Too Clever By Half

The smartest animals on my farm aren’t my bees (although they possess the genius of the algorithm). It’s not the horses or the goats or even the dogs. The barn cat is pretty smart, but only in fairly limited circumstances, and the house cats are useless. Obviously it’s not the sheep or the chickens. Nope, the smartest animals on my farm aren’t really on my farm at all. They’re the coyotes who live in the woods.

My favorite example? We have a really big invisible fence for the dogs … covers about five acres. Yes, my farm is a great place to be a dog. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the technology of the invisible fence, it’s a buried wire that transmits a signal to a receiver placed on your dog’s collar. When the dog gets close to the wire, the receiver starts to beep, and when the dog gets all the way to the “fence” boundary, the receiver generates a small electric zap. I know, I know … it’s negative reinforcement and it’s a shock collar and all that. Don’t care. It’s fantastic for us and our dogs. But whether it’s a smart dog like Maggie the German Shepherd or a … shall we say … “special” dog like Sam the Sheltie, after a few weeks (Maggie) or a few hours (Sam) they will forget where the fence exists if they stop wearing the collar.

Not so the coyotes.

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  1. Avatar for Pat_W Pat_W says:

    I pretend to myself someone will notice this comment on an essay years old. Coyotes- My sister kept sheep on a farm in PA that backs up on state forest. When coyotes arrived back east in numbers defensive plans were needed. She got larger dogs from animal rescue, and when the coyotes made noise up in the woods the dogs went nuts in the kitchen. She would let them out and the dogs chased the coyotes back up over the ridge. That was their job. Great fun was had by all- the dogs did their job, the sheep stayed safe, and the coyotes likely chuckled about how much faster they were.

    Coyotes are genetically and traditionally solitary hunters but they are also very social. When I used to camp in the SW desert they would start calling to one another after a night’s hunt, a sound that carries several miles in the dry air. After an hour or so I’d notice, in my 5 am lethargy, that some of the voices now sang from the same location. It’s the coyote coffee break after a good night’s hunt. I think they adapted easily to small scale pack behaviors once they moved east, where hunting is a different enterprise and often benefits from numbers.

    It is sad, to me, to see the way animals and humans dummy down in domesticated circumstances, BUT I take heart hearing how cattle behave who escape their fenced in domestication. They become quite wily and easily outwit humans on horseback sent to find them. Even with smaller brains I suspect humans can survive in a post apocalypse world.

    Ben, you are currently my favorite writer and possibly too clever by half.

  2. Still one of my favorite notes, ever. Evergreen, and still very relevant today.

  3. Maybe the greatest of them all —-top 5 for sure.

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