Watching For Wildlife On the Farm (Part 1)

With having a hobby farm comes occasional encounters with wildlife. Here's what to expect and how to get along with other critters humanely and responsibly.

by Anna O'Brien
PHOTO: Carol Hamilton/AdobeStock

As a hobby farmer, you may live in a place with frequent four-legged visitors—that is, beyond the livestock you care for. Most of us don’t mind sightings of the locals. But there are times when wildlife can present a risk—to themselves or us or our domesticated animals.

Let’s take a closer look at some commonly encountered mammals—next month we’ll talk birds and reptiles—and how we can live peaceably with them in the same environment.

The Usual Suspects

What you may encounter is dependent on your geographical location, as well as the type of immediate environment. Do you live on 100 acres, most of which is open field? Or 12 wooded acres?

How close are you to other houses? In general, the most common critters found around barns are scavenging omnivores like raccoons, possums and skunks. You’ll commonly see foxes, too.

With a wide-ranging diet, these animals can be attracted to uncovered or unsecured garbage or animal feed. Foxes, with their grand sense of play, are also attracted to things that could be made into toys: shoes, bedding and other objects made of squishy material.

(Foxes around my barn have chewed on the armrests of my tractor, to my annoyance.)

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Read more: What should you do when dogs show up around the chicken coop?

Keep It Tidy

Given this common theme, the mantra that comes to mind for discouraging wildlife from taking up residence on your farm is keep your barn picked up and clean.

Tidy barns mean tight lids on trash cans and feed bins and regular sweeping to remove spilled feed and bedding. Raccoons, with their prehensile fingers, are adept at removing lids. You may need bungee cords and other clamps to keep sneaky little hands out.

This also doubles as protection against the most ubiquitous of farm inhabitants: mice.

Most general barn upkeep is enough to dissuade frequent visitors. It’s amazing sometimes to see what a difference removing a long-standing pile of junk can do in this regard. However, attempting to make your barn completely critter-proof shouldn’t be the goal ,as it’s likely unattainable.

The occasional sighting is fine. Infestations are not.

Waste Not…

Wildlife waste is another aspect to consider. Not always obvious (although my fox friends see fit to leave waste right in the middle of the floor. . .), wildlife feces is something you want to avoid. It spreads disease.

Raccoons spread roundworms, and possums spread a microbe in their feces called Sarcocystis neurona. When horses ingest feed contaminated with possum waste, they are at risk of developing a neurological disease called equine protozoal myeloencephalitis, or EPM.

You can find treatment available. But damage to the spinal cord can be permanent, ending a horse’s athletic career. This can be a devastating disease, and the only prevention is to keep possums away from the barn.

Other microbes in feces, such as types of coccidia, are also a concern for both human and livestock health, resulting in diarrhea and ill thrift.

There’s also the ubiquitous threat of the rabies virus. Wherever you live in the contiguous 48 states, it’s strongly recommended your livestock receive annual vaccinations against rabies.

Read more: Here’s what to keep in mind when choosing a livestock guardian dog.

Bigger Contenders

Close encounters with larger wildlife aren’t as common on the farm but are worth a quick mention.

Out west, mountain lion encounters continue to increase at an impressive rate due to human sprawl. If you know you’re in mountain lion territory, it helps to always be aware. These cats are solitary hunters. Stay alert and look for tracks and scat. If you raise livestock and have young animals on the farm, keep them close until they are strong enough to fend off a predator.

This includes coyotes, as well. You might want to consider investing in a livestock guardian animal such as a dog, donkey or llama.

Bears are another large mammal that can be seen from time to time. Again, keeping a tidy barn with food secure will help deter these animals. But they can be curious. Making noise while working in the barn may help keep these bears away. Some people recommend always having a radio on for added human noise as a deterrent.

What Can You Do?

In most cases, when keeping a hobby farm, wildlife encounters are part of the package. However, there are times when an injured or nuisance animal requires professional assistance.

Local animal control or your Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is your first line of help. Never try to capture or touch a wild animal yourself. This also goes for helping seemingly abandoned young animals. That can’t be stressed enough.

Often, staff at your DNR office also know local wildlife rehab organizations. These individuals are specifically trained in wildlife rescue and rehab. Keep your animal control/DNR number on hand in the barn for easy access.

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