Coyotes are a plague when you have sheep. Today’s podcast is going to be all about coyotes. Probably more than you ever wanted to know. Some things about coyotes might surprise you.
I want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much. I’m so excited to share with you what’s going on at the farm this week.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
So why is the topic today about coyotes? Well, we have had issues and I need to talk about it. I’ll try to keep it mostly factual and as upbeat as possible. In the end though, sometimes homestead life has tragic consequences.
Sheep and Lambs
Over a span of about 3 or 4 days we lost more than half of our sheep. All six of our lambs, including my bottle baby, Susie Q are gone. Five adult ewes are also gone. We have 10 sheep left out of 21. Yeah, it’s a big loss. I’m still heartbroken about losing Susie Q. I still look for her. When I look out the window, momentarily I’m looking for her. Especially in the evening, when I go to create bottles for the twin calves, I briefly look for the very small bottle we use for lambs. Then I remember. She’s gone.
I was unusually attached to Susie Q. We’ve had bottle lambs lots of time. But I’ve never been so attached. Well, perhaps it’s that we have never lost one. And after they are grown and no longer need me for daily feedings, I naturally let go of them. Like Lambert. He’s still out there with the boys and he was a bottle baby. I just don’t think I would miss him the way that I miss Susie Q. And we’ve had others that ended up at freezer camp. I don’t know what’s different except that she was still so young dependent on us.
Cows and Calves
We moved all of the animals out of the back fields where the attacks were occurring. Scott brought out a couple of guys that hunted the male leader and we also used poison. That’s a really harsh method, but sometimes it is necessary.
The twin calves were also quite vulnerable to coyote attack. Scott moved them to a sheltered area. Virginia is also with them. We had to pull her out of the general herd because she was nursing on Cloud. If you remember, Cloud is already feeding two calves. Adding Virginia was definitely more than Cloud could support. You can likely guess that the ones who would suffer would be Princess and Winston. Virginia is about a year old and would definitely wipe out all the available milk and the younger two would be left hungry. So, Virginia is safely away from the other cows and hanging out with the twins.
Keeping the various calves out of one or another milk supply has really been a challenge this year. I don’t know if I mentioned that we briefly had all the calves and cows together. It’s much easier to maintain the pastures if there are only two groups of animals. The boys and the girls. However, having all the cow girls together immediately failed. Rosie came in for milking down a couple of quarts of milk. We suspected Princess as Rosie is her mom, after all. Now I’m wondering if it was actually Virginia and after she got a taste of milk she started looking around and found Cloud after Rosie was gone. Who knows? Rosie and Butter are in a field by themselves. The twin calves and Virginia are in the loafing space. And the rest of the crew which includes Violet, Claire, Buttercup, Cloud and her two calves, are out front. The boys, of course, are in yet another place. We have cows all over the place.
Everyone is relatively safe at the moment. Let’s talk about coyotes. I didn’t want to know all of this and I’ve left out the most gruesome of details. But the gist of the story is here.
The coyote is a species of canine native to North America. It is smaller than its close relative, the wolf. It fills much of the same ecological niche as the golden jackal does in Europe and Asia. Though the coyote is larger and more predatory. Other historical names for this species include the prairie wolf and the brush wolf.
The coyote is listed as least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, due to its wide distribution and abundance throughout North America. Coyote populations are also abundant southwards through Mexico and into Central America. Even now, it is enlarging its range by moving into urban areas in the eastern U.S. and Canada. The coyote was sighted in eastern Panama (across the Panama Canal from their home range) for the first time in 2013.
There are 19 recognized coyote subspecies. The average male weighs 18 to 44 lb and the average female 15 to 40 lb. Their fur color is predominantly light gray and red, sometimes interspersed with black and white. The colors vary somewhat with geography. Coyotes are highly flexible in their social organization. Sometimes living in a family unit and sometimes in loosely knit packs of unrelated individuals. Primarily carnivorous, its diet consists mainly of deer, rabbits, hares, rodents, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates, though it may also eat fruits and vegetables on occasion. Its characteristic vocalization is a howl made by solitary individuals. Humans are the coyote’s greatest threat, followed by cougars and gray wolves. In spite of this, coyotes sometimes mate with gray, eastern, or red wolves, producing “coywolf” hybrids. Genetic studies show that most North American wolves contain some level of coyote DNA.
The coyote is a prominent character in Native American folklore, usually depicted as a trickster that alternately assumes the form of an actual coyote or a man. After the European colonization of the Americas, it was seen in Anglo-American culture as a cowardly and untrustworthy animal. Unlike wolves, which have undergone an improvement of their public image, attitudes towards the coyote remain largely negative. I’m in the group with that attitude.
Hunting and Feeding
Two studies that experimentally investigated the role of olfactory, auditory, and visual cues found that visual cues are the most important ones for hunting in coyotes.
When hunting large prey, the coyote often works in pairs or small groups. Unlike the wolf, which attacks large prey from the rear, the coyote approaches from the front, lacerating its prey’s head and throat. Although coyotes can live in large groups, small prey is typically caught singly. Coyotes have been observed to kill porcupines in pairs, using their paws to flip the rodents on their backs, then attacking the soft underbelly. Only old and experienced coyotes can successfully prey on porcupines, with many predation attempts by young coyotes resulting in them being injured by their prey’s quills. Recent evidence demonstrates that at least some coyotes have become more nocturnal in hunting, presumably to avoid humans.
