If a tree falls in the woods, crushes an opossum, and a farmer is around to hear it, it does make a noise. The tree and the opossum both. Regrettably, I never did take a photo of this occurrence before a flood washed the evidence away. (The tree was in the stream corridor.)
The less troubled individual below was photographed during a winter woods walk. We don’t encounter opossums very regularly, in part because of their typically nocturnal habits (the tree climber and the photographed subject excepted). However, tracks suggest that they are moderately common.
Opossums are omnivores, but they have not yet caused meaningful trouble with our chickens or produce crops. Thus, we have not felt the urge to investigate the reports that opossums make good meat.
Our trail camera confirms that we’re in mink territory. This photo was taken in mid-August 2012 on the pond bank. Eric saw one mink in the vicinity of the farm several years ago, and we’ve suspected their presence on the farm, but this was the first confirmation.
Minks are predators, eating a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial prey (according to The Wild Mammals of Missouri) . We hope rodents and rabbits are on their menu when they visit the farm. Minks are one of the most important reasons to keep chickens secure at night. A tight chicken house is a must, given how small an opening a mink’s long, thin body can get through.
Not what we had in mind for the trap. The animal was released unharmed & without incident.
Skunks are omnivores, with voles listed among the mammals that they’ll eat. That is reason enough for us to value their presence, as long as they otherwise stay out of trouble. As omnivores, they do have the potential to be problematic, as well: They’ll eat berries, and they are capable of preying on chickens and eggs. Skunks are also potential carriers of rabies in Missouri. Fortunately, we have not yet experienced a situation with a problem skunk.
The coyote in this trail cam photo was visiting one of the only remaining watering holes in the stream during the drought of 2012.
Coyote populations have varied considerably during our time at Chert Hollow Farm. During our first few years here, coyotes were fairly scarce. The population seems to have spiked in 2011 and remained high into 2012. Perhaps this was a result of a general boom in prey populations following the heavy oak mast of 2010?
As predators, coyotes have the potential to be both beneficial and problematic on the farm. The benefits are mostly from the perspective of vegetables, since coyotes eat critters that eat vegetables, particularly rabbits and rodents, thus helping to keep those populations in check. They are also a potential threat to domestic animals such as goats and chickens, though electric fences, well-maintained infrastructure, and sensible precautions such as locking animals in at night have prevented problems so far.
In late November 2012, someone shot a coyote across our property line without our permission & left it on our land to rot. We do not approve of or appreciate such uncalled for & wasteful killing of predators.
While certainly not in “control” of the ecosystem at Chert Hollow Farm, humans do exert a considerable amount of influence on the biota and landscape, particularly with the help of symbiotic species such as the goat (at left, photo below; a male of this post’s featured species is shown at right in the orange hat).
Humans sometimes have a curious means of deciding what species to use to populate certain parts of their landscape. In the photo below, a human is studying paper catalogs to decide which lettuce plants will have an opportunity to express their genes at Chert Hollow Farm.
A number of species consider humans to be a suitable food source, including ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes, deer flies, horse flies, and more. Humans, in turn, consider a variety of animal species to be suitable food sources, including deer, squirrel, rabbit, raccoon, and more.
This trail cam photo (taken at the pond during August 2012) confirms that mink have a presence at Chert Hollow Farm. We had suspected this based on one definite sighting in the vicinity a few years ago, combined with the knowledge that they can range widely.
Mink can be vicious predators of chickens, killing numerous birds at a time. A mink is a prime suspect in a chicken massacre that we experienced in our first year raising chickens (before we knew enough to build a sufficiently predator-proof chicken house). Mink can both dig and get through rather small openings, so considerable effort is required to build (& maintain) a mink-proof structure. On the other hand, mink almost certainly do us some good as predators of other problematic critters, such as rodents and rabbits. They’re certainly interesting animals, and we hope that we can do our part to keep them from becoming a problem for our domestic animals so that we can properly appreciate their presence.
This is our friendly house feline, whose job description includes household rodent control.
She is an indoor cat for several reasons:
- For food safety reasons, we don’t allow domestic animals in growing areas, and keeping an outdoor cat away from vegetable & herb beds that have the perfect texture of a litter box can be pretty much impossible.
- Outdoor cats tend to decimate populations of lizards and song birds, and we like lizards and birds. We’d rather her hunting talents be exercised indoors on rodents.
- We lost our previous cat to cytauxzoonosis, a really nasty disease that has been likened to ebola for cats. The disease is carried by bobcats, with ticks as the vector, and it is very often fatal to domestic cats. Though keeping a cat indoors isn’t guaranteed prevention (as ticks still ride into the house on us), it is a reasonable precaution.
- She is reasonably content to stay inside; this was an attribute we tried to select for at the Humane Society, and we seem to have chosen well.
White-tailed deer are common, though not always commonly seen. This fellow posed for our trail camera at the one remaining watering hole in the stream during July 2012, in the middle of an extreme drought.
We put much effort into fencing to keep deer out of produce-growing areas. We also make use of hunting season to try to slightly reduce population numbers while boosting our meat supply, in effect replacing the natural predators now displaced by humans.
Rabbits deserve their reputation as enemies of vegetable growers.
We’ve seen populations vary over time at Chert Hollow Farm. They were minimally problematic during our first few years (to the extent that we didn’t even list them with other pesky mammals on our first organic certification form). But there was a population explosion during the summer of 2011. The 2011 spring peas grew with no protection from rabbits and an early summer edamame planting was fine, but they devoured late edamame plantings several times over and barely minded an electric line that we put up around the plantings for protection.
Here’s a baby:
Populations boomed in spring 2014, with a rabbit even coming into the greenhouse to nibble on plants. We accidentally discovered a relatively effective trap bait to catch rabbits: sweet potatoes. (Some roots that had failed to produce slips were sitting on the patio, where a rabbit came to gnaw on them, thus the idea.)
Rabbits do provide food to keep the local predator populations happy. That’s almost certainly a rabbit in the mouth of a coyote in this nighttime trail cam photo: