Dealing with wildlife is a necessary task even for urban homesteaders.
Because in a city, at the very least, there are squirrels and pigeons who might like to snack on your garden.
And for suburban and more rural properties, there are even more animals like deer, rabbits, and coyotes.
Now, wild animals have some very strong drives to survive and pass on their genes.
That’s why they’re still around!
One of these drives is food. They must have enough to either hibernate (bears), or find enough forage to get them through to spring(deer & elk).
This leads to
- Deer eating fruit trees & native gamble oaks down to almost nothing
- Pet rabbits eaten by coyotes
- Bear attack chickens in a coop
- Pine martens stealing eggs
- Mice eat seeds in nursery trays
- Rabbits eating…everything
I have seen examples of these on our homestead.
As winter comes on (Winter is Coming! ooooooooooh!), they get more aggressive with food. They are willing to come close to humans if they are hungry enough.
Note: This post may contain affiliate links that give us a small commission at no cost to you. See the Disclosures page for more info.
Also, if you like getting free tools, sign up for the tool giveaway in the sidebar. Matt from The Tool Merchants gives away free tools. Pretty awesome!
A story about a bear…and food
So this year, we had a bear get into the chicken coop. Twice.
But let me back up.
We had a late frost in the spring that froze the new blossoms on most of the berries and nuts the bears would normally eat.
Compounding this problem, in the previous year there was good forage for bears, and so lots of baby bears were born.
Well, those baby bears grew up, and as their mothers had new babies, momma bear pushed the yearlings out to survive on their own.
So now we have lots of yearling bears with nothing to eat.
Well, they are quite hungry, and so start coming close to human dwellings. Cause that’s where the food is, you know.
Cat food. Dog food. Fruit tree orchards. Chickens. And chicken feed.
Bears like chicken feed. Lots of easy calories without having to look too hard.
So it knocked over the feed barrel, and ate a bunch of chicken feed.
And left some nice presents behind. Like scat. That’s poop for non-country people.
And almost all the chickens. Dead. Not eaten. Just killed. Arrrrgghhhh!
To make a long story shorter, the bear was finally trapped and relocated.
In the end there were just 3 chickens left, probably wondering if they’d be next.
Walks like a duck…
We also have ducks in a separate area. It’s obvious the bear tried to get into the duck pen too, as the fence got pushed down.
The bear killed no ducks though, and I think I know why.
First, it’s a larger area, less confined than the chicken run. The ducks may have just away from the bear. They’re quick little buggers.
The other reason is there are several geese in the duck pen, one of which is a Chinese gander.
If you haven’t seen there, they’re big and loud. And sometimes mean. They bite, and I’m told by my little ones that it hurts.
The bear did get into the duck pen, took the food container and disappeared it.
But I suspect that the noise and wing-flapping of the geese made the bear shy away from the animals.
The permaculture solution
So what is the permaculture solution to wildlife problems?
Before we talk about that, let’s look at what the bear attacks revealed.
- The feed was not kept secure enough to prevent the bear accessing it. Having the feed out might have even encouraged the bear to come closer to the homestead.
- The coop fencing was not secure enough to prevent the bear from entering the coop yard.
- The bear was likely repulsed from the ducks by the loud and aggressive geese.
As I’ve said before, in applying permaculture sometimes the problem is the solution.
Of course, sometimes you turn a solution into a problem, too! Perhaps this solves the problem of getting the kids to do their chores? 😉
We could just free-range our birds, but I’m not OK with losing so many animals.
When we take over from nature, we have to supply the needs of the elements that would be handled by nature.
For chickens this means food, water, and security. And other chickens.
So it looks like we need better infrastructure to contain the animals and keep out predators.
This will take the form of a stronger, better built fence, and better chicken coop.
I have used electro-net fencing from Premier1, and I will add electric fencing in the new one.
I also like the coop plans that Harvey Ussery showed in The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, as well as his management tips and helpful ideas.
Part of the solution is also revealed in the duck/goose reaction. Having some loud natural warning system like guineas or geese could help reduce losses from predators.
Another part is realizing that by choosing to live in this area, animal losses are just a fact of life.
Of course, we could also grow a big wildlife focused native food forest. Properly designed, it feeds wildlife and yet still pushes them away from the animals and plants we want to keep.
Thorny plants like seaberry and Siberian pea shrub are good choices, as a shield and wildlife repellent.
This is probably the best, longest-lasting, and most sustainable solution.
Of course, there’s also bone sauce:
Why is wildlife so destructive?
A bear will be a bear. A deer will be a deer. A mouse will be a mouse.
Like I said at the beginning, animals have strong drives for survival, one of which is getting enough to eat.
Believe me, I understand how frustrating it is to have fruit trees stripped by deer (A.K.A. rats with hooves) or eggs stolen by pine martens.
Having to deal with a loss like this is no fun. When it means your income from eggs is nearly wiped out it can cause resentment and anger.
I get it.
But realize that they’re not being mean to you. They’re driven by instinct to survive.
They will eat until they’re nothing left of your tree, because they’re hungry. And they don’t exactly have impulse control.
Understanding these characteristics and behaviors is key to designing around these elements.
And you must design for them. Or your so-called sustainable systems get damaged when wildlife does show up.
Consequences with & without man’s intervention
In a system without humans, wildlife without food will starve. That’s just the simple truth of it.
Because humans involve themselves in the natural system, wildlife involves us.
In a natural system without man’s intervention, no human-feeding food forest will develop.
There are relatively few species of plants that bear edible food in sufficient quantities worth harvesting.
A food forest is a designed, human-focused food-producing system that mimics a natural forest. The niches and positions are all filled, but not with the same species as a natural system.
Likewise, chickens in a fixed run/coop is not a natural system. A better alternative is a rotational method where birds move to fresh pasture periodically.
This system uses electric netting to keep birds in and predators out. The better setups will have a mobile coop, which helps with reducing pests and diseases.
Summary, mindset & strategy
Having the right mindset is critical to overcoming problems in permaculture design.
It’s a very good idea to Observe and interact (one of the permaculture principles) when dealing with wild, uncontrolled systems.
They function on natural laws and principles, and the system is understandable.
From this understanding, you create a design that takes into account the natural behaviors of wildlife.
The strategy should also be one of long and protracted observation, not long & protracted work. If you do a bunch of work then find the work wasted, isn’t your effort in vain?
Keep these ideas in mind when dealing with wildlife.
And if it happens that your garden grows deer, make steaks and sausage!
If you’d like to know more ways to live better, we’ve partnered with Claire Goodall to offer the Everyday Roots ebook. It’s over 350 pages of home remedies, natural beauty recipes, and DIY household products.
This ebook shows you how to protect yourself and your family from toxic products and use healthier, all-natural alternatives. For more info Click Here or on the pictures!
OK, that’s all folks! Do you have any questions or comments about wildlife, sustainable homesteading, permaculture design or anything else? Ask your question down below and let’s talk! You can also use the contact form, or email me at info at thepermaculture dot life.
P.S. If you like getting free tools, sign up for the tool giveaway in the sidebar. Matt from The Tool Merchants gives away free tools. Pretty awesome!
FREE Lazy Gardener's Guide to Homestead Management
What to plan, do, and buy each month to keep your sustainable homestead on track.
Never forget important tasks again, and get lots of stuff done!
And you get our latest content by email. We usually publish new stuff twice a week.