Farmm Blogg: The Struggle Without

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I was startled awake the other morning by that plaintive, haunting wail of coyotes. I’ve heard them around quite a bit lately. Now, I’ve heard coyotes before, seen them – they run wild in Vancouver for goodness sake – but they have a different meaning to me now; a categorically different meaning! They represent a competitor…an enemy.

There are many such “enemies” out here on the farm. Raccoons, weasels, hawks even bunnies (enemy of my garden)…if you name it and it eats anything I might like to eat, it’s probably now an enemy of mine.

For the first time in my life, I get it. I get the confrontation between man and beast, man and nature, man against other men. I get the dichotomy of us and them. We are generally pretty insulated from the reality of the basic principle of life – namely death and killing – leading our posh middle-class existences. We question why people still fight wars, why farmers still shoot coyotes, and why our cities are increasingly experiencing waves of bear and cougar intruders. We wash our hands, us sensitive and environmentally aware do-gooders, about all the slaughter in the world. We just can’t seem to understand.

But it’s all about competition: competition for resources, for food, for life. And there is no time for moralising, for thoughtful reflection, for the niceties of civilisation.

I know there are some vegans or vegetarians out there who will disagree. They will challenge me by explaining patiently that humans don’t actually need to eat meat anymore and that plants can provide us all we need. This may (or as is more likely, may not) be true, but the battle is still waged against all those other things that want to eat your veggies. Like that cute little bunny rabbit. Or the more lowly slug. To live on this planet is to kill and compete on this planet, and unless you’ve dealt with the battle directly, it is very hard to completely understand. I certainly didn’t.

I got up the other morning, and we were missing chickens. Something sneaked up underneath the cage and absconded with three of them in the night. I felt an anger rise up just a little within me, an anger never before felt. And while I most certainly understand that other animals need to eat, need to live, and the circle of life and what-have-you, but whatever it was that took the chickens just took food out of my mouth. And that means war.

That evening, something ripped the head off of one of the ducks and chewed off half her leg…while she was still in her cage. I can only imagine the terror. (That’s nature for you…rather brutal and hardly pretty.) The other ducks survived. It was a grim scene and I have to admit, it stressed me out quite a bit. It wasn’t so much pulling out a beheaded duck from the cage, but rather I felt a little like a negligent parent, having betrayed the silent, unspoken agreement between the farmer and his animals: the agreement that says ‘in exchange for you giving up your lives for my sustenance, I will protect you from predation, from injury, from the viciousness and ferocity of a so-called natural life’. I blew it, and I felt it. Nature won that round.

But I’m pretty sure I just heard the bell for round two and this is a round I’m gonna win.

And so the competition has just been started, the battle entered. And I will win because I am bigger, stronger, and above all smarter than everything else. I have opposable thumbs and a huge, conniving brain. And I’m hungry.

So good luck nature. It’s on!

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1 comment

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Friday, 01 June 2012 03:10 posted by David MacLeod

    Hi Andrew,

    I'm taking it that the hyperbole expressed in this post is intentional, for effect. Nevertheless, I want to comment that it is interesting to me that some people like to emphasize one perspective, or the other. Either it's all about survival of the fittest, or it's all about the web of life.

    I believe that the reality is that in nature we can see the components of competition AND cooperation, so whatever human systems we design, we need to take both of these into account.

    Which is why I like David Holmgren's Permaculture principles so much. Principle 2 is "Catch and Store Energy" ( and Principle 3 is "Obtain a Yield" ( These are the Power principles that acknowledge that everyone has to eat, and that competition for resources is a reality.

    If the previous 2 principles are like the gas pedal, the next to balance those with the brakes. Principle 4 is "Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback" ( Principle 5 is "Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services" ( No. 6 is "Produce no Waste" (

    Jumping ahead, Principle no. 8 is "Integrate rather than Segregate" (, which is all about cooperation as a key strategy.

    And by the way...good luck on the battle against nature, you're going to need it. Nature, as they say, bats last. Fortunately, you are nature, and nature is you, so it is pointless to try to square off against yourself, though many of us to seem to spend a lot of time doing just that. :-)

    There are strategies to minimize competition and maximize cooperation, which I think is usually a good idea. Maybe we can build enough abundance into our systems so that we have a little left to share with our competitors. In the end, we all have to eat, but we're not going to win every competition every time. Holmgren's icon for the "Obtain a Yield" principle is a vegetable with a bite already taken out of it, signifying that the competing critters are gonna get some of what we thought was going to be our yield, so we'd best be prepared for that.

    On a personal note, best wishes for successfully protecting your remaining chickens. Lots of critters can get underneath a fence, so we make sure our chickens are secure inside their coop at night, and have hardware cloth installed under their coop.

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