Sunday, January 20, 2013

Predator Pressure

Edmund and Garth both shot deer this season. They hung in our hops barn as long as the weather permitted before being skinned and butchered. I was present while Edmund was pulling the hide away from the carcass, and I heard him gasp. He had found a cluster of dog ticks buried in the white fur just behind the deer's front legs. He related this experience to a group of older men who gather every year to cut their deer communally. They always invite Edmund and Garth to partake in these evenings. Many of them reported finding the same thing on their deer. The alarming part is that they have been hunting deer here for more than 60 years, and no one ever remembers seeing a tick on one of their animals until this year. Last year was a very warm winter and this may be just another indicator of the pervasive shift occurring in our climate. Whatever the cause, it makes me uneasy. 

I heard a radio program recently that was discussing zoonotic diseases - those shared between animals and humans - lyme disease being the most recognized among them. The person being interviewed described the factors that limit their spread. The most effective was the natural order attained by having diverse species inhabit a large area together. Predators limit the overpopulation of their prey, allowing a tenuous balance to be achieved  The diversity of wildlife on this farm is our most important asset in maintaining ecological stability. It is one thing to hear owls in the night, or observe coyotes stalking groundhogs, but it's another thing to find clear evidence of a predator with its prey. After taking some hay up to the cows, I was remarking to Garth about how you could see all the little mouse tracks swerving this way and that on top of the snow. Our eyes followed the meandering lines until we both noticed one path that was interrupted.

A large bird had caught sight of this rodent, swooped down, carving large streaks with its tail, and then, clutching the mouse with its talons, broke into flight again. I feel so happy to have these relationships playing out around us. It's my hope that our farming practices will do little to quell this activity and that we might live contentedly around the edges of this dynamic order. 

- Alanna

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