Predators, Hunters, And Maintaining A Balance

When we first moved to the farm, full time, ten years ago,
we made it our mission to walk softly upon the land,
and live harmoniously with those who called this place home before us.
You see, we live at the edge of the woods...
woods that are home to all types of animals - predatory and non.

(Photo taken from my bedroom window last year.)

Living this way has presented us with many challenges throughout the years.
Obviously, it is important to deal with the predators so that our birds
and small animals remain safe.

Ten years later... through trial and error and the advise of others...
we have been able to maintain a pretty good balance here on the farm.
I'd like to think we have walked softly upon this land...
without exploiting any of it for our own purposes.
Obviously there are things we do in order to live -
 hopefully not to the detriment of others.

One of the most beneficial components of predator suppression
has been the presence of a farm dog.
The phrase "farm dog" has different meanings to different people.
To us, of course, it means beloved pet...
not a guard animal who lives outside 24/7 as it might mean to others.
Just the mere presence of dogs who mark their territory all over the farm
can act as a deterrent to many animals.

Though we don't encourage the hunting of wild animals,
some of our dogs have been great hunters.

If you have been visiting us for many years, you might remember our
Newfoundland, Maddie,

 or our Bernese Mtn. Dog, Sadie,

or even our little elder-rescue, Hickory, all of whom are long gone now.

Even old dogs who can't keep up get to go for hikes in the woods!

None of these gals were hunters.

Then, along came Oakley (lab/spaniel mix, rescue) and consummate hunter,

 and Annie (mixed, rescue) who lived for months (abandoned as a pup)
on her own with only hunting and foraging to keep her alive.

Last, there is Brown Sammie, who was also a rescue...
found wandering in the woods as a pup and rescued by my son, Andy...
who, at two years of age came to live on the farm with us
(as he had proven himself to not be a good apartment dog... too high energy).

Sam's story is a book in itself.

This dog is an enigma.

In the days when Sam lived with Andy,
Andy had to get up early each morning, put on a pair of inline skates,
and take Sammie for a long run to tire him out before leaving for work in the morning.
Sammie's shenanigans while Andy was at work are a story in their own right.

In his early days on the farm, Sammie had unlimited energy.
He'd chase balls and run alongside the gator.
And he was fast!

Fast forward to today.
Sammie is ten years old and showing his age.
His days of adventuring off of the farm are over.

Balls are no longer worthy of a chase.
For Sammie, the ball chasing game has morphed into another game...
where Sammie tries to hump whichever dog is poised to chase said ball.
The name of this game is Annoying... just ask Chester.

He sleeps most of the day... does nothing quickly... expends as little energy as possible.
if there is hunting to be done (determined by his own decision-making process).

Our neighbors tell of seeing Sammie sitting in a field across from the farm for hours,
waiting patiently (for some unsuspecting critter who's just going about his business)...
only to be seen at some point hours later trudging across the field with a huge
groundhog in his mouth.

He walks ten steps... drops the groundhog... rests...
picks up the groundhog... walks another ten steps... drops the groundhog... rests....
picks up the groundhog... repeat... repeat... repeat...
until he finally has it safely stowed somewhere on the farm.
(Where?- unknown.  For what purpose?- unknown.)
(Perhaps to make the farm a safer place?...
groundhog holes can break a horse's leg... who knows.)

Sammie's sense of timing has always been un-matched.
The perfect example being a summer office picnic on the farm.
Everyone was assembled in the pavilion, enjoying lunch...
when suddenly the crowd parted (like the Red Sea)... amidst groans...
only to have Sammie march proudly through the middle with a dead groundhog in his mouth.
It's all in the timing.

Yes, our slow, old Sammie seems to have developed a method of
conserving his energy for only what he deems worthy or fun.
And apparently hunting is fun.

Sunday night, at bedtime, Hubbs let the dogs out for their nightly potty break.
Within minutes, Annie and Chester were back at the door, ready to go to bed.
Not Sam.
Even with calls and calls... no Sam.
We weren't worried.  Sam doesn't venture far these days.
Apparently he had some business to attend to...
which was far more alluring than bedtime.
An hour later, Sam was at the door...
head down, tail between his legs, almost crawling into the house...
in complete contrition.

If there is one thing that Sammie is not good at -
it's disguising his guilt.
No, this dog plays guilt to the max.
There's never any question when Sammie has done something that he perceives
may be naughty.
It shows in every inch of his being.

It wasn't until yesterday morning, on our way down to the pond,
that we discovered the source of Sammie's guilt.

A 15 pound (at least) raccoon lay still and stiff in the driveway by the old log cabin...
no obvious signs of injury...
most likely the victim of one violent shake that broke its neck.
That's Sammie's technique. (I witnessed it with the fox that he caught this autumn.)

