In permaculture, you try to keep some wild animals around but which ones?

JennyT Upstate South Carolina
JennyT Upstate South Carolina Posts: 1,273 ✭✭✭✭✭

On our new property here I'm learning, or trying to, all the different types of animals/critters we have around. For example, what their scat looks like, footprints and evidence that they've been somewhere. It's a lot to learn. Some animals eat ticks, bad snakes and such so you'd probably like to keep them around. Others seem to just make a nuisance of themselves in everyway imaginable.

We thought we had protected our several pet chickens pretty well. But early one morning a few weeks ago we were getting ready to leave for school and we found that most were dead or nearly dead. It was not a good day to be sure.😥

So I'd like to hear from all of you. In the world of permaculture, which ones do you try to get rid of and which ones do you "encourage to eat elsewhere" but have in proximity to you?

We are planning on getting some animals in the spring. Our plans are to figure out housing this winter, along with planning the garden beds and such. So I am wanting to know how best to make safe housing for our animals with what we have around and which critters we should work on relocating, more or less. And also get ideas on best way to plan my gardens with all theses critters to try to keep at a distance. I plan to plant things just for them to eat, but away from the gardens. And I prefer raised beds for veggies. I have more luck with those. But we are going to do a bunch of food forest type of gardens because of all the nut and fruit trees that are already here. So I'm trying to think about zones with all of this and how best to plan.

I'd really love to hear what you all think and any suggestions you may have for me.

The animals/critters we know we have here are: frogs, turtles, mice, rats, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, possums, skunks, racoons, groundhogs, deer, cranes, hawks, wild turkeys and snakes both good and bad ones. Those are what we've seen. We have heard coyotes and owls.


  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,500 admin

    Well, mice and rats you want to eliminate as much as possible. There are just too many diseases and pests that they carry to keep them around. I don't even need to tell you how destructive they are to everything, I'm sure. Keep the squirrels down as well if possible. Squirrels are no different, really. Mice often carry salmonella, which will spread to your eggs/chickens. Rats will kill chickens. Squirrels are just plain destructive as are racoons. All of these will carry lice & mites as well, although some of these are species specific.

    Skunks & racoons are not something you can just live with around chickens either. These need to go. Both are carriers for rabies, and that right there is enough to eliminate them. They also dig and rip things apart.

    There are discussions on the forum about how to predator proof your chicken coop in the Birds section. For your run, you may wish to cover it to keep aerial predators out, but the racoons will tear most of the lighter fencing and aviary netting apart.

    Sometimes if you relocate a predator, they come back. Sometimes others will gladly fill in that yummy buffet opening.

    Do you know what caused your chicken massacre? There are usually pretty clear signs about the coop and on the birds.

    You need to get a good, protective, working dog that will protect your animals from both wild predators and domestic ones (like other people's dogs and stray cats). They should not be socialized with other people's dogs, or they will be useless. Don't allow others to bring their dogs onto your property and tell them as much, that you have a working dog that will not take kindly to intruders. I absolutely hate it when people assume & bring their nice doggie onto our property without asking. They are not allowed to take them out of a vehicle for any reason. I don't even like them being in the vehicle as it is stressful & rude for a working dog to have an intruder on the property even if it stays in a vehicle. A "nice doggie" that is part of someone else's "family" and "well socialized" can destroy and harass livestock all too easily and I would have no issue with our dog chasing theirs off as it should be recognized as the danger that it is. It is your dog's job and a good guard will take their job seriously. Socialization could mean the death of your animals. Our dog is not socialized except with family and accepted friends. People are predators too and the dog should be wary of new people and not be all lovey over them upon meeting. That is not good.

