Farm Happenings at Ecosystem Farm
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Growings On 3/4/19

Posted on March 4th, 2019 by Kirsten Simmons

Farming is an exercise in overcoming hurdles.  From the seed that doesn't sprout, to the rain that never stops, to the city that plants oak trees in the sidewalk right of way next to my most productive field, to the landlords that ignore requests for months and then throw up obstacles when I do exactly what I've been asking for feedback on...

We lose a significant chunk of our stock to predators.  Think 1-2 chickens a month to hawks, 15+ ducks in December to coyotes, and the first three foundation rabbits for our rabbitry to raccoons in January.  While it sucks to lose any animal, these are production animals that represent a significant amount of lost income.  If each chicken lays 250-300 eggs per year and we sell those eggs at $7-8 a dozen over the 2-3 year productive life of the bird, then losing a chicken represents losing $300-600 of potential future revenue depending on the age of the bird.  The numbers are similar for ducks and rabbits.  So that two week period where we lost 15+ ducks in December?  That cost us $4500 to $9000 in potential future revenue.

Now, we take steps to protect our animals - we keep roosters in our flock to watch for hawks, and we lock them in at night and play radio when we're not around so it sounds to predators like we're there.  But it's not 100% - and while there's nothing that will completely eliminate predators, there's something that will get help with 99% of our problems - trained livestock guardian dogs.

I started talking with the partners and the church about this in December.  I knew it would be a challenge. I share my space with a preschool, an arts program for adults with mental illness, and a church.  We regularly have conversations about how we really can't have arts participants in the wash station, and can we please keep the kids out of the fields?  And they have requests for me - this is a two way exchange and I value that we all share this space even though there are times I want to pull my hair out. 

The partners brought up concerns about the dogs escaping.  I agreed to add an invisible fence and an electric fence to the 6 foot chain link fence surrounding the back pastures.  I assured everyone that I was looking for dogs that would be people friendly - that while no one can ever guarantee a dog will be 100% safe, I could take every step to ensure that people couldn't wander into the livestock areas and that the dogs would likely be friendly if they did.  The list of qualities these dogs had to have became fantastical - adult, good with people, respectful of fencing, barking only in response to predators, trained to protect free range chickens, safe around non-guardian dogs, experience with pigs and rabbits.  I budgeted $1000 to pay for one dog, and I began to think I'd need to come up with a few thousand more.

I found the dogs.  A mother and son, Great Pyrenees, raised on five fenced acres to protect free range poultry and pigs, respectful of fencing, friendly with children and new people, available for $300.  I've reserved them, and I'm picking them up on Friday.  I notify the church, and get back that they need to talk about it further and I'm not allowed to bring any livestock guardian on site until they've decided on the conditions.  And in the meantime, can I sign my lease with this clause with the conditions to be determined?

Nope.  Not happening.  I'm not signing anything with pieces yet to be determined.  And I'm not going to continue accepting losses of $1000+ a month in future potential revenue so these people can hem and haw over whether I can take steps to responsibly manage my business.  Not sure where this is going next, but as of Friday these two beauties will be in my possession and I'll be fighting to bring them to the farm so they can do what they're trained and bred to do - protect our animals.  And be big, fluffy, adorable teddy bears.