Your livestock is your livelihood… Are you doing everything to protect your homestead from these 8 top predators that prowl your homestead?
No work day around the homestead is ever complete without checking for signs farm predators have been nearby. Most predators attack between dusk and dawn, making a late afternoon check of all pens and enclosures mandatory for any farming household that does not want to lose their animals or crop to eager and hungry wild animals both large and small. But What should you be on the lookout for?
The Top Predators Prowling Your Homestead
Livestock protection is a never-ending job on any homestead. The one day you decide you’re too tired to do a pen or fence perimeter check – after all, the critters have been present and accounted for every morning for months – is exactly when you will wake up and find feathers and bloody remains.
Top 8 Homestead Predators
These deadly and persistent predators can wipe out a flock in mere days. Unfortunately, in most states, hawks are not classified as nuisance animals or predators – making it illegal to kill them. Just because it is against the law to kill hawks does not mean you can’t use our rifle to teach them farm avoidance. My chicks and ducks free-ranged for days on end without a single problem before I put them up at night in the Fort Knox of chicken coops and runs. Then one day, I walked outside with treats calling for them to follow me to their pen, I was short FOUR birds! I did “beak and bill” count three times, counted again by chicken and duck breed, sure enough, two chickens and two ducks were simply gone without a trace – a hawk had definitely been here.
I really, really wanted to shoot one of the so-called “majestic” birds, but a huge fine was just not in my budget. So, a lesson in farm avoidance it was. I grabbed by .22 Henry, let the flock free (it took a lot of coaxing to get them to come back out the day after the carnage took place) and say quietly for several hours while they free-ranged – so not an easy thing for most women to do!
When a hawk, crow, or buzzard flew overhead, I fired off a round from my Henry. Surprisingly, my flock was unfazed, apparently, they have grown used to the sound of gunfire around the homestead. I never aimed my rifle at the birds, just in their vicinity, well below where they were flying, shooting into the hillside. I repeated this same action for the next three days. I then kept up the habit three times a week for a month. I have not spotted a hawk in a long time now, but I will still continue with my routine so the aerial predators never think it is safe to come back to my farm for lunch and teach their young to fly in a completely different direction as well.
These nasty little rodents can get inside a hole the size of a half-dollar. Yep, that means the easily flexible chicken wire is not going to ever do any good preventing their entry. Hardware cloth, the wire commonly used on rabbit cages, is what chicken runs should be made from and used on the floors and around the base of a coop.
Mink tend to never stray too far from a water source, such as a creek, stream, or low area of the property where water puddles. Dog and cats are a good deterrent to mink, guineas are even better at warding off the little killers, but they are swift and stealthy creatures who can, and will, sneak past your furry guard critters.
We placed homemade snares around the chicken coop and duck hut and leave them there ALWAYS. I also set up a small trap nearby after spotting mink prints near the poultry pens. I covered the coop half way up with old metal sheeting and hardware cloth, but I still occasionally find mink chew marks at the corners of the coop where the mink must work diligently to nibble in between the hardware cloth square and the very small spaces between where the sides of the metal sheeting end just before each corner panel.
Learning how to identify both the tracks and droppings of the predators who roam near your homestead is one of the most essential parts of learning how to ward them away from your livestock.
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Mink have been known to burrow inside bedding and nesting boxes in chicken coops and nap while waiting away the hours until their free-ranging dinner walks back home for the night. Always take a rake and/or your dog, and check the entire coop carefully if it is left open while the flock is free-ranging – or even it is kept closed just to be on the safe side. The sneaky habits of mink are exactly why I would never us a dusk-to-dawn automatic door on my chicken coop and duck hut.
When doing so is budget friendly, purchase an owl decoy, preferably a motion-detector activated one, and solar motion-detector lights to place around your chicken coop. The lights are also excellent at deterring other types of predators which venture near larger livestock in your pasture our barn.
They are truly beautiful birds, but they will kill your flock as well. It is illegal to kill any bird of prey, so don’t shoot owls either. Owls are patient creatures, they will sit for hours watching prey and waiting until it is truly safe for them to approach before attacking. Motion-detector lights – especially the type that emit sound, will deter owls. Keeping a cat around, as long as it has been trained not to attack your flock, will help keep owls from looking at your coop and run like a buffet as well.
This predator you can kill – at least in most states, when it poses a danger to your livestock. Guineas cannot kill a coyote like they can mink or snakes, but they will quickly and oh so loudly, alert you that danger has encroached upon your property. Donkeys, particularly mini donkeys, are the best coyote defense mechanism I have ever come across.
Mini donkeys treat the sharp-toothed predators as if they are a soccer ball. They will go out of their way to chase and kick – over and over again, any coyote that enters their domain. Keeping mini donkeys out in the pasture with cows, in the barn with the horses, and moved into a fenced area around the chicken coop at night should deter coyotes from coming onto your homestead or prepper retreat for a quick meal.
These sly little creatures are extremely agile and quiet predators. They are also easily startled. Motion detector lights, donkeys who are on guard against coyotes, guineas, and a good ole farm dog, will help prevent a fox from slipping too close to your livestock.
The weasel family, which includes mink but is also comprised of badgers, ferrets, and skunks, tend to kill multiple animals at one time – even if they don’t eat more than one of the small animals killed. They commonly attack with small bites to the neck or head – or just bite off the head and neck and take it with them to snack on once safely back to their hiding hole. Weasels often leave a pole of dead chickens or ducks stacked up in fairly neat piles before they run off with a full belly. Carefully hidden snare traps and cage traps set up near vulnerable livestock are the best ways to get rid of weasels.
These small predators are kind of lazy. They will always take the path of least resistance to secure a meal. Building a secure chicken coop and run will protect your flock. Possums often prey on weak young or injured large livestock. They have been known to bite horses and cows on the leg can spread the potentially deadly EPM disease.
Motion detector lights on the exterior of barn can help deter possums from crawling into the stall. Typically, horses and large livestock are only hampered by possums if they get into their feed and spread disease. A trash can or plastic tub with a lid, or a barrel with a piece of wood and brick on top of it will not stop a hungry possum from getting inside. Keeping feed secure is just as important to livestock health and safety as building the perfect chicken coop is to prevent your egg-layers from getting slaughtered. Possums commonly begin eating the abdomen of its prey first, if you find a dead animal in such a state, you most likely have a possum on the property who got startled away before it could finish.
These crafty critters use their sharp claws to tear chicken wire, rip into feed bags, and to climb a lot higher than you would expect to get a bite to eat. They are smart as well. Any lock you place on a feed container or pen should be a two-step lock. A raccoon merely mocks attempts to thwart its hunger pains with a simple one-step lock. Put out snare traps or cage traps when you spot signs of either opossum or raccoon activity.
A little tip when dealing with “genius level” predators:
I attach some hardware cloth around any cage I am trying to bait a coon into because they will often simply reach inside the cage bars and pull the enticing food left inside to towards them so they can eat it at their leisure otherwise – possums try to pull this same trick, with a lesser degree of success. To increase the chances of luring a raccoon inside my trap I spray painted part of it red and put the bait on a red or pink tray. For some reason, raccoons, at least in Appalachia, prefer red, pink, and orange and consistently seem to be drawn to the colors.