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Poultry versus Predator, The End

We seldom have problems with predators, and when we do, we deal with it swiftly. We have three dogs. Seb is a German shepherd x black lab that’s closing in on 13 years old. Scooter was born here 10 years ago. He’s an American Working Farm Collie (registered on working ability rather than the appearance). It’s his job to keep aerial predators in the sky. He spends his days with his nose in the air, scanning the sky for eagles, hawks, owls, crows, turkey vultures and any other bird that might be a threat to our poultry. On a slow day he’ll chase airplanes, and he’s darned good at it. To date he has not yet allowed a 747 to land anywhere on our 45 acres of land. Or nearby for that matter. Ava, our English shepherd, is a hard nose about keeping her ducks, her chickens and her turkeys safe. Everything has a place and she wants it there, except herself. She’s not big on following rules that don’t make sense to her. Ava has severe epilepsy and is heavily drugged to keep her seizures managed and give her a longer life. We’re going for quality of life for Ava, not quantity. She’s an excellent farm dog in spite of her meds, and she’s very busy girl. She’s 2 1/2.

I went out to barn before sunrise Monday morning. I spoke to the ducks and chickens so they’d know it was me and not be panicked. They were oddly quiet. Oh…not again…but they were fine. I heard a noise in the attached rabbitry and spun around to look out the barn door just in time to see what I thought was the big feral yellow house cat that shows up from time to time. I’ve tried live trapping it without success. I was pissed. Was the loss of my chickens to this feral cat the consequences for feeding him?

Early Thursday afternoon, old man Seb whined to go out. He doesn’t stay out long because he gets cold quickly now. He goes out, does his duty and is barking at the door to come in three minutes later. Thursday afternoon was different. He barked his big, roaring “I will rip your head off” bark from the back porch, up the snow bank, and as he looked around. He focused on a spot across the road. I couldn’t see anything. Seb stayed out for a couple of hours, barking, prancing around the back yard, darting at what seemed to be nothing. He hadn’t acted this way in a few years…not since the last time we had a bobcat hanging around.

I pulled Seb back to the house the way a mother brings a kicking, screaming, red-faced toddler out of the grocery store. He was shivering but he wasn’t ready to come in. I moved his bed to in front of the wood stove.

black lab farm dog
He was lame already. I gave him an aspirin and covered him with a blanket. Predator patrol is hard work when you’re an old man.

I’m telling you about the dogs for a reason. There are consequences to more than predator and prey in real life in the woods. Pets, working dogs and people are dealt consequences, too.

Ava went back out when Seb came in. Scooter was already out. This continued through Saturday afternoon. Steve spent most of the day yesterday outdoors. He was in and out, and there was always a dog outside. Sebastian continued to bark, hair on end, ready to kill. Ava and Scooter ran their property lines more often and spent a lot of time in the woods to the right of the barn. Every time I called them to check on them they came in from the right of the barn.

FYI: They’re working dogs, on my property and/or under voice control. They don’t have to be tied or leashed.

Steve and the dogs came in a little before 4 pm Saturday. He was almost asleep in his recliner when I went to the kitchen to get warm water for the poultry. I stuck the jug under the water, looked out the window while it filled, and there it was.

“Bobcat in the backyard!”

The ammo on top of the can was for his 30-06 so that’s the rifle he grabbed. It’s a big rifle for a cat that tops out at 30 pounds.

“It’s heading for the chickens,” I called out. My first instinct was to let the dogs out. It’s their job to protect the unsuspecting poultry in the pen, oblivious to the bobcat creeping toward them. It stood from its crouched position and moved quickly. Steve was out the door, safety off, gun fired, and the cat was dead before its head hit the snow. The chickens and turkeys raced into the hen house when the gun fired. They still hadn’t seen the cat coming.

We can kill predators if we catch them in the act; we have the right to defend our livestock. We didn’t need special arrangements in this case because it’s bobcat hunting season and Steve has a license.

dead bobcat after poultry attack
So small and so deadly. A bobcat can kill a white tail deer.

The dogs came out to see the cat. It was a first for Ava. Scooter and Seb are old hat at this now. Seb barreled over the snow with his hair on end, growing and eager to get to it. He approached carefully, then checked it out thoroughly when he knew it was dead.

black lab dog, bobcat
Sebastian checked the bobcat over thoroughly.

I’m reasonably sure what I thought was the feral cat was the bobcat. There’s a broken board in the door an 11 pound bobcat can squeeze through. That’s how it was getting into the barn.

Sebastian was wary of the cat until he knew it was dead. He went out last night and this morning without barking. Scooter looked it over and “dead, no big deal now.” Ava went back to it three times. I didn’t bring it to the house until her curiosity was satisfied.  She learned the identity of the predator she’s been dealing with all week.

English shepherd and Farmcollie inspect dead bobcat
Ava learns the identity of the predator.

Only twice in 17 winters have we killed a bobcat because it wouldn’t back off. They usually need three or four days of being chased off before they stop coming back. This one showed up on day seven when I happened to be in the window and saw it before it could do more damage. Letting the dogs chase it away wouldn’t have persuaded it to stay away. It was young and persistent.

We never like killing a predator. It’s a healthy bobcat doing what healthy bobcats do. Had it stuck with partridge, wild turkeys and snowshoe hares, it would have been fine. I needed it to stay out of only three of our 45 acres. You can’t reason with a predator. It doesn’t understand “you can have my other 42 acres,” and this one didn’t respect the dogs. The morning it killed the ducks, it was probably overhead on sheets of OSB stored on the rafters. It’s the only way I can think of that it would get into the barn past the dogs. It was already there. It doesn’t bother me that it was over my head. Obviously it wasn’t interested in me.

The birds are closed in in the hen house unless I’m outside. The ducks, poor terrorized things, did come out into the sunshine for the first time Monday.

Brad Richard, our game warden, is tagging the bobcat for us so that Taylor can tan the hide. It costs only a quarter to tag the carcass, and I feel like it’s a bit of a waste of time for a busy Maine game warden, but we’re doing absolutely everything on the up and up. He explained to me that young bobcats like this are “the problem bobcats. They’re between 10 and 15 pounds and still learning how this works.” Talking with him made me feel a little better about a sad situation.

Published inOutdoors