Hill taking steps to counter potential coyote attacks

AFP Correspondent

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, Warren County (Aug. 1, 2015)— The chickens at Witchwood Farms may be smaller in number this season, but they’re a happier, more secure bunch now. 
That’s because owner and farm manager Robert Hill has gotten those that remained after devastating coyote attacks into proper housing. 
Hill, who farms nearly two acres on his 12-acre south-facing tract of land here, said he had to modify his business plan last season to supply unanticipated demand for farm fresh, organic eggs.
While Hill is not yet USDA-certified organic, he’s been moving in that direction from the time he launched his farm in 2012.
“This particular season has been tough. I’ve lost between 20 and 25 chickens. I would let them run out free during the day, and I lost all five of my ducks too,” Hill said walking through the farm just off Route 31 near Hawk Pointe Golf Club. 
Hill knew he might have a coyote problem when he first started camping out on his land in a trailer he purchased for the site.
“I noticed them a couple years ago in the winter, I would get up at 1 a.m. and hear packs of them running up and down the road in front, and then all of a sudden they would catch a deer, kill it, and stop making noise,” he said.
“They make a sound sort of like little puppies, they’re not barking, they’re howling and making noises I really can’t describe, it’s almost like a chirping sound,” he said.
One day in May, when he was taking his lunch break in the on-site cottage, “I looked out the window and saw what looked like the back end of a kangaroo. It was pouring rain and I saw him scampering around the house. It was eyeing where my chickens were and it took off when it saw me. A few weeks later, early in the morning, I saw one of my roosters tearing around the house and one of the coyotes in hot pursuit.
By the time I got to the coyote it had the rooster in its mouth and I beat it with a stick,” he related, “one whack from me and it took off.”
Now, Hill regularly “polices” his property at dusk and sometimes at 3 a.m. on nights when he’s staying over, always with a flared bamboo stick in hand.
“Another morning in May, I got up at 5 a.m. and chased a coyote out with the bamboo stick.”
Finally, in early July, Hill was walking at dusk near his vegetable garden and fruit trees, a large area enclosed by a solar deer fence. He saw something take off.
“I thought it was a baby deer,” he said, “but it was fairly dark and there’s this dead rabbit there.  I assumed it was a coyote that ran off, because in the morning I did the same walk and the dead rabbit was gone.”
Using several interns and assistants, Hill and his crew spent a week building new, coyote-proof chicken coops that are portable and spacious enough to allow the layers to roam around, stretch their legs and otherwise get exercise and sunshine.
“They seem to be more numerous and brazen. Prior to the past couple years, the only time I’ve seen them in daylight was years ago when I used to hunt for deer,” he said, “but this year I’ve seen coyotes multiple times in broad daylight or under cloudy and rainy conditions.”
Interestingly, the northwest part of New Jersey where Hill’s farm is situated in Warren County is also home to a growing bear problem, like neighboring Sussex County.
“If you’re going to live in the country, you might as well handle your own problems. I’ve had no problems chasing them away with bamboo sticks that I split at the end to make lots of noise,” said Hill, who has gone on hunting trips in Africa and Ireland.
According to Andrew Burnett, principal wildlife biologist with the state’s Division of Fish and Wildlife in Galloway Township, Atlantic County, coyotes are known to be living and nesting in all 21 counties and over 430 municipalities in the Garden State.
“In the last four years, we received an average of 178 coyote complaints a year. Five years before that from 2007 to 2011, the average was 146, and five years before that it was 82,” Burnett said.
“The complaints,” — not all of them from farmers — “have been going up steadily. And just one coyote can do a lot of damage.”
This time of year, coyotes are teaching their cubs how to forage for food, so you’ll find a father, mother and five, six, seven or eight offspring.
Burnett said small farmers should “secure your premises and make sure your fences are in good order,” and don’t do things that encourage other wildlife to gather on your property, like putting out bird feeders.
“If you have a bird feeder make sure it’s as far away from the chicken coops as possible,” he said, “and, if you don’t have a local firearms discharge ordinance, you can shoot that coyote at any time of the year.”
He also recommends throwing rocks or spraying them with a garden hose, assuming these things are handy.
Asked about a scare crow, Burnett said it might work, “but coyotes are pretty smart, they know what humans smell like, and they’re not necessarily put off by the smell of humans.”
“So far we’ve had 115 coyote complaints in the first nine months of this year, and they’ll tend to tail off at the end of summer,” Burnett said. There are always more complaints during pup-rearing season.
Is there a final solution to the Garden State’s growing coyote problem?
“We’ll never be rid of coyotes. There are Western states that have been trying to get rid of coyotes for 200 years,” Burnett said.
“There will always be a handful of farmers affected by them, we know it’s not rampant throughout the state, but every farmer has a different tolerance for wildlife.”