our farm. Creating more natural habitats nestled among our agriculture fields not only creates a more beautiful landscape for us to enjoy, but it also creates homes and safe havens for a plethora of creatures. Some animals we have only seen once on our farm in the last 10 years include a fox that was after our chickens, a random raccoon, a garter snake in our garden, a lesser weasel, a toad, a salamander, and a porcupine. I hope we will see a lot more of these animals in the next 10 years.
The goal of our farm is to always work with nature, be it patiently waiting for the spring frost to end, farming without chemicals, or watching the wildlife act like the wild animals they are. We write about all these aspects of natural farm life as we continue to learn the value of nature and its ways.
© 2020 Bellwether Farming