Sunday, March 1, 2009

Intruder Alert!

Of the four-legged variety, that is.

I homesteaded by myself last week, which means that I was too busy to think and too tired to care. But when I got out of the shower Friday morning, I looked out the window at the pasture (I love that the house has so many windows) and saw a GIANT coyote circling along the back fence. In broad daylight (7 am) and huge!

Uttering a few curses, I got my PJs back on as fast as I could, grabbed my pistol, shoved my bare feet into my knee high muck boots and ran outside, sans hat, coat, and gloves. The horses were in the barn eating their breakfast, the fence was turned off, and the chickens, now aware of the threat, were filing back to the coop.

The coyote in question was not what I expected. Texas coyotes are about the size of a beagle, scruffy, lanky, low to the ground critters. They rarely make eye contact and scurry away. What stared back to me was very large, about the size of a German Shepherd, solid, very calculating. It stopped pacing the electric fence, which it did not realize was not turned on, and settled into a down stay, all the while meeting my gaze and staring back.

I stood for awhile, holding it's gaze while my chickens shuffled into the coop behind me. I thought back to the last time I fired my gun, how far was the target? How does that translate to my pasture? My pasture was bigger than I thought? Should I try to get closer? Should I just fire a shot to scare it? Would my neighbors hear and come running with their more appropriate firearms? Would I shoot my foot off?

The horses were in the barn, about 100 yards to my back and in front was a ridge and 30 miles of forest (good backstop), or I would never consider firing my pistol.

All the while, the coyote sat there. I decided to just chase it off my property. The fence was obviously a deterrent. The bugger had been zapped before, obviously. Perhaps the horses were also a factor, since he chose to stick around while they were out of sight.

So I drudged up the ridge to shoo him off. He retreated 20 feet and then, making deliberate eye contact, settled back into a down-stay. His message was crystal clear, and quite unnerving.

I continued after him, while he would give ground and then turn to see if I was still following. I finally got him off my property, then returned to the house and picked up my boy dog. I took him back out on leash, showed him all the places the coyote had been, and let him pee on everything. The coyote came closer while I was retrieving the dog. But he finally had enough and truly ran, not looking back anymore.

While I was out there, letting my (finally useful) male dog mark the property, I noticed the tracks, beds, spots of blood, and shreds of tissue (rabbit?) lying around. My back 3 acres were very busy indeed. The fact that this was first sighting (I hear them at night about 4 times a month) is truly a testament to the efficacy of the fence and horses.

I finally left when the squirrels came back out. They are much smarter than I.

I mentally noted again that the back three needed to be deforested this year. That would push the predators back off my land and onto my neighbors' 60 acres of virgin forest. It would give a larger perimeter of open ground, and of course, more electric fencing. I don't care that they exist, or even hunt on my land (outside of my pastures), but they need to stay out of my animals. They have every right to exist, but they don't need to exist on a chicken diet.

I've got to get some paperwork in order to buy a rifle in New Hampshire, in case this particular critter starts making this a habit. It's been a couple of days and I haven't seen him since. I am actually quite amazed that a little fencing and a lot of big, dominant draft horse can keep the wildlife at bay. I have found one single set of tracks inside the pasture since I moved in, and they stopped halfway and headed back into the woods. The amount of tracks and scat outside the fencing is amazing, crisscrossing everywhere, piles and piles and deer manure, rabbit, fox. So I know this is not an isolated incident, I just got lucky to look out my window at the correct time.

But so far, so good. I am hoping we can all respect each other and live side by side.

(P.S., I am dead sure the animal was not a wolf. My description can lead some to believe it might be. There has not been a wolf sighting in New Hampshire or Maine for decades and certainly not one so far south. If I thought there was a chance it was a wolf, chickens be damned, I am not walking outside with a pistol.)


Bev said...