    I have my strong opinion on a perfect livestock/guard dog that is great with family and those deemed safe on your yard, but it would not suit your climate at all. Be careful of the livestock guardian dogs. They are too popular, in my opinion and that always gives me pause when something is so pushed. Many say how prefect they are and that they are the only kind to get, but not all are a good choice. I have heard enough stories of bad ones in each LGD type that we will never own one. Stay away from the retrievers, their job is obviously not that of guard, and that is clear by the class itself. Research carefully, know what they are bred for, pick a well bred purebred (not all purebreds are well bred, it might be just for show) so that you get the traits you need for sure. Be wary of opinions. Do your research thoroughly and don't be afraid to rehome if that particular dog or breed doesn't suit your needs.

    So, this is my opinion on the wild animals you listed. Keep in mind that I don't know a whole lot about possums and larger snakes.

    Leave: frogs, turtles, cranes, wild turkeys

    Eradicate: mice, rats, squirrels, certain snakes?, foxes if you have any

    Deter: rabbits, skunks, racoons, deer, hawks, coyotes (if they don't have a taste for your animals, there is a good chance that they will leave them alone), owls, non-poisonous snakes, deter (or eat) the turkeys if they become an issue

    Unsure: chipmunks, possums, groundhogs

  • judsoncarroll4
    judsoncarroll4 Posts: 5,453 admin

    THe goal is to keep things in balance. If you are designing your property using permaculture zones, as I described in my book, Zone 1 is your kitchen and herb garden, and you want to keep most critters out of this. You can use fencing it is the area immediately around your house. Zone 2 would be where you have chickens and rabbits, plus your staple crops. A hedge row of thorny plants is good to keep deer out and such - trapping small game, from rabbits and squirrels to predators like raccoons and possums... even bobcats, is good to maintain balance int his area and give you free meat. Zone 3 is larger livestock and usually grains and/or fruit and nut trees. Deer and such don't do much harm there. But you will need to trap coyotes and limit bears, wild hogs, etc through hunting. Zone 4 is pasture and ponds... ditto on limiting large predators... also great for bird hunting and fishing. Zone 5 is wilderness where we hunt and forage.

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,622 admin

    I'm in agreement with the input from both @LaurieLovesLearning and @judsoncarroll4. Its a delicate balancing act.

    We have a lot of problems with gophers getting into the garden but didn't have an issue when we had a dog. Pack rats are another rodent we deal with on a regular basis. We have a pretty ferocious cat at the moment who helps take care of the mice and sometimes leaves evidence of a gopher or pack rat kill but she's not getting them all. Having a cat(s) or dog(s) that patrols the property kind of eliminates using traps but if you are having pets anyway, or free range animals, traps become less of an option.

    Bears are a nuisance here in the summer when the fruit trees are ripening. We have learned to live with those as long as they don't do damage or become menacing. We had one here frequently this past summer but he was quite shy and ran away as soon as he saw us or we yelled. Other years they are so habituated that they must be destroyed. The orchards in our area are all well fenced (up to 8') and have electric fencing in some places. Even with all the precautions, though, bears can be very persistent. There was an article in the local paper this week about a bear attack on some bee hives. They were solidly fenced with page wire and had double electric fencing but the bear still got in. Again, a dog can help, even if just to warn you that there is a bear onsite.

    Deer and moose can also be a hazard to orchards as they like to nibble on fruit tree buds and leaves in the late winter and early spring.

    Hedgerows are a great idea. You can get a variety of thorny bushes established along fence lines. Some blackberry varieties, tayberries, boysenberries, etc. have long arching, very thorny canes that do well on fences. Some of the older shrub roses would work. Hawthorns may grow into a tree form but are often shrubs that if planted closely enough together will form a very effective barrier. Have you seen the size of their thorns?!?!?!? These are all multi-function plants, offering food and medicine, as well as protection.

    When you are planting new things or acquiring livestock, try to think of what predators might be interested in their new lunch items and plan accordingly. Do you have digger predators in your area? You may need to dig down to install you fence partially underground or have stakes (rebar) driven into the ground every few inches, to deter digging. Do you have flying predators? Or ones that can slither/squeeze through most fencing?

    As to snakes or other reptiles, I prefer to live in an area that has very few of these creatures. :)

  • JennyT Upstate South Carolina
    JennyT Upstate South Carolina Posts: 1,273 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @LaurieLovesLearning, @judsoncarroll4 and @torey Thank you for your insight into figuring out our new place.

