If you are a homesteader already in full swing or if you are just beginning your journey into homesteading, there is one thing you can depend on. Your beautiful crops and well cared for animals are going to attract unwanted visitors at some time. Those red tomatoes or green heads of lettuce look like dinner to a wide range of critters, including bugs, worms, birds, raccoons, and squirrels. And those cute little chicks peeping away in their pen? Just a tasty morsel for a fox or a cat, wild or domestic. I myself have experienced the loss of several young chickens to a possum, something I never would have expected. Predators and thieves come in all shapes and sizes. In the interest of time, I will only address the protection of homestead animals in this article, saving the protection of crops for next week.
Many people will tell you that the loss of animals is just a part of homesteading. But you have spent valuable time and money on them, and protecting them from predators when possible just makes sense. Once predators know that your animals are easy prey, their numbers will multiply and their destruction will become more widespread. So, what are some steps you can take to keep those predators away from the animals on your property?
The first step should be to learn about the particular predators in your area. What kind of critters are they, how are they most likely to get to your animals, and at what time of day are they most active in looking for prey? For example, are there owls which swoop in from above to snatch up your poultry or rabbits in the dark of the night? Or is it a fox which is capable of digging under a fence and is most active during dawn and dusk? Keep in mind that a truly hungry predator may not keep to a particular time of day when trying to find food.
Let’s start with those predators that can dig under your fencing to get into a pen or run. While chicken wire is usually fine for keeping your animals in, it is often lightweight enough that a determined predator can bend it. It is better to use hardware cloth (or hardware mesh) when constructing your pen or run. It is made of a heavier gauge material than chicken wire. Bury the hardware mesh a minimum of two feet deep (four feet deep is even better, if possible). This will deter most predators from digging.
If you live in an area with lots of hawks and owls, you will need to place a cover over your run. Chicken wire will work fine for the purpose of keeping flying predators away from your animals. Your animals will be protected but will still have visibility and airflow. To provide shade, you can use a tarp over a section of the pen.
Many predators will attack at night. Because of this, it is always a good idea to lock your homestead animals inside at night. Keep in mind that raccoons in particular are cunning little creatures who can open simple locks and bolts. To keep these sneaky little critters away from your quail or chicken eggs, use a carabiner as a lock. Smart as they are, raccoons can’t open a carabiner. Also, collect your eggs every day. Empty nests aren’t particularly attractive to predators.
What if your animals are free range rather than in a pen or run? One tactic for this situation is to hang some of your old CDs from trees and posts. These will usually scare away birds of prey. Some folks swear by electric fences around the perimeter of their property. They are inexpensive and relatively easy to install. A guard dog can also be helpful with free range animals. Make sure your dog is good with your homestead animals before you leave them together. You don’t want your guard dog turning into another predator!
So, don’t assume that losing a few animals to predators has to be a part of homesteading. With some planning ahead of time and some work on your part, you can protect your investment from the creatures that think of your homestead pens as a buffet for them to enjoy. Make it difficult for them to get to your animals, and chances are good that they will move along to easier prey somewhere else.