River Ramblings south
February 26, 2020
It has already been a muddy Spring, which is unusual, with it still being February. For us, the moisture is a blessing as it is for most farmers and ranchers, but it can also be a curse when trying to haul hay or feed livestock on our county and ranch roads. Vehicles and tires are soon mud encrusted with our usual gumbo, and deep potholes take a toll, as well as the strain of getting through the mud where there is very little gravel. When we have appointments or meetings, we feed extra so we can spend a few days at our place near Big Sandy, hoping for the roads to improve and either freeze or dry out. Unfortunately, when we aren’t at the ranch for a night or two, all sorts of predators show up. They seem to sense a lack of activity and most likely smell some juicy fresh meat, such as our chickens or guineas. We have not had any trouble for a long while, but last week the reprieve ended. When we arrived at the ranch, we were met by silence, where there are usually roosters crowing and guineas raucously announcing our arrival. We immediately were heartsick, knowing something was terribly wrong.
Living on our ranch so close to the river and the Missouri Breaks makes us very likely to have to deal with predators, the most common are raccoons, skunks, coyotes, weasel, an occasional bobcat, or mountain lion. In recent years we have seen wolves, a grizzly bear, across the river, and who knows what other predators the American Prairie Reserve will release in our area. When the river freezes over, it becomes easy to access anything on the other side. We often talk about how ranchers of the ‘30s and ‘40s had to fight hard to protect their livelihood from the many predators that were running free then. There were government trappers and hunters to help the rancher’s control and prevent the destruction they caused. It was nearly impossible to raise sheep or cows as the lambs and calves were prime targets for fresh meat. When our family first moved here, there were no deer, rabbits, or birds because of the high populations of mostly coyotes and some wolves. It is again beginning to be like that. We find many kills on the river ice, around our buildings, and in our hay meadows. When the predators were controlled and kept to smaller numbers, we suddenly had deer, elk, game birds, and rabbits come back to the area. We would love to keep it that way, but it is difficult to control coyote numbers without additional help. The other predators appear more often from people wanting to reintroduce them to areas they think they need to be. Ron and I were quite surprised when we called Fish and Game about wolves coming across the river and attacking and killing our animals some years ago; they flatly told us there were no wolves in our area! We had two very big dogs who fought with the wolves, and from the amount of blood, we figured they had seriously injured or killed one of the wolves for sure. The very next afternoon, we had helicopters flying over our ranch searching for something, maybe the wolves that aren’t there? They never stopped by to ask if we knew anything about them, and our dogs weren’t telling tales.
As you may have guessed, some predator or predators had visited our ranch yard and eliminated our flock of laying hens and rooster as well as 27 of our 30 guinea hens. There were no signs of a slaughter that usually comes with raccoons or skunks; the birds had been eaten, 3 of them, in the yard, and the rest hauled away to different areas. There were no massive amounts of feathers for the numbers of birds killed, so obviously they ate them further away or made a cache to come back to so they could continue to feed on them. They did it all in one afternoon and night, which surprised us they could eliminate so many that quickly and efficiently. We locked up the few we had left and set traps, which were sprung without any catch. We were angry at ourselves for letting our guard down just one time. Seriously angry at anyone who supports the reintroduction of predator type animals, the animals are just searching for food where it is getting scarce because of overpopulation and lack of wild game to eat. They are certainly not a necessity for the area. We are not the only ones experiencing loss to predators, and I don’t see it getting any better in the near future.