    @LaurieLovesLearning Unfortunately we didn't get the chance to really look at what got the chickens to know for sure. We were all running late, us for our homeschool group and Mike for work. So we had to quickly dispose of everything. We've had a skunk, possum, groundhog and racoon all relatively close to where they were kept. So whichever happened to be by at that evening I guess. Also, we've seen neighbours cats walking around at night when we've checked the game camera the next day, at least I think they belong to the neighbour. So there's another possibility.😕

    @judsoncarroll4 I've read and watched several things about how Zones work but the way the property is laid out is making it hard for me to distinguish Zone lines/areas easily. So I'll need to do some more homework in that area to see what I can figure out.

    @torey I don't believe we have to worry about bears here. Moose definitely not. Yes, we definitely have digging critters. And like you and @judsoncarroll4 mentioned I have thought about hedgerows. But the whole layout of the property is what is making those fixes hard to plan efficiently.

    We are still trying to clear all the brush and weeds from the other 7/8ths of the property to get a better understanding of the layout. Now that things are losing leaves and dying back it's easier to see if there is a shrub, bush or tree hidden under all the kudzu. The entire permitter of our property is wooded. In fact, most of the property has trees. The lower 2/3rds is terraced of sorts with Black Walnut, Pecan and various fruit trees from what we can tell. The upper 1/3 is mostly woods until you come to the house and then it opens up a bit, in patches more or less. So the gardens that I would normally have close have to be further away because there is no sun for all the trees around. And that is why I'm having a hard time figuring the Zone map out.🙄

  • marjstratton
    marjstratton Posts: 1,132 ✭✭✭✭
    edited October 2021

    We have fenced our vegetable garden and are managing to keep the deer and the rabbits out. However, we still have problems with the burrowing animals, especially the voles. Putting down enough hardware cloth to keep them out of the beds seems like it will be very expensive. They especially like our potatoes. I think I may have convinced my husband that we may want to try building an above ground growing box for the potatoes or other types of containers.

  • Monek Marie
    Monek Marie Posts: 3,537 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited October 2021

    @JennyT Upstate South Carolina I have every type of predator here you can imagine, except moose ;) My housing and pens have to be set up like a fortress and I still sometimes have issues. A dog can be an excellent addition to a homestead although I chose not to add one at this time. When I have animals again, I will.

    I love fall and early spring as it gives you the time to see what I call "the lay of the land" No high grass and leaves to hide the true layout.

    Zones can be tricky to figure out and they can vary and you can have different zones in different areas, like two zone 2's. And as for having to plant further away from the house due to shade. Have you considered a food forest in your closer wooded area? It's amazing what you can grow in shade or along the forest edges. And with time you can clear a small area close to the house and plan a garden there.

    I loved my chickens but if I have more again it will be fewer or maybe I will just stick with ducks for eggs. They do not get bothered as much by predators as my chickens did.

    And for years I did not have to fence my garden but once I had issues they send out invitations to all their friends and I never had a season without damage until I fenced the area. I even had the neighbor cows raid the garden one year!

    Enjoy your adventure! Before you know it all your small steps will lead to big results.

  • Tave
    Tave Posts: 952 ✭✭✭✭✭

    My brother has a Catahoula hound because they're work dogs and very protective. The lady he got her from said that when a coyote attacked her sheep, the collie ran away, but the Catahoula puppy ran straight at it. Needless to say, she now has Catahoulas protecting her sheep.

    @JennyT Upstate South Carolina You're not that far away. They're in Tennessee.

  • JennyT Upstate South Carolina
    JennyT Upstate South Carolina Posts: 1,273 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited October 2021

    @Tave Thank you. I'll keep that breed in mind.