Coyotes may occasionally form mutualistic hunting relationships with American badgers, assisting each other in digging up rodent prey. The relationship between the two species may occasionally border on apparent “friendship”, as some coyotes have been observed laying their heads on their badger companions or licking their faces without protest. The amicable interactions between coyotes and badgers were known to pre-Columbian civilizations, as shown on a Mexican jar dated to 1250–1300 depicting the relationship between the two.
The coyote has been described as “the most vocal of all wild North American mammals”. Its loudness and range of vocalizations was the cause for its binomial name Canis latrans, meaning “barking dog”. At least 11 different vocalizations are known in adult coyotes. These sounds are divided into three categories: agonistic and alarm, greeting, and contact. The lone howl is the most iconic sound of the coyote and may serve the purpose of announcing the presence of a lone individual separated from its pack.
Prior to the near extermination of wolves and cougars, the coyote was most numerous in grasslands inhabited by bison, pronghorn, elk, and other deer, doing particularly well in short-grass areas with prairie dogs, though it was just as much at home in semiarid areas with sagebrush and jackrabbits or in deserts inhabited by cactus, kangaroo rats, and rattlesnakes.
Coyotes walk around 3–10 miles per day, often along trails such as logging roads and paths; they may use iced-over rivers as travel routes in winter. They are often more active around evening and the beginning of the night than during the day. Like many canids, coyotes are competent swimmers, reported to be able to travel at least 0.5 miles across water.
The coyote is ecologically the North American equivalent of the Eurasian golden jackal. Likewise, the coyote is highly versatile in its choice of food, but is primarily carnivorous, with 90% of its diet consisting of meat. Prey species include bison (largely as carrion), white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, rabbits, hares, rodents, birds (especially young water birds and pigeons and doves), amphibians (except toads), lizards, snakes, turtles and tortoises, fish, crustaceans, and insects. More unusual prey include young black bear cubs and rattlesnakes. Coyotes kill rattlesnakes mostly for food but also to protect their pups at their dens. They will tease the snakes until they stretch out and then bite their heads and shake them. Birds taken by coyotes may range in size from thrashers, larks and sparrows to adult wild turkeys.
If working in packs or pairs, coyotes have access to larger prey than lone. In some cases, packs of coyotes have dispatched much larger prey such as adult deer, cow, elk, and sheep, although the young fawn, calves and lambs of these animals are most often taken. In some cases, coyotes can bring down prey weighing up to 220 to 440 lb or more. When it comes to adult animals such as deer, they often exploit them when vulnerable such as those that are infirm, stuck in snow or ice, otherwise winter-weakened or heavily pregnant. Less wary domestic animals are more easily exploited.
Although coyotes prefer fresh meat, they will scavenge when the opportunity presents itself. Excluding the insects, fruit, and grass eaten, the coyote requires an estimated 1.3 lb of food daily, 550 lb annually.
The coyote feeds on a variety of different produce, including blackberries, blueberries, peaches, pears, apples, prickly pears, persimmons, peanuts, watermelons, cantaloupes, and carrots. During the winter and early spring, the coyote eats large quantities of grass, such as green wheat blades.
Other interesting diet components
In coastal California, coyotes now consume a higher percentage of marine-based food than their ancestors, which is thought to be due to the extirpation of the grizzly bear from this region. In Death Valley, coyotes may consume great quantities of hawkmoth caterpillars or beetles in the spring flowering months.
Livestock and Pet Predation Statistics
As of 2007, coyotes were the most abundant livestock predators in western North America, causing the majority of sheep, goat, and cattle losses. For example, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, coyotes were responsible for 60.5% of the 224,000 sheep deaths attributed to predation in 2004. The total number of sheep deaths in 2004 comprised 2.22% of the total sheep and lamb population in the United States, which, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service USDA report, totaled 4.66 million and 7.80 million heads respectively as of July 1, 2005. Because coyote populations are typically many times greater and more widely distributed than those of wolves, coyotes cause more overall predation losses. United States government agents routinely shoot, poison, trap, and kill about 90,000 coyotes each year to protect livestock. An Idaho census taken in 2005 showed that individual coyotes were 5% as likely to attack livestock as individual wolves. In Utah, more than 11,000 coyotes were killed for bounties totaling over $500,000 in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017.
Livestock Guardian Dogs
Livestock guardian dogs are commonly used to aggressively repel predators and have worked well in both fenced pasture and range operations. A 1986 survey of sheep producers in the USA found that 82% reported the use of dogs represented an economic asset.
Protect Yourself and Your Pets
Coyotes are often attracted to dog food and animals that are small enough to appear as prey. Items such as garbage, pet food, and sometimes feeding stations for birds and squirrels attract coyotes into backyards. About three to five pets attacked by coyotes are brought into the Animal Urgent Care hospital of South Orange County (California) each week, the majority of which are dogs. Cats typically do not survive coyote attacks. Smaller breeds of dogs are more likely to suffer injury and/or death.
Coyotes are one of my least favorite parts of God’s creation. I’ve probably given you far too much information on these creatures. But as I said earlier, I needed to talk about this. Thanks for listening.
Living on the homestead is not always pretty. Survival is always relative to the environment. Many times, survival is a competition between humans and other species. All animals have a right to live. God made them and there you go. They have a right to live. And we also have the right to protect our other animals. Sometimes it is a small parasite – which is also deadly at times. And sometimes it’s larger animals such as coyotes and bears. Everyone is just trying to survive. I miss my Susie Q. And when I look at our decimated flock of sheep, I am filled with sadness. However, in the end, some of our flock has survived and we will rebuild. It’s what we do. Our flock will rise again. In the fall or next spring, we will have lambs again. The life cycle continues.
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