Our first interactions with wild predators began in 1977, when we moved to our small farm in Michigan, and bought a box of chicks at the local feed store. We learned very quickly that we weren’t smarter than a raccoon. Confronted by the grisly evidence in the mornings, we began a daily battle of improving the coop, the run, and the door locks. This ongoing skirmish was followed by the “Great Weasel Massacre” of our ducks. Obviously we needed to learn about the predators on our farm, as well as how to improve our protection strategies. A fluffy, white Great Pyrenees livestock guardian pup enhanced these efforts. Over time our farming interests expanded to include rare breed poultry, horses, sheep, and goats - and they all came with their own challenges in predator protection.
Here in North America, an important element of our predator situation are the real changes in the numbers and presence of animal predators in the last 50 years. The large predators – coyotes, wolves, bears, and mountain lions - get most of the press, but the smaller predators such as raccoons, skunks, opossums, and foxes have also moved into our neighborhoods. Raptor and owl populations have recovered but they increasingly prey on our poultry. Feral or free roaming animals also threaten our stock. Whether you live in rural, suburban, or urban areas, or are a rancher, homesteader, or backyard animal raiser – all of our interactions with large and small predators are increasing as many animals expand their ranges and learn to live near humans.
While we understand that predation is essential to survival and a healthy ecology, it is also enormously upsetting when you discover a killed animal in your coop or farmyard. We often have deep attachment to our animals. There may also be economic and genetic loss to your flock or herd. Our first response is usually deeply emotional; however, the answer is not to be angry or fearful but prepared and proactive to prevent unwelcome interactions. The first step is to be aware of possible threats, and then to implement and practice sound prevention techniques. Using good strategies and husbandry techniques also leads to coexistence. Both coexistence and protection begin with knowledge – of both predator and how to deal with the predator.
The Encyclopedia of Animal Predators is very purposeful in its mission - how to humanely and effectively protect your livestock, poultry, pets, and your family through understanding of the predators around us. My editor, Deb Burns, had a strong vision for this book from the very beginning. Our goal was to produce a book that contained everything you needed to know to identify and understand animal predators, as well as protect those around you. For each of the more than 50 predators in the book, we include natural history, preferred habitat, traits and behaviors, predation and movement patterns, seasonal and future changes, legal issues, and human interaction and safety. To assist you with identifying a potential culprit, you can consult range maps, track and scat drawings, and the signs of damage. We also provide protection guidelines and strategies from your backyard or farmyard to adventures in the wilderness.
Fortunately there are proven techniques for dealing with predators, from backyard chickens and beehives to range cattle and sheep. Predator proof fencing is always the first line of defense, as well as well designed housing and the use of scare tactics. Good husbandry practices and management will also reduce predation, including human observation and the use of livestock guardians. The most effective protection programs combine these various strategies.
Dealing with predators to protect our animals and ourselves is an ongoing challenge but gaining knowledge and developing appreciation of the wild animals that live around us is also rewarding. It is my hope that readers find The Encyclopedia of Animal Predators both practical and inspiring.