Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Enemy of My Enemy

Farm life is a constant struggle between Good and Evil. Actually, that's not true. I was just being dramatic. Life around a farm is filled with various critters just doing what they do without malicious intent. Like the mighty earthworm who helps my garden, and my nefarious strawberry-eating chickens who do not.

Because I strive for a non-toxic, sustainable farm, I am loath to employ chemicals to extinguish the "bad" animals. I am not entirely sure they don't harm myself or the "good" animals or the water supply or this planet. So I have to make strange allies where ever I can. Please meet my latest recruits:

Any guesses? These are praying mantis pods. Each one holds about a hundred little praying mantises. When distributed around the garden, they will be voracious predators, eating grubs, beetles, all sorts of nasties. Of course, they are nasty themselves, not in a "I want to squash them" kind of way, but in a "I don't want to cross them, please forgive me, hivemind overlords" kind of way.

Next up in my arsenal is the gardening chicken. My garden is surrounded by chicken wire to keep the flock out. But I do allow supervised visits by my favorite garden chicken: Darthy. Darthy has the rather lucky distinction of being one of the two roosters we have selected to run the show here next year. And, he's very sociable and useful for one endearing quality: he eats slugs. He will hunt down and eat slugs and pass over earthworms. To me, that makes him chicken gold. So when I am weeding in the garden, I have my chicken with me. He has learned to follow me and watch my hands and as I turn up goodies, he pounces and finishes them off. When he gets hot, he lays between my feet as I squat over the rows and I feel like some Roman slave, palm frond in hand, gently feeding him grapes, er, slugs. Oh, and he comes when called.

I've seen a few lady bugs in the garden, but I can augment those troops with more and I intend to. I also have befriended (i.e., not run away shrieking) a garter snake who keeps watch over the peas. Good snakey. We have a resident toad, called Macbeth, in the greenhouse, eating ants. I'd also like to get a few more (thousand) dragonflies, but since the weather has been so weird, I am not sure when to do it. It's been cold, into the 40s at night, and of course rainy.

Aside from the unlikely allies, I have a rogue ally. Normally foxes keep rodent populations in check (good), but on Thursday, what I believe was a fox took two of my adult hens while I was at work (bad). So we've finally lost a chicken to predation. This makes me very, very sad. I am now in the business of trapping and likely killing foxes, something I was loath to do until they proved that they could not keep themselves to themselves. A few weeks ago, we had a fox steal a hen in broad daylight, but she got away. Now we have two hens killed (one taken) in broad daylight again, and it will only continue.

I have weighed the option of building a run and keeping the chickens perpetually enclosed, but I do not think it is an option. The wee chicklin pen the young ones are currently in is a disgusting mess. I cannot conceive of a big enough area to allow 20 chickens to roam without denuding it and turning it into a smelly, toxic dump. Also, in general, the predator pressure is very low. Of the 40 something chickens we currently have on the property, we've lost two in one year. I am content with those odds, as long as we remove Mr. Smart Fox, who has learned where the chicken buffet is served.

It's been an interesting year so far and I have completely reversed my perspective in many ways. When I lived in the city, I would cry foul if anyone suggested killing a fox. Now that my hens have been taken, I have a much more reasoned and balanced view on the whole thing. I do not kill for sport, but nature is a constant balancing act of allies turned enemies, and we just do what we do without malicious intent.

1 comment:

Karen said...

Call me silly, but I'm adding "hivemind overlords" to my permanent vocabulary. (Thank you.)