As I sit down to write this article, it is a shade after midnight. Not such an odd hour for a freelance writer. The day job has been put behind me, the farm chores have been done, and the kid’s needs have been attended to. This is the quiet time in my home, when writing can be attended to without the distractions of a full house and a busy day. But outside, it is not quiet. My dogs are busy this evening, the barking has been frequent and adamant. There is obviously a threat of one form or another lurking in the dark tonight, but a defense is being mounted.
As I outlined in the last installment of this series, homesteads are under constant attack. As much as the prepper in me loves all the fancy defensive gear, most of it is of little value in the small daily battles that we fight. I will admit that on one occasion I employed an AK-47 against a marauding opossum in my barn. The result was the desired dead opossum, but there was also a 30 caliber hole in the bottom rung of my extension ladder involved. In hind sight, my old single shot .410 would probably have been a better choice, or perhaps even a pointy stick. The AK seemed much cooler at the time.
So, if tactical gear and weapons are not the best response to the average threat, what then are the best tools at your disposal for day to day defense of your homesteading operation? The tools are as varied as the threats.
Insects are one of the constant threats. They can ruin a vegetable crop, strip your trees of fruit, and threaten the health of your pets, livestock and family. Volumes have been written about how to deal with insect pests, so I won’t delve too deeply into this subject. I will say that on our spread we shy away from chemical pesticides as much as possible. We do this for several reasons. Foremost, we don’t want chemicals in our food; this is one of the reasons we grow it ourselves. Next, we keep bees and don’t want to inadvertently poison a hive; our bees are a valuable part of our preps and our self-sufficiency model. Finally, as preppers we know that we may not always have access to commercial pesticides and we want to establish our methods based on this eventuality before it becomes a necessity. In the fight against insects our tools include pest repelling companion plantings such as marigolds, beneficial insects like lady bugs, and a variety of natural products such as dish soap and neem oil. Ticks and fleas are fought with a variety of commercial methods, and also with baths and sprays of essential oils. We also let the chickens and a number of guinea fowl patrol the yard and keep it virtually tick-free.
Our first line of defense against rodents, bent on raiding our feed and grains or wreaking havoc in our gardens, are our cats. We maintain a moderately large population of barn and house cats for this purpose, and we suffer zero feed loss and little garden damage as a result. Our cats more than earn their keep in this manner. They are also a good weapon in the fight against crop damaging birds, as a deterrent if nothing else.
In the fight against larger mammals, our dogs are indispensable. We have a pack of 4 large dogs and two ankle biters. In our neighborhood, coyote take a large toll on livestock ranging from chickens to calves. Fox, raccoon and opossum are also hard on poultry. When we first arrived on the homestead, we had only one dog and I was forever having to shoot opossum in the chicken yard and coup. For a two-week period, we were losing a chicken a night, until I managed to call in and dispatch the offending fox. As the complement of dogs has grown, these problems have vanished. My neighbors continue to suffer occasionally large livestock losses to predation, while we haven’t lost so much as a chicken in more than two years. This summer alone, the dogs have killed a dozen armadillos, and have fought countless running battles with coyote packs that have probed our defenses, I haven’t even seen an opossum.
Dogs are a great deterrent to human invaders, as well. Our dogs greet every visitor at the driveway. While their intentions are genuinely friendly, the rush of four large dogs is disconcerting to strangers and I have no doubt that they would defend my family to the death should someone’s intentions prove to be less than honorable. They also make it impossible for anyone or anything to sneak up on us. Livestock, including poultry, have become a target for theft in our area. The problem gets larger as the economy gets smaller. A pack of large dogs, attuned to livestock defense, has proven to be deterrent enough to spare us from this problem.
It is important to remember that while dogs are a valuable asset in the defense of your homestead, they are also a responsibility; the same can be said for cats. When planning your food storage and production programs, don’t neglect the maintenance of your four-legged soldiers. They are well worth the expense and will pay for themselves to an even greater degree in a long-term crisis, when defending your food production may become a matter of life and death.
The final members of our animal defense force are our guineas. I have already mentioned them in reference to tick control, a task at which they excel, but they are also about the most sensitive motion-detecting alarm system on the planet. Nothing gets by a guinea! They catch things that the dogs miss and call the dogs to action.
The final tool that I will mention is fencing. We all know that good fences make good neighbors. Good fences also keep the deer and rabbits out of your garden, if the dogs are slacking. Fencing delineates your perimeter, alerting people that they are approaching your territory, and keeping your livestock in. We use fencing to ensure that our vulnerable livestock are safely within the area patrolled by the dogs at night, and that they are close enough that we can be aware of and respond to any attacks. Fencing is an indispensable tool in the defense of your homestead.
I know that the tools and tactics I have outlined here are not as glamorous as Black Rifles and night vision goggles, but they are far more important until a crisis hits, maybe even after. Next time, we will examine some of the fun stuff and discuss the role of firearms in homestead defense.