They scare me. Dogs and cats around here have disappeared and coyotes are often suspected.
We have lots of coyotes here in Michigan, bigger than the Texas type but I haven't seen any as large as the one you did. I hear them sometimes at night. A hunter I know told me to be most vigilant at dawn and dusk when they are most active then, so I keep my dogs on leash if we need to go outside. I don't like being an alarmist, but I love my dogs too much to not be cautious.

Daun said...

Bev, I agree. My dogs are fenced in a very small area right off the house. I feel fine that the coyotes won't make it through the electrified pasture (which basically surrounds the dogs and the chickens) and come so close to the house to get into the fenced area. One neighbor had a mini daschy killed and eaten right in his (unfenced) back yard while he watched. *shudder*

But they do what they do. If they can exist without eating my animals, they are good for rats, rabbits and vole control. Everything has a place, you just have to find a way to make it work for you. :)

Daun said...

Let me put it another way. I don't expect wild animals to know "right" from "wrong" when it comes to empty bellies. It's my job to protect the "wrong" animals. If one of my chickens gets taken, it's my fault.

I have to make it so the "right" prey are easier and more convenient than the "wrong" prey. Indiscriminate killing of predators causes more harm than good on an nature-oriented farm. Now ask me again when my favorite hen gets eaten. :)

dp said...

Sounds like coyotes in NH and coyotes in BC are cut from the same cloth.

And you know my take on this of course...the sooner you can add an LGD to the place, the better. Coyotes give our place wide berth and Titan is downright scary if he catches site of one. A rifle is a reasonable short-term solution if you happen to be home...a good dog is always on duty and always in the memory of would-be predators who have visited before.

Austen said...

This story made my morning! What an adventure. I've seen wolves (they are so beautiful!) and Indiana coyotes. Honestly, the coyotes scared me more. The wolves seemed to have a mind about them, while the coyotes were just ravenous and daring. Plus, in Indiana, coyotes always seem to have rabies. I remember one summer one of my good friends was chased down a back road of my college and into a building by a rabid coyote. The only reason he escaped was that he took the stairs up to the building entrance, and the coyote took the wheelchair ramp. Luck.

I agree with DP. A good farm dog is worth it's weight in keeping coyotes away. Well, a good farm dog or a brave little donkey.

Alex said...

We have been lucky (and my chickens have a fenced "run" that they stay in) with our coyotes. I must admit I love to listen to the babies in the late spring- when they learn to yip and yap and howl it makes me smile. Now if they were eating my critters id feel differently, but they are just part of our soundtrack here.

Bev said...

I have another story similar to Austen's about a bold coyote. This happened to a close and long-time friend of my trainer about 2 years ago, when she was living in Athens, GA.

Amy and another woman were on a hack, along with Amy's Australian Shepherd mixed-breed dog, when they noticed a coyote following them. Like the one you saw, Daun, this one did not seem to be afraid of them and was staring very intently on Amy's dog, Tanner, then about 1 year old. The coyote's fix on Tanner grew more intense by the second, so Amy told the other woman, who wasn't a great rider, to take off with Tanner as fast as they could go while she stayed behind to face off the coyote to allow for them to get away. They took off and the coyote tried to get around her, but Amy, who is a fantastic rider (she finished 3rd in last year's AECs on a 21-year old TB) was able to cut him off. When the coyote started coming at Amy and her horse, she turned that mare around and put on the after burners. She said the coyote chased them for 2-3 miles until she was nearly back to their barn!

Afterwards the game warden was called, attempts were made to track the coyote but they never found it. Amy is not easily intimidated, but she said she never felt safe to venture far from the barn after that day and always left Tanner confined at the barn.

Andrea said...

AHH! That's terrifying. We have them here too and the neighbors said the other day that she had two of them sitting on her pool cover in broad daylight a few days ago, just hanging out. It freaks me out how unafraid they can be, although I can't blame them and I understand. I can't even imagine one that huge though.. but then again, I don't think I've ever seen one in the wild. Foxes, yes. Coyotes, no.