Wildlife

When we first started restoring the farm I decided that we wouldn’t allow any hunting on it.  We have other property where I can hunt and allow others to hunt, but I thought we’d allow our main farm area to be a type of wildlife preserve.

I now realize how naive I was.  Just as I learned it’s not possible to live this life without dealing with predators, I’ve learned that we also can’t live it without dealing with the wildlife that competes with us for food.

Every year the biggest threat we face to our crops is not the weather or insects, but wildlife. Every day I go out I know there is a chance that deer destroyed our gardens overnight.  Last year deer wiped out our cantaloupes and peppers and severely damaged our watermelons and okra. Raccoons and groundhogs destroyed our sweet corn.  I have a neighbor who is a conventional vegetable farmer. He was literally driven out of business last year by deer (with help from squirrels and bears).

We’ve been fortunate so far this year.  Aside from a few bites out of our squash, watermelon and cucumber plants, the deer have left our gardens alone (maybe because they’ve been so busy eating our cover crops).  But I see them nearly every day and they’re poised to strike at any time.  Likewise the groundhogs, who add insult to injury by undermining foundations.

My attempts to shoot the groundhogs have been largely failures.  Partly because I simply don’t have time to sit and wait for them and partly because I don’t always hit them when I do.  Of course if they’d just be reasonable and limit themselves to the vast supply of food available to them that isn’t growing in our gardens, I’d be happy to live and let live. But they can’t be reasoned with it seems.

Once in a rare while I manage to catch one in a trap.  But they’re too smart to go into the trap most of the time.  And why should they when there’s so much delicious stuff to eat in the gardens. Yesterday a trapper friend taught me how to use a more effective trap.  Maybe now I’ll be able to turn the tide and persuade them to live and eat elsewhere.

As for the deer, we’ll keep using all the deterrents we have.  Maybe they’ll have mercy on us.

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26 comments on “Wildlife

  1. Last week there was an article in The Washington Post about two vultures who have taken up residence on K Street in DC. The writer beat the obvious joke into the ground.

    Reading this it occurs to me that groundhogs might fare particularly well in that particular locale.

    Good luck with the varmints. (I couldn’t resist an opportunity to say ‘varmint’. I may well have been waiting my entire life for a legitimate reason to do so.)

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    • bobraxton says:

      only two or three days ago my Rev. Dr. spouse asked me (from her upstairs home office) how to spell the word. I learned that it is “Southern” (I would have guessed old-time Western movies).

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    • Bill says:

      I’d be happy to send our groundhogs to Washington. I’d be pleased to use them as payment for our taxes.

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  2. Jeff says:

    I’ve not read Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation but it is on my very long reading list. Life is like a beanstalk, isn’t it?

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  3. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, I feel your pain. I started Terra Nova Gardens in a spot that was totally neglected for at least 12 years. Probably longer but the taxes hadn’t been paid for 12 years. I suspect it was more like decades because of the wild grape vine and scrub brush growth. It too one year to clean up the debris that had been dumped there over the years. A guy, who I now call Bobcat Larry cruised the neighborhood looking for conversation every day, stopped and asked what I was doing. I explained I had bought the land from the city and wanted put in a garden there. He immediately volunteered his services to scrape off all the foliage and level the lot for sum total of $20. An immediate friendship was forged and he has helped with many other heavy lifting projects needed over the last two growing seasons.

    Anyway since the area was a wildlife habitat for so many years the creatures abound at all levels. Like you, there is a colony of groundhogs that eat just about everything in the garden. So far they have left all that I’ve planted there alone. It’s a mystery to me why. Now the rascal of the whole bunch is the raccoons that can strip a sweet corn patch clean in a single weekend. Wild turkeys come and go all the time but only seem to be interested in bugs and seeds which is a benefit to the garden. I haven’t been bothered with any kind of bug infestation so far. I did see a fawn come wandering out of the wooded area last spring but haven’t had damage that I can contribute to them either. I am hoping to stay relatively friendly with the wild life animals and have even planted a sweet corn patch just for them this year. I know, this could backfire and draw the sweet corn loving critters in for miles around. I guess we will see.

    Have a great wildlife day.

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    • Bill says:

      Groundhogs can be devastating, but deer do the most damage to us. I worry about them daily. As for the raccoons, I got so frustrated after what they did to us last year that I drastically reduced the amount of corn we grow. Next year I may eliminate it altogether.

      Hoping this new trap works. I’ll know tomorrow….

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  4. valbjerke says:

    We do our best to coexist with wildlife – I figure they were here long before we were….. Any predators that are eyeballing livestock – I usually fire a shot or two at something nearby – a branch, a tree – and it generally makes them hightail it out of there and look elsewhere for food. Eagles happen to love baby ducks and geese and chickens – we hang a large stretch of bird netting over a portion of the pond and nesting area – I rely on the waterfowl to have enough sense to get under it when they have to. The chickens can scooch back into the barn. Moose generally wander through but they don’t care for the garden. I don’t often see deer – but again – a shower of tree branches usually does the trick, same with bear. Now groundhogs – we thankfully don’t have here – or raccoons.

