Thursday, June 4, 2009

Confusion and a lost yearling

I'm so confused and frustrated. We've been fighting the coyote battle for two years. It was two summers ago when we started losing lambs. Since we had never lost an animal, other than poultry, we thought that first little lamb had been washed away in a flood. When we lost the second one, we started to think coyote. After the third, we knew it was coyotes. We tried changing some things with fencing and the guard dog, but after losing six lambs, we decided to start staying in the pasture all night. For a week, my oldest daughter and I took turns staying out there with a gun. But when the coyotes never came near, my youngest daughter started sleeping out there in a tent. Until the middle of October, she slept in the pasture with the sheep. By the time the cold weather forced her inside, the coyotes had moved on.

Last year, after we lost a 4-year-old ewe, we realized we were dealing with a bigger pack of coyotes than any dog could be expected to handle, so we got llamas. Although one ram was attacked a week after the llamas' arrival, he survived. We also moved the sheep from a pasture with electric wire to a pasture with woven wire. We didn't think that little lambs would be sticking their heads through the fence to eat -- but why not? Goats stick their heads through the fence all the time.

And that is confusing. We've only lost one goat to coyotes, but we've lost 11 sheep to coyotes over the past two years. And it's not like my goats are in a safer situation than the sheep. Until late last year, the goats were in a pasture next to the sheep with electric fencing. The goats are notorious for going through the electric and heading down to the creek to graze, which would make them an easy target for a hungry coyote. Do the goats have a guardian angel, or do coyotes prefer lamb to chevon, or is it just plain dumb luck?

My happy excitement over finding White Feather's ram was short-lived when only a couple hours later, Margaret was again only counting nine lambs. We haven't been able to find Naira's black and white spotted ram. And now we can't find one of the yearling wethers. For the past couple days, it has felt like school for sheep as we do morning and evening attendance, rather than simply counting the lambs. But then you ask, what's the point? If they're gone, they're gone. There is nothing we can do about it. We have the ewes and lambs locked up in the pasture with woven wire now -- along with two big llamas. And I know coyotes will attack during the daytime. The farmer four miles away has seen them attack his lambs in the middle of the day. We've seen them grab chickens and geese in the middle of the day.

Most types of traps and poisons are out of the question, because I'm afraid of my own dogs or cats being killed. Mike made a live trap last year, but in the morning, the meat was gone, the trap door was closed, and there was no coyote. Somehow they managed to free themselves after being caught. A couple of people have told me they know men who hunt coyotes. "Give him my phone number, and tell him to call me," I said. I'm desperate.

It was bad enough before we got the llamas. Lambs would just disappear. But the coyotes are not giving up. Now, I have to deal with injured animals. It feels like your insides have been ripped out when you see the result of a coyote attack. After the initial shock, there are days of worry, second-guessing, and guilt. Of the three attacks that the llamas stopped, two of the animals had to be put down anyway. I try to console myself by saying that at least the coyotes didn't get their dinner, but I'm starting to believe that doesn't make much difference to the coyotes. They know where the buffet is, and they keep coming back.


SkippyMom said...

I have no advice, only a thought...if they are brazen enough to attack in the day when will they start to threaten you and the other farmers?

Can't the County do something to control them? Or mitigate their attacks?

It seems they no longer want to hunt in the wild when yours and others livestock are prime for the taking. I think there should be somone [Fish & Game,perhaps?] that could help.

I only offer this up b/c here in VA our problems are deer [harmless, but overpopulated] and bear [who were threatening any/everything] - and the counties have taken steps to thin them out or move them to better locations.

I wish you luck.

Nancy K. said...

I don't even know what to say.
I'm so sorry.

Kara said...

