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Tuesday, November 10 2015

I once heard this little truism that stuck with me:

What's a liberal?
A conservative who just got arrested.
What's a conservative?
A liberal who just got robbed.

This morning I gave some thought to another one:

What's an environmentalist?
A rancher battling the oil companies for land rights.
What's a rancher with a rifle?
An environmentalist battling coyotes every night to save livestock.

Okay, it doesn't have quite the poetic ring to it, but you get the idea. I have always considered myself an environmentalist, a tree hugger, if you will. I grew up on a steady diet of National Wildlife, International Wildlife, Defenders of Wildlife, the Cousteau Society, and the like. Everything has a place in this world. Don't mess with the food chain. Don't litter. Yada yada yada. On the other end of the spectrum, Other Half grew up as the rancher with a rifle. If it's threatening your livestock or your crop, shoot it. (I assure you there have been some bodacious arguments over that one. You do not shoot ducks just because they poop on your new all-terrain vehicle.)

With the merging of families and farms, there was also the merging of new ideas and the emergence of an alternative to sitting up all night with a rifle, and the indiscriminate killing of things. Enter the Livestock Guardian Dog. (Backed up with a rifle)

I was reading a post on a Facebook Farming list recently where a rancher was bemoaning the ignorant arrogance of environmentalists who sought to advise him on how to deal with his predator problem. With a foot in both camps, I read his post with interest. In great detail he listed everything he'd done to protect his livestock. It was an extensive list, and yet, still the predators kept coming.

Like that classic scene in Jaws, "You're gonna need a bigger boat." after reading the extensive list of what he'd already done, the only thing I could think was "You're gonna need more Livestock Guardian Dogs." I didn't bother to add my two cents worth into the discussion because I figured he'd probably already examined that option and for whatever reason felt it wasn't feasible at the time, but as I listened to the dogs bark at coyotes all last night I thought a lot about this rancher.

It started at 10 o'clock. We had just gone to bed, and the barking pulled me outside. There I could hear the coyotes gathering up and realized that the house was completely surrounded by groups of coyotes calling to each other. The sheep and goats were safely in the pens behind the barn with the Anatolian puppies. Judge and Jury are only five months old, but are already almost as tall as Briar. They are bigger than all our other dogs, but nevertheless, they are still pups and not ready for real battle.

No, the only dogs on the front line are an arthritic Pyrenees cross, and an old Border Collie with a bad back. Briar and Cowboy both trot out into the dark to confront the threats. While Briar is imposing, Cowboy is no match for anything but the most arthritic of coyotes, and so he has no business on these missions. Aja, the aging police dog, and Trace, the red Border Collie, stay in and around the barn. They did not sign up for hunting coyotes or cougars. Apparently it is not in their contract. They are good backup for the pups, but they have no plans on marching out into the night to take the fight to the enemy. Old Cowboy, however, dutifully follows Briar out to war.

Last night I finally had to lock Cowboy in a kennel lest I wake in the morning to find him gutted like a calf by a pack of coyotes, for even after the singing stopped, I knew things were still lingering in the dark. The dogs told me so. They spent the night barking at the south side of the fence. Eventually I had to close the barn doors to keep Briar from marching out to battle by herself. And even then, the puppies in the stalls that opened into runs behind the barn, barked into the dark. Still something lingered in the trees. It watched my sleeping sheep, and goats who snored in blissful peace, unaware that the only thing standing between them and a horrible death was a pair of five month old pups who growled at the night.

When I walked outside to do chores this morning I noted that Briar's face was smeared with blood.

I carefully inspected her and saw that although she had a slight limp, she had no injuries. The blood on her face was not hers. Although I won't call them up to shoot them, I have absolutely no problems with shooting the coyotes who linger and call to each other at my fence. That fence is forty feet from my barn.

The reality is that everything must eat, and humans provide easy meals for predators. We push our way into their habitat bringing ignorant prey animals with us. Predators either adapt or move on. I am very aware that we moved into their habitat, but there is plenty of food in the forest. Coyotes can hunt thousands of acres here unmolested, but do not stand forty feet from my barn and call up a hunting party because you found a treasure trove of sheep. That's when I will shoot you.

The predator load here is no joke, but indiscriminate shooting isn't the answer either because that niche will just be filled by something else. Calling them up to shoot them will only kill the young and the stupid ones, leaving the wily to breed. We must convince the predators that it's in their best interest to just move on. This restaurant is not open. Sheep and goats are not on the menu.

It is easy for people driving smart cars and wearing Birkenstocks to judge our decisions from the safety of their locked doors. They can imagine a benevolent, beleaguered Mother Nature until a coyote runs out of the forest and nabs their little dog on the sidewalk right in front of them. Until your house is completely surrounded by the singing of coyotes, you don't realize how many eyes are watching your sheep, hoping for an easy meal. But that's when you do know, the only thing keeping them in the forest, is a Big White Dawg, and two gangly puppies.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 07:33 am   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
Where is the line between letting rats and roaches have free reign and where does your domain end? It is different for all of us. I sometimes think that people who have never had livestock do not understand the relationship between a good stock person and their stock. Neither pet nor soulless beast. But..."once you have tamed something you are forever responsible". Love it when your post makes me think.
Posted by Andrea on 11/10/2015 - 11:20 AM
I am glad Briar is ok
Posted by Rebecca on 11/10/2015 - 10:35 PM

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