    I'm not familiar with that one. So I'll need to do some research.😊

  • dwill207
    dwill207 Posts: 2 ✭✭✭

    Killing foxes leads to more mice and rats. Foxes also eat rabbits that cause problems in the garden. Yes foxes will eat chickens, but a good farmer will keep the birds in a chicken tractor to minimize problems and help intensively fertilize the land. Feeding rats and mice is generally the biggest problem. Do not put out more food than a chicken will eat before dark. Keep food scraps in a compost barrel and not in an open pile. By keeping rats and mice out, you keep snakes out. I agree to killing raccoons and skunks, only if they become a big problem. They eat rats and mice too. Getting your wildlife to respect your efforts will keep nature in balance. Fill up holes and places where wildlife hide close to your home (they usually have two or more homes away from home). When they move further away they become less of a problem. The further away from your home the better. When killing local wildlife, the new wildlife residents can be more aggressive than the old ones. By using red blinking night lights that are moved at least every two days, you can keep many critters that work at night out of the area. Sprays and repellants also help, but a well trained outdoor dog is the best deterrent . A really good dog will save you money in the long run.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    There are limits to what you can do to control wild animals near your homestead.

    I agree with the posters above that rodents are generally a nuisance. Mice, rats, shrews, woodchucks, squirrels, chipmunks, and so forth tear up crops, or carry disease, and have few if any benefits to us. Getting rid of them is not a trivial task.

    I am curious about whether your chickens were wing-clipped. Birds that are not wing-clipped may be better able to get out of the reach of predators.

    But ultimately, raising poulty is going to require predator-proof facilities for them. And those predators are smart, flexible, and will do their best to get around whatever you do.

  • JodieDownUnder
    JodieDownUnder Posts: 1,483 admin

    @JennyT Upstate South Carolina Lots of great advice in the above posts. I strongly agree with having dogs around your property. They alert you to strangers, potential predators and ward off snakes and are great mates for the family.

    Balance is key. The heirarchy of the food chain is a natural one. Put something out of kilter and you cause an unintentional problem. We humans just have to learn to live in harmony. As suggested think of your property in zones a bit like a fortress. Around the house really good solid fencing and as you radiate further out, the design changes to incorporate your landscape. A predator proof chicken coop is a must. Using a chicken tractor or tunnels could be incorporated into your plan. The tractor or tunnels to be used of a day and your chickens returning to their fortress at night.

    Thorny hedgerows are great for keeping things in and out but also encourage birds. Planting medicinal hedgerows is a win, win. Don’t stress, this is a new beginning for your family, keep it simple, talk and walk your new property and make some plans. Good preparation now and you’ll love what you’ve achieved down the track.

  • JennyT Upstate South Carolina
    JennyT Upstate South Carolina Posts: 1,273 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @dwill207 I don't know about foxes around our place because we do have rabbits for sure. And we see that the multiple layers of fencing and strong & sturdy fortress of a coup was not sufficient. Many changes are already in the works for the chickens and future birds we plan to get. Thank you for the suggestions of getting the holes within our short distance from the home filled in. That's on the list for fall/winter chores. And we are planning on getting a dog but were still trying to figure out which breed will best suit our needs and climate best. A task that's easier said than done.

    @VermontCathy It looks like we may be working on our aim with the squirrels, chipmunks, woodchucks, etc. We've been pretty successful with the mice and rats so far, finding their nests and eliminating them from in and around the house. We'll just have to do that with the rest of the out buildings.

    Yes, our chickens had one of their wings clipped.

    @JodieDownUnder Thank you for the words of encouragement! It's rough trying to learn something new especially when its been decades since you were in school and learning never came easy to begin with.

    The kids are anxious about a dog but we're trying not to rush things to much and we're not 100% sure which kind of dog would be best.

    Balance, yes. That's what I'm trying to learn and figure out. We've only lived here two months though with all the work we've put in it seems so much longer somehow. I'm definitely thinking about hedgerows for sure. Looking into local plants I know that produce fruit but get nice, big and thick. But also keeping in mind some plants I've learned about through studying about permaculture over the years. Like I said so much to learn.

    And we've got some nice plans in the works for protecting our chickens but still letting them be out while we are near.