It is time to hire a hunter to take out this pack or at the very least thin them out. Obviously they are getting bolder and bolder and I would think at this point you could make an arguement with the DEC that you and your family are at risk of some sort of confrontation. MEN WITH DOGS AND GUNS is where I would go at this point. Enough is enough, sorry if I offended any conversationalist, but obviously this pack doesn't have enough natural habitat anyhow or it would not be snacking on livestock as much and hunting in the daytime is VERY bold. How about exposure to rabies...take care in cleaning up your injured animals. Call you state DEC and you local extention agent and county health department, someone has to have some ideas for you. My thoughts are with you...good luck. Can you put your goats and sheep together with all your guardians for the time being?

pedalpower said...

Deborah, I'm going to talk to Joe and Mike about this. I think they will want to come out and see if they can thin your pack. I'll call you.

Tammy said...

Just thoughts here, regarding the 11 sheep you've lost. I don't know much about goats, but the shetlands are eternally curious, especially the lambs and I've seen them run right up to the fence where the big dog is, just to 'see' what he was. Not a pretty picture, but this may be why the sheep are easier targets. Also, I know this is random, but are you sure it's the coyotes and not a 'two legged' predator? (Thinking back to the weird gentleman caller you had a while back). I know the one was injured badly, so that does point to coyotes, but it was just a thought. Getting someone to hunt/thin your coyotes out might be the best option. I know there are always folks around here 'word of mouth' that will do a little hunting. I sure hope and pray for you that your situation can be quickly resolved. It has to be incrediably frustrating and heartbreaking.
Take care,

Deborah said...

Thanks for all the ideas and suggestions and the offer for help with hunting. Two-legged predators are not out of the question, but I know we have coyotes. Two nights ago, I was about 90% asleep, slapping my husband, and saying, "The coyotes are attacking something. Get up! Get up!" Then I sat straight up and was pushing him out of bed before I was really awake. By the time he got outside, of course they were gone. We never figured out what they got, and based on where the noise came from, my husband suggested that maybe one had just been shocked by the electric fence.

On May 12, I posted on Twitter, "Are two of our ducks sitting on a nest somewhere, or were they eaten by coyotes? We haven't seen beak nor feather of them anywhere." Still haven't seen more than three of them since then, so we're starting to think the coyotes got them too. They set for four weeks, but we haven't even found where they're setting, so coyote attack is starting to seem more probable.

Mom L said...

How heartbreaking to have your little creatures taken like that. You must feel like you're living in the old wild west, trying to protect your farm from wolves and other dangers. I do hope you can get some help from friends or agencies that will tackle the coyotes. I see my WV is hated - and I hated reading about your troubles.

Nancy in Atlanta (safe and bored in a city apartment)

Claire said...

This is so awful. I haven't yet had any coyote experiences but we hear them yipping at night, and we know others have had troubles with them in our area. We have the llamas in the hopes that it will help if we have troubles. We do have a huge white tail deer population here, so maybe that redirects some of their efforts. I hope the offers of help to thin the pack will be fruitful.

Twwly said...

i'd hire a hunter to break up the pack.

good luck!

Terri and Randy Carlson said...

I find your situation both perplexing and overwhelming! We aren't that far from you, so I've been extra dilligent in bringing my flock in at night. We see and hear the coyotes regularly. We lost our entire duck flock several years to them, but no sheep so far. I hope you can figure out something that will keep your sheep safe.

Anonymous said...

We heard coyotes more in the winter and early spring, but don't seem to hear them much now. I'm not sure if they moved somewhere else or what. We live near a big creek and have a little one on our property. I have seen tracks, but never coyotes and never in broad daylight. So far we just have the cats, kittens, chickens, and two 1 year old calves.

Maybe it is a lack of other prey? I hope you can figure out something because this just sucks!

Deborah said...

For five years, we never lost anything but an occasional duck or chicken to the coyotes, and local people always seemed surprised by that, since we live on a creek and have lots of timber.

One thing that has changed in recent years is that there are a lot less rabbits. There used to be so many rabbits in the spring it was seriously difficult to drive down the road and not hit one. Now you almost never see them. The number of squirrels has also decreased. This could just be because the number of coyotes has grown too large, and they've eaten most of them.


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