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Black Vultures

Springtime 2022 was deadly serious this year.

Every year when Black Vultures return to Ohio, it is an event that's hard to miss. In March, they return from overwintering locations and they arrive HUNGRY. And over the past several years they've become very, very bold.

When I first moved to my farm, Mike the Cattleman as I'll call him, (now retired, sold farm and moved away) lived in the same valley with me, and told me stories of how he'd lost calves to black vultures. I confess I didn't fully believe him. It seemed too fantastical that something that ate dead animals would kill a 100-pound baby cow! Well... Black vultures are different. They don't just eat dead things like their turkey vulture cousins. Apparently, there are different kinds of vultures.

To me, Black Vulture predation was something that happened to others, not on my farm. Oh the naivete.

I had twin Icelandic-Katahdin lambs born on pasture the third week of March. One lamb was much smaller than her sibling. Daughter Caroline expressed concern around the petite little girl. "is she getting outcompeted for milk?" Three days later I spotted a little poof of lifeless white fluff. I walked out with a heavy heart. She lay dead in the pasture. My heart sank. I thought, I should have intervened. I could have saved her. I should have listened to Caroline. Her instincts are so good. I approached the lamb. Her belly was full. She was small but not sunken. My first thought was, this baby did NOT starve what happened. Then I noticed the ewe and remaining lamb hiding under a mobile shelter. The ewe was bellowing. But not at me. At the sky. Right as a vulture soared past, rather low... scanning... I rolled the body over and there it was. A single puncture wound in the spine and a missing eyeball. I was horrified.

The next 4 weeks were a flurry of texts and activity in the valley as we farmers would watch for groups of vultures hunting together in the mornings, then intermittently thru the day. They attacked a group of muscovy ducks down the road who float on a pond. They were driven off by a local farmhand who witnessed it. They wheeled and surrounded cows giving birth on the cattle farm down the road. Driven off again. I spotted them in the trees near my back deck, perched and peering around trees near me. It was downright freaky. Eventually, Vulture Season died down as their appetite was satiated and my young animals grew. But I'll be ready next season when they return. My llama knows to look up now. My Icelandic ewe knows the black danger in the sky. My lambs and kids are not immune, nor are the calves at the other end of the valley.

If you have black vultures, look out. They're no joke.

Currently seeking a livestock guardian dog for my farm.

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