Coyotes, Cougars & Bears, oh my!

       THANK GOD FOR OUR GUARD DOGS!       GuardDogsLast night was a really wild night.  It seemed like the dogs were practicing their barking skills all night long.  There are so many times we get up from watching TV or get back out of bed to check the fields around our house because of the tumult they cause in the middle of the night.  Sometimes we think they are just playing a game, are bored, or scared, or lonely and need something to do.

Inevitably on the nights we are so sure they are just causing a commotion, we find telltale paw prints the next morning – a lot closer to home than we would like to have them.  Once again such was the case Thursday night – big coyote tracks breaking through the frozen snow inside the fenced pastures, venturing close to our goats was a clear indication that we had visitors – even though we humans could not spot them!  Chloe, our Maremma herd dog, barked herself silly all night long, but she knew what she was doing.  If not for her protecting those goats, more than likely we would have been missing someone from the herd this morning.

But we know now – after our discovery – that she was hard at work making sure the coyotes stayed a safe distance from our small herd of goats.  We have seven young goats and seven adult goats.  They all have horns so they are somewhat able to defend themselves and yet coyotes are known to be very determined, especially working as a group.

I am sure that Chloe spent much of her evening doing exactly what she was bred to do and we didn’t have to teach her anything.  When we got her, we put her in with the goats and they became her family.  She eats, sleeps, plays and coyoteguards them with her life.  We often find it humorous because when we go out to feed them, she even tries to eat the hay we put into their feeder.  The look on her face is priceless as she looks at us with hay hanging from both sides of her mouth, as if to say:  “I sure don’t understand how these goats think this is such a fantastic meal that they push and shove one another out of the way when Dad brings us dinner.”

This is not the first time she has protected them from predators.  A couple of summers ago we had a huge mama cougar sleeping on a lower branch of one of our pine trees.

cougar

It was so arrogant that it just lolled away time on the branch not even  100 yards from where the goats were grazing in the pasture.  Hubby finally took aim at it with his .223 and scared it away.  He didn’t have a cougar tag then but we have learned that we get one every year now because the cougars don’t seem to be even a little afraid of us.  They just lie there and watch us as we go about our chores.  I guess we have been pretty fortunate that they have not been starving or we probably would have had more of a problem.

Finally, to round things out as far as variety, we have had several visits from the neighborhood bears as well.  They seem to have been young and not particularly large, but a threat even at that.  bearThere was a small one standing upright in the road just above our driveway three years ago, a fairly large one charged our fence  in the feed lot two years back and again just the other night my husband could smell one in the pasture below the barn, near the creek.

So far we have been fortunate enough that we have not lost any of our animals.  There are not just goats to be concerned about.  We also have 40+ chickens, eight turkeys, two cats and a house dog.  Between the two guard dogs, Chloe (Maremma) and Rambo (Great Pyrenees), things around here have been pretty well protected.  We figure it is a pretty fair trade-off (the barking for the safety) but I’m not sure the neighbors would agree.  Although when you stop to think about it – the dogs are actually protecting other residents as well as ourselves.  So we are hoping they will give us some grace with our alarm system!

Our Country Life

Living out in the country has its advantages. There is a peacefulness that is incomparable to city life. The pace of life is much more relaxed and the stress level is nearly zero when weighed against the hustle and bustle of hoards of humanity rushing through their daily routines.

We moved from the city seven years ago to a little place (5 acres) nestled in the woods about 7 miles from town on the side of a mountain. Here we don’t have to be reminded to stop and smell the roses for we have the advantage of a variety of fragrances permeating the air around the clock. The biggest adjustment we had to make was slowing down our lives. We no longer had to schedule in extra travel time for possible traffic jams, don’t have to fight the mobs of people at the stores or be afraid to say hello to a stranger and there is a leisurely pace that was almost annoying in the beginning and now is ingrained into our routines.

The cashier at the grocery store asks about our week and truly wants to hear about the new baby goats, the shipment of specialty chickens arriving in the next day or so, the family visiting next week or our son being accepted into college on a scholarship. Stopping to pick up the mail may take 20-30 minutes because three neighbors stopped to ask about our week and then shared that they just bought a prize bull, their daughter was voted in as this year’s Rodeo Queen, their first-time mama goat is giving a quart of milk a day and still has plenty for her twins or their son (or daughter) was just accepted into college.

Oh, you still have responsibilities and a primary schedule for accomplishing things. And, if you have a job, there is still the time clock to face but the whole attitude toward life is different! You work hard and then you enjoy resting. There doesn’t seem to be the drive to dash through the day and then collapse in the evening, although I’m sure there are still some who do just that.

We have a leisurely breakfast each day and then go about our daily tasks. We don’t play the radio during the day usually and are often entertained by the songs performed “live” throughout the day featuring solos from doves, quail, finches, canaries, sparrows and swallows. Then there are the special contributions made by various hens announcing new arrivals, met with approving clucks from their girlfriends as Joseph, the rooster with a coat of many colors, struts proudly through the chicken corral, taking credit for his accomplishments! The goat kids bounce and climb and supervise the entire list of my husband’s chores in the small pastures, the mamas silently oversee everything while restfully chewing their cuds. The herd dog keeps everyone safely together and the guard dog keeps all predators away. The cats control the mice and the house dogs lie patiently waiting for us to stop our busyness in order to cuddle into our laps for the evening.

About twilight begins our nightly concert. The crickets and frogs and owls begin their serenade as stars begin to twinkle and a soft billowy breeze passes through the pastures and barnyard. Often in the distance can be heard the chatter of coyotes signaling to one another. These “song dogs”, as they are commonly called by country folk, are gathering for their nightly trek to a familiar hunting ground. Listening carefully one can almost put words to their unique calls. Maybe a single animal will announce its presence and then there may be a lone response or sometimes a group seems to say: “We’re over here and headed your way. Meet us at the pond and we’ll figure out where to go next.” Then suddenly off in the distance there may be a young song dog calling to say: “Hey guys, wait for me, I’m coming too!”

As they begin to gather, their voices blend together, sometimes beautiful and sometimes harsh – somewhat like a lovely ballad being interrupted by a burst of hard rock. But then they blend again and fade with their passing and all becomes peaceful once more – the crickets, frogs and owls picking up the refrain. Throughout the night we may hear a single verse now and again; just like someone has song stuck in their head, repeating it casually every so often. And then, before you know it, a new chorus of chirping, tweeting, clucking, crowing, baaing and mooing brings the countryside to life and another new day is ushered in for us to enjoy!