Saturday, May 16, 2009

Friend or Foe?

Homesteading has taught me a lot already this year, and it's only May. The lessons just keep pouring in. Today's lesson is complex... I'm learning to appreciate the delicate balance of critters we now have here on our land.

We have young pullets for eggs (someday) and angora rabbits for fiber. For the past few weeks, I've been chasing a big grey tomcat off the property every chance I get. We also have a vegetable garden. And for the past few days, I've been battling a cottontail rabbit, who just this morning munched two broccoli plants to the ground while my coffee was brewing.

My general policy concerning pests/predators is this: if you were here first, I'll work around you, but if I was here first, then you must work around me or leave. For example, I refurbished an old outbuilding into a coop for my six young hens. I started early in the spring, and had a lot of work to do. I didn't see any evidence of mice or rats, snakes or other critters, so if they come now, they must be peaceful, or leave. I delayed working once I realized there was a sparrow's nest in the rafters, but she unfortunately kicked all three eggs out of the nest anyway. A few weeks after moving the chicks out to the coop, a wasp decided to build a nest on the ceiling. Refusing to kill her, I made a big imitation nest out of a paper lunch sack to encourage her to move along. When she was away from the very small nest, I knocked it down. I don't begrudge her a nest, but I was there first, and I'm allergic. She left, and now I assume she's made a nest in an area with less human foot traffic.

This rabbit (or his forefathers) have been dining in our backyard for at least two years now, so when I put the garden in, I knew I'd have to contend with him. I've put poultry fencing up along the bottom of the wooden fence to discourage him coming into our yard, and I throw lots of edible scraps on his side of the fence. But still he comes... So today, I went out and bought blood meal to put on the plants, and sprinkled buck-rabbit litter from my angoras around the edge of the garden. Later this afternoon, I saw him munching on clover on the other side of the yard. Good bunny.

But I'm not above relocating him if he starts to really make a mess of my garden. Or better yet, keeping that old tomcat around to keep the bunny on his side of the fence... I just hope the cat doesn't try to make a meal of a chicken.

The balance of predators and prey is very complex on the small homestead, I've learned. The cat might eat my chickens, but he definitely keeps the bunny out of my garden, and will probably catch a few mice too. The snake might steal an egg, but she keeps the mice and rats out of the barn. The wasps eat other insects, but they will also sting me with little provocation. I put shiny CDs on the "roof" of the chicken run to deter the hawks, but a hawk flying over would probably keep the rabbit under cover of the brush, instead of in my garden. It's much harder to decide who the bad guys are than I ever anticipated.


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