We are sure having trouble with the coyotes this year. Last year, we experienced almost zero predation, I think we had one duck go missing all year, and no sheep losses. We rarely saw coyotes during the day, and when we did, they were off in the distance, hunting mice in the fields. At a human encounter, they quickly made themselves scarce. We heard them howling at night, so knew they were present, but we were all coexisting OK.
But, starting in January, that has drastically changed! We believe what may have tipped the balance was the flooding. Flooding kills a lot of rodents- as the waters come, you can see mice everywhere, swimming for their lives. Most don’t make it, as evidenced by all of the deads found in the fields after the flood waters recede. And we are not seeing hardly any in the fields now, where usually we’d see dozens when mowing or out for a walk. Our cat isn’t catching as many as normal either.
So, there we have it- a shortage of a staple food at the end of the winter, with whelping in spring- that’s a lot of pressure for the coyotes to shift their strategy to find new sources of sustenance. We had four adult ewes killed in the span of a few short weeks in January, despite our guardian llama’s presence. Now we’re losing poultry like crazy. Right out of our yard, during the day, sometimes when we are out there!
We are seeing the coyotes much more than ever too- several times a week, close-up. This is new behavior, their anxiousness for the easy food we have in our yard seems to be drawing them nearer to us than their flight zone would normally tolerate.
Coyotes and dogs combined kill hundreds of thousands of livestock in the U.S. each year. And dog/coyote predation is one of the biggest reasons people get out of farming sheep and goats. Coyotes are a formidable competitor- clever, adaptable, and skilled hunters. Managing them can be very challenging indeed, and is a problem with which almost every animal producer struggles. Losing livestock is extremely upsetting, so I take comfort in knowing that at least I’m not alone in this battle.
For those who haven’t experienced coyote kills at home or on their farm, it’s easy to sympathize with the coyote- he has to make a living too, after all. And with human populations encroaching on habitat in every corner, it’s only natural that coyotes have adapted, shifting their food sources to pet cats, chickens and domestic livestock. Hats off to coyotes, they are a truly admirable and malleable species that can live and thrive almost anywhere, on anything. And they aren’t dumb- domestic animals are much easier to hunt, so of course they’ll choose those over wild animals whenever they’re available. But therein lies the rub- once they’ve discovered this easy drive-through dinner, they just keep coming back, every day!
This trend of seeing coyotes consume hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of livestock is quite distressing! I tell ya, I haven’t gotten a lot of sleep these past few months- every time the dogs bark, I get up and go outside to check on the animals, and chase off coyotes who have come too close. That can be several trips outside each night! Heading out to chores only to find dead or missing animals is traumatic and leaves you with a real feeling of helplessness to protect your very vulnerable livestock. Lest the coyotes just eat everything you own, you have to do something to manage the threat. So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading lately, on what to do with these coyotes in our midst.