8 things to think about before messing with your ecosystem
Farming and homesteading aren't just about bringing a few chickens into our lives, but about how those new birds will bring nature to us. The birds tempt the new Mother Fox in the neighborhood, spilled grain makes easy pickin's for the local chipmunks and hidden nests are an invitation to opossum with a taste for yummy eggs.
For new livestock owners, the obvious answer to this is to simply clean out these pests before they become an issue using poisons, traps and guns. We cannot emphasize enough, please do not do this without serious thought. The results can be much more far reaching than many realize - for you, your animals and your neighbors.
Traps won't just trap your animals. Any bait that will appeal to a rodent will appeal to a duck or a chicken. You may also end up trapping other wild animals in the area that you didn't intend to, or even know was there.
In the same category, poisons can affect animals you don't mean to. Birds eat insects and rodents and may be affected by poisons. I once has a cat poisoned because the neighbors sprayed for insects, birds ate the insects and the cat ate the birds.
Consider the positive benefits of the animals you may consider pests. Opossums eat ticks. Crows fend off hawks. Fox keep the local rodent population down, which interrupts the life cycle of Lyme disease. Are the animals in your area actually causing you issues? Are they issues you can deal with (or get head of) without affecting the local wildlife?
Remember that the wildlife was there first. Does this mean that they should be able to wipe our your chickens? No. However, the fact that they were there first means they have been eating something. What is it and what will happen if you remove them? If the local owl has been eating mice and you remove them, that is an average of twelve mice a night that will now survive and multiply.
Try protection first. These are domestic animals and we have a duty to make certain they have safe, healthy environments. Most people would not let their dogs runs loose at all times if they lived on a busy road, yet think nothing about leaving chickens unprotected in an area where they know there are predators.
Consider the effect on your neighborhood. We have all heard stories about the vibration machines designed to chase groundhogs out of your yard... that ends up with them up in your neighbor's yard. In the same way, ridding yourself of large hunters like fox, opossums, and birds of prey can have an effect on your neighbors. If the neighborhood fox-family has been keeping the local rat population down, killing them off doesn't just result in a rodent surge for you. Fox can range for 5-10 miles and their deaths affects the ecosystem for that entire area.
Nature abhors a vacuum. If you remove a local predator, something else will move in. Do you want to go from skunks to raccoons? How about from fox to coyotes? Consider whether or not you can live with what's in the area, and what might move in that could be worse!
Make sure you blame the right critter. I don't know how many opossums I've head of being killed when the nightly chicken-killer turned out to be a weasel. Or how many fox have been shot, only for the culprit to end up being a raccoon. This can compound with some of the issues listed above to make life more difficult rather than less. Now you not only have raccoons still raiding the hen-house, but chipmunks and red squirrels are now in your attic and your barn destroying insulation and stealing grain.
In short. Live with nature rather than fighting it. Getting out your gun to save your new chickens may seem like the best move - especially if your favorite hen has gone missing - but is rarely a good long term solution. Talk to your local game warden or animal rehab specialist. Find out what experienced farmers have done and what the consequences are. Learn to spot animal signs so you can make sure you have the right killer in your sights. And most importantly, build proper runs and shelters for your animals. Don't blame the wildlife because you chose not to put up a fence.