Chickens and Predators
Raising livestock and living in the woods will inevitably bring predators into your life.
With them will come questions. Logistical and philosophical. How many losses are acceptable losses? What is the value of a chicken (or 40) compared to the life of a wild animal?
You build the sturdy coop. Get the dog. Fence the property. Clear the brush to reduce cover. Stay home to keep an eye on everything. And still losses will come. Questions become concrete, demanding, and requiring answers. How many hens before it’s too many? While you’re sleeping on it you’ll lose another.
We don’t live “in the middle of nowhere” (despite what folks post on Nextdoor).
But we do live on the border of thousands of acres of private timber land. Spitting distance to a national forest.
We have deer mowing down our fruit trees, bears ripping open chicken tractors, and coyotes crossing the street like it’s a crosswalk. Quail take up residence in the pasture. I welcome it. It comes with the territory.
I accept that a hen or two will go missing now and then. I accept that my rabbits being eaten reflects my own errors- not malicious intent.
But sometimes, we have to intervene. A week of multiple-times-a-day sightings, unbothered by human presence, killing hens, and ignoring warning shots…
It finally reached its conclusion yesterday morning.
A leghorn pullet caught herself in the newly-set (intended for this predator) live trap. Overnight she became live bait to this determined, but shortsighted, critter. He thrashed and rolled and drug the trap across the yard, unsuccessful in his attempts to access the hen.
When the sun came up, he was still working to get her.
He was unbothered by my anxious approach. Unbothered when my first shot missed. Unbothered still when the fatal blow hit home and he fell to the ground.
I have been responsible for taking the lives of poultry (and some rabbits) for a decade. I have killed more birds than I could count. I’ve been hunting- unsuccessfully- for a few years. Yesterday’s predator was the first animal I’d ever shot.
I’m almost certain that this all happened on the morning it did, in the way that it did, so that my hand was forced. I couldn’t avoid this milestone any longer. Couldn’t delegate this responsibility to anyone else. Couldn’t step back and let my husband “just” deal with it again.
“He’s a better shot, he knows guns, blah blah blah.” The old narrative in my head fell silent and instead blood pounded in my ears. My brain said “fuck- why me, why today?” I was thinking in quick, disjointed loops.
I was thinking coherently again before finally pulling the trigger.
I knew that this was the only way it could’ve ever happened.
Fear, fear, fear. What if I miss. What if I only wound it. What if -somehow- this stupid gun explodes and I hurt myself. The incoherent rambling fear that grips me every time I even think about shooting. I’ve turned down every “Why don’t you take a turn?” my husband- or anyone else- presents. I don’t “need to” so I don’t do it.
When the fear was finally drown out by unavoidable action. By the lack of options. By the simple fact that there was no way out, no help, no one coming to save me from myself.
When push finally came to shove I pulled it off.
Completely shocking myself in the process.
I am self-conscious about the shooting-phobia. Given my interests, given my childhood, given the family I married into, given that guns are an important and useful tool- it is absolutely absurd.
No one can tell me something I haven’t already told myself. No one’s going to reach a conclusion I haven’t reached. Or invent a scenario I haven’t invented. What about hunting, self-defense, teaching your kids, slaughtering livestock?? I KNOW. I KNOW. I KNOW.
I’ve heard it all before because I’ve said all of it.
That’s why I’m bothering to write about this at all. It isn’t just chickens and predators. It’s life. It’s the unforeseen.
Yesterday was a landmark day. For the chickens. For myself. For the predator whose life I had to take.
It was a complicated day. Questions answered and left unanswered and asked for the first time. An opportunity for growth in the form of lacking options and fears faced. A confluence of wild and domestic. Predator and prey. Making decisions in a messy attempt at providing for ourselves & stewarding creation.
We live in the woods. We keep livestock.
Predators and wildlife, big questions and meaning, chickens and choices, just come with the territory.