Farming is a Community Affair: No Farm is an Island

Reader Contribution by Geri Vistein
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I want to tell you a story, a true story that has taken place here on a Maine farm. It happened this past spring and early summer. This is a farm that raises heritage goats and sheep on several large pastures, most often quite remote from their farmhouse, and is surrounded by undeveloped land of sprawling forests.

Heritage sheep.

But like any other farm or ranch, it is not an island. Whatever happens around their farm can have serious affects on their farm. And so it was for them. In the state of Maine our coyotes are heavily persecuted since they are given no protection by our laws.  And what happens to our coyotes, affects our farmers deeply.

In the spring of this year, individuals killed many of the coyotes in the town near this farm. As we know from our science, this killing causes chaos in their highly complex social structure. The only way I can describe what they experience is to compare it to the experience of the many people who are now fleeing the violence in their own countries.


Photo by Steve Stockton

When coyotes flee from the violence, they leave their very familiar territory and travel into areas that are unfamiliar to them, where they cannot as easily find their wild prey. As a result, they are starving, not just starving, but starving to death. In the case of very young coyotes, who are not even a year old, and whose parents have been killed, their situation is even more dire. They have not had the opportunity to learn from their parents to be effective hunters of their wild prey, and so starvation is their constant companion as they flee.

In time these fleeing coyotes came upon this farm where they observed sheep and goats, not protected by guardian animals or electric fencing. For these coyotes, it was either kill and eat the sheep, or die of starvation. And so it happened. When coyotes are faced by starvation they are forced to eat food they never have eaten before. And we as humans have done the same in dire circumstances, as we all know.

It is so interesting that this farmer understood the whole scenario. They understood that the killing of the coyotes caused the death of their sheep. Their farm is not an island. The behavior of those who cause such chaos and suffering in the lives of our fellow carnivores also cause so much tragedy and economic loss for our farmers. This farmer now knows that guardian animals and electric fencing is a must for them. They know that as long as this human behavior toward our coyotes continues, these precautions have become a necessity.

No farm is an island. Our farms are a community affair.

So how do we change this scenario?

Do we begin by teaching each other in our communities?

Do we begin by speaking up for the wild beings that live in our communities?

Geri Vistein is a conservation biologist whose work focuses on carnivores and our human relationships with them. In addition to research and collaboration with fellow biologists in Maine, she educates communities about carnivores and how we can coexist with them. You can find her at Coyote Lives in Maine, and read all of Geri’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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