Saturday, July 20, 2013

Egg Production and the Effects of Predation

OK folks, I put together the data I had to show what's going on. I am losing about 4 chickens per day to our wonderful coyote. I know that folks have asked me to coexist, or have it trapped and removed. I've coexisted with the coyote pack since 2007. They've always done some damage, but this is the worst by far. Due to a neighbor that likes to complain that my dogs are too loud, I've had to take measures to keep them quiet, including keeping them in our yard for stretches of time. This has allowed the coyotes full access to my pasture during the day, which we didn't think was a problem. Until another neighbor (who has lost chickens, too) saw the coyote at noon grab a chicken from our coop.  I have been finding piles of feathers and carcasses in the field daily when I collect eggs.

Anyhow, below shows our annual egg production. Some of the data is sketchy, we weren't as good at collecting data a few years back, so long stretches of straight lines mean we weren't collecting data. However, you can see a trend in production. A jump up in March that continues to a high point in May, then a slow decline until October when it starts to drop more quickly to a minimal level in mid November that stay lows until the next march.

The data below is shown from Jan 1 through Dec 31 annual. Colors indicate the year:

2010   2011   2012   2013

You can see that we've slowly increased production year to year, which is a good thing. Looking at 2011 and 2012, you can see the standard trend that we were expecting to see again this year. NOW there is one other factor that will attribute to a quicker drop off for 2013. If you read my last post, you'll know that we are butchering all birds this fall, that means we did NOT raise any new egg layers this year. Typically, as the older hens start to slow their production, the new birds are first beginning to lay, sort of filling that void for the fall. We don't have those birds this year, so the drop off will be quicker. However, the drop off you see below for 2013 is much more drastic than expected, and this is attributed to the coyote kills. We are already down to 2010 levels, and we had less chickens that year than we planned to have this year.  Because we are already butchering everyone this year, at some point their feed consumption will outpace their egg income and it won't be economical to keep them. We were expecting that timing to hit in October, but it looks like it might be close to September or even sooner, depending on if we can take care of this coyote.

That being said, egg sales are now being eliminated for all customers except our CSA members and our restaurant. I hate to do that, but we have agreements in place for those customers that we need to maintain.

The other piece of this puzzle - we need to deal with the coyote. I know that a large part of our farm is that we raise our animals humanely, and we don't like to see harm come to any animal. This coyote, however, has pushed me past my limits. I don't want to hurt wildlife.  We don't want animals to suffer. However, my chickens are suffering. I have found them with their necks wrung, their heads bitten off, wings torn off, large gashes in their bodies. The coyote has access to plenty of rabbits and prairie dogs, and possibly other birds like pigeons and blue jays and killdeer. But he's terrorizing my chickens. And when I butcher all my birds this fall, and have none left for him to eat - I will have a pasture full of sheep and baby lambs. We have not had coyotes attack our lambs to date, and I won't let it happen. We need the coyote gone, and we are in our legal rights to kill it, since it is killing our livestock. I have contacted the Department of Wildlife, as well as companies that specialize in trapping and rehoming coyotes. None will do it. The DOW suggest radios and squirting them with hoses and spraying with a hot pepper spray to try and deter them. That's just not going to work. It's time for something else. I may well have a coyote skin rug before the end of summer. I know that will offend some, but the piles of feathers in my pasture offend me much more.