I was saddened, as this poor raccoon's only mistake was most likely
in stealing food from the duck hut by the pond.
Sam, Sam, Sam.
And by the way, he didn't follow us down to the pond as he always does...
I suppose he was hesitant to return to the scene of the crime.

We picked up the raccoon remains and took it up to the compost pile,
where Hubbs buried it.
Here, as it breaks down, it will add beneficial nitrogen to the compost pile...
it's essence returning once again to the earth from whence it came.

Because nitrogen is important in creating a healthy compost,
and our only farm-made source of nitrogen is in legumes and chicken poop
(which has a high concentration of urea in it... the white part of bird poop),
we compost our dead birds and other small mammals
rather than burying them.
By the time the compost is ready to use (about a year later),
there is nothing left but a pile of rich, brown soil-like matter,
that is filled with earth-enriching microbes, fungi, and nutrients.
It's the perfect recycling... returning life to the earth through death.

As for Sammie... he is an old dog with old tricks...
tricks that are deeply set within his DNA.

He does his job around the farm... and sometimes goes beyond what is necessary.
As for us... we continue to walk as softly as possible...
accepting the good with the bad... and understanding that there is a bigger picture
where life is concerned... and sometimes things that happen beyond our control.


The JR said…
Sammie knows that raccoons will kill chickens and ducks. So, he eliminated it before it could prove that.

He's a beautiful dog.

daisy g said…
Oh, Sammie. You were just doing what you thought best.
How blessed your pups are to have found you. They couldn't ask for a better place to live out their lives.
jaz@octoberfarm said…
maybe sammie is part chow chow? all of my chows kill prey with one shake. chows have the strongest necks in the dog world.
Sammie, the king of dogs.
Oh dear sweet, handsome, lovable, smart and sometimes naughty Sammie. He has always been one of my favorites of all your critters. Please give him some extra ear scratches from me.
farm buddy said…
Great pack of dogs you have! I had a Newfoundland when I was a kid, and then got a Bernese Mountain Dog, and this was when they were very hard to find. I actually have had two Bernese Mountain Dogs in my lifetime. Now I have a Maremma and two tri-colored Border Collies, which just look like a smaller, sleeker, and much, much more athletic version of a Bernese Mountain Dog. Beautiful picture of that fox!
My Frasier has the same guilty look, he can't help it. If I return home and something inside is not as it should be. I look at Frasier and know right away whether he was responsible.
I really enjoy reading your blog posts...I get to " live on a farm vicariously" and it is an enjoyable part of my day!,!! The personality of all your beloved critters as well as yourselves come through in a wonderful way!!Mari in Colorado
Eileen in Fla. said…
Oh how I love your stories of farm life! and your and husband's balanced and thoughtful philosophy of caring for the land. Please consider codifying your writings into a book (ala James Herriot).
Our 13 year old German Sheppard killed a racoon a couple years ago. We had 5 dogs ( three were seniors and have passed on). They cornered the racoon but when I called they left the animal. Not Zeus. He ran off into the dark after the coon and then we heard this terrible cry from the coon. Zeus brought the animal to us and dropped it at our feet. He must of broken its neck because there wasn't a scratch or blood on the racoon or Zeus. It made me so sad to see a racoon die (we don't have many here) but Zeus was protecting us and his territory just like your Sammie. Our Zeus was an extremely special boy...but then all our dogs are special just like your dogs. We always tell someone that has lost a pet get another one. It doesn't replace the one you lost but they all have different personalities and become like family. We call our dogs the kids. Thank you for this story and letting me reminisce about my boy. Patty McDonald
This N That said…
Made me sad to see Sadie and Maddie..They were the is Sam..He's a beautiful dog..I remember when he used to roll around with Mollie...My Sammie used to have the best guilty look..Made me feel guilty punishing her...So sad..Your pups couldn't have a better home..xxoo
Junebug said…
Ahhh, Sadie my love!
Anonymous said…
I'm hesitant to post this comment since it makes a bunch of people uncomfortable BUT since you post honestly about decomposition AND ways to reduce your carbon footprint, here in Seattle many of us are quite excited about a company called Recompose which is essentially composting of human bodies. It's brand new and supposed to be far more eco-friendly than cremation (which releases a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere). I've talked about it with my elderly parents as they don't want a traditional graveyard burial (which also has environmental concerns). The only issue I see is that the process creates 2 YARDS of human compost!! It's an interesting idea, that's for sure. :)

Bee Haven Bev said…
I had heard of a process in Italy that placed human remains in a biodegradable pod that was then "planted" with a tree. I am all for "green" burials. To me it seems we have placed way too much importance in immortalizing ourselves through our burials, when really, the only chance we have of being immortal is through the memories of us. At least for the generations who knew us... after that.... who cares!!
Lynne said…
Awwww . . . Sammie . . . keep the stories coming!.