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    • Bill says:

      Coyotes come for the kids in the middle of the night. I hear them but I’ve never seen one. The chickens are taken by hawks, foxes, coyotes and snakes. They’d also be eaten by owls and possums, but we have them securely tucked away at night.

      Last fall I went out with the shotgun, intending to scare the deer away from one of our gardens. The first time I fired it (aiming over their heads), they stopped eating and looked up at me. After the second shot they were so fascinated by what I was doing that they stepped closer. At that point I just ran toward them (with visions of using the gun like a club and clobbering them over their heads) screaming. That must have convinced them that I was crazy and they trotted off. They came back as soon as I went inside.

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      • valbjerke says:

        Oh that is too funny!! 😄
        I do know of a guy that simply puts hay and grain out for the deer…..but by the look of your gardens – I’m thinking they’d rather eat that.

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  5. We are pest proofing our garden, Bill. Fortunately it’s small. We took care of the deer right off with a fence, but the ground squirrels have been much more of a hassle. To date I have caught around 20 and transported them far away to BLM land where they have to make a living the old fashioned way. Today, Peggy and I worked on fencing we hope will keep the squirrels out. We’ll see. 🙂 –Curt

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    • Bill says:

      We use electrified net fencing to keep the deer out of our gardens. They could easily hop over it, but they’re scared of it. If they ever start jumping it then we’re out of business. Unfortunately I don’t have enough of it to fence every garden and these days they’ve taken to eating things that never ate in the past (like okra, squash plants, cantaloupe plants, etc.). My neighbor just gave up. He says it will soon be possible to grow food here only in greenhouses.

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  6. Victoria says:

    The deer here have become horribly overpopulated in the last 20 years, and are actually destroying a lot of native wildflowers, shrubs, and even some tree species by eating all the young trees. About the only thing safe outside of the fencing is something poisonous.

    I’ve managed to keep the deer out with a 6′ electric fence around my garden, and a 5′ wire fence around the baby fruit trees. The ground here is too wet for woodchucks to tunnel (they’d have flooded tunnels after every thunderstorm), and the one woodchuck who nailed my garden last year was easily caught in a live trap.

    Our cat is busy working on the problem of chipmunks / voles / mice / squirrels digging in the garden; he was catching one a day for a while this spring.

    I’ve heard that the best option for dealing with deer is to get a large dog . . .

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    • Bill says:

      Deer overpopulation is a severe problem here. When I was a boy they were very rare here and people much older than me can recall when there were weren’t any at all here. Good move to enclose your fruit trees. We did the same thing. A neighbor who didn’t lost every fruit tree on his farm to them.

      A nearby farmer who grows on a large scale uses dogs at night to keep the deer away. We don’t have that option as our farm is spread out to much unless we chained the dogs. It’s a very serious problem for us (as it sounds like it is for you too).

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  7. shoreacres says:

    Have you tried using motion-activated thingies to keep the deer away? One of the most effective bird deterrents on boats are plastic owls that move, hoot, etc. whenever something crosses their sensor. A friend up in the hill country had a motion-activated pair of “dogs” that were nothing more than speakers on fence posts.

    And over at the grocery store, where they keep the carts outdoors, they use a gizmo that occasionally sends out a squawk that sounds like a grackle screaming in pain after being attacked. Once they hooked that baby up, there were no more birds roosting on the carts.

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  8. Steve says:

    Trapped five woodchucks last summer. Not easy, but you needto guide them into the traps, almost like a minnow trap in a creek. The animal that makes me lose sleep is the fox. Lost nine chickens last weekend. They’re smart, strong and relentless.

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    • Bill says:

      If it was a live trap, what did you bait it with? I’ve caught a few that way, but I can’t seem to find anything that consistently lures them in. Now I’m trying a trap that snares them when they come out of the hole. The same trap used for beavers. Hoping it works better.

      Foxes regularly eat our chickens. In the last couple of weeks we’ve lost 7 chicks and a hen of whom I was very fond. Maybe more, but those were the obvious losses. I don’t know what to do about that.

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      • Steve says:

        No bait works as far as I know. We basically put the Hav-A-Heart at a known passage point and setup obstacles to steer the gopher toward the trap.

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  9. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Guessing that the best control for anything in over-abundance would be, as always, to eat it. Whether groundhog (also called woodchuck up here), venison, coon, bear or moose – they’re all delicious. After all, variety is the spice of life, and it sounds like (all of) you’ve got quite a selection of free-range to pick from; )
    Love your avatar too, btw: )

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    • Bill says:

      I put three deer in the freezer last year. My wife is a vegetarian and I can only eat so much venison (which I do love). This year I’m going to try to use deer to make our own dog food.

      I’ve never eaten groundhog, but my trapper friend tells me it’s good. He says they taste like rabbit. I’ve never heard of anyone eating a coon. Doesn’t sound very appetizing to me. 🙂

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      • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

        I find raccoon delicious and that it has a rather good comparison to (actually better than; ) pork.
        Good idea about sharing the bounty with your canine friends. If only more people would get out and actually harvest the wild populations that they’re supporting (most unwillingly) through garden/landscape losses, then perhaps there’d be a better population balance, hm?

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