Swan flap hits Cowichan farm country

A trumpeter swan fleeing the noise from a propane cannon knocked out power at Stephen Hunt’s home last Friday morning, leading him to call for dairy farmers in the area to see if they can live more peacefully with the large birds.

Farmers say the birds are pests that, along with Canada geese, cause devastation to their fields.

"We live here in dairy farm country and the trumpeters tend to land on the dairy fields and hang out there for a while," Hunt said of the area around the Phipps and Bench road intersection just south of Duncan. "For whatever reason our neighbours are under the impression that they actually eat some of the grass, which can turn to hay, which I guess reduces their production or something like that, though it’s pretty far-fetched given the few number of trumpeters and the massive amount of grass."

Trumpeter swans are a species that was once at risk in B.C. and is still considered vulnerable. The farmers don’t attempt to kill the birds, but Hunt said they set off noisy devices, often propane cannons, called bangers to scare them away from their fields.

"Today I heard one of those go off and very soon thereafter I heard an electrical noise and saw something smoking," Hunt said. Their power had also gone out, so he called BC Hydro who told him it wasn’t a transformer problem.

"So I walked up the road and looked and sure enough it’s a trumpeter with a big hole him from I guess hitting the line. He smells all electrical and smoky," he said.

He figures the banger scared a group of the birds and one of them hit the lines.

Hunt said he believes science should dictate the relationship between the farmers and the swans.

"I really, really have a hard time believing the effects of the trumpeters on their hayfields is anything other than miniscule if at all," he said.

Bob Crawford, president of the Cowichan Agricultural Society, begs to differ.

"They are definitely a pest," he said. "Bigtime."

The problem is in the way they feed, he said, as they like the tender new shoots and pull the grass out by the roots.

"They do cause crop damage," Crawford said. "Especially this time of the year."

Farms close to lakes and flyways can be pretty hard hit, he said.

"Some places are pretty inundated with them," he said.