Predators and Prey: Who plays what role?


Predation can take a heavy toll on a flock of sheep, particularly during the lambing season.  In order to better protect your flock the first step is to identify the predator.  Once you know what animal you are dealing with proper steps can be taken to protect your flock.  Lambs are most susceptible to predator attack so be sure to take special care when ewes are lambing.

Coyotes (Canis latrans)-  The coyote is of the caindae family, which also includes wolves, foxes, and domestic dogs.  Their range spans almost the entire continental US, Canada, and parts of Mexico.  The coyote is on average smaller than a wolf and slighter of frame.  They are highly vocal, in fact their scientific name means 'barking dog'.  This is a good way to identify if they are in your area. 

Coyotes are mainly scavengers, but when presented with young lambs they may take to hunting them.  Coyotes tend to bite the throat, where as a dog will tend to bit anywhere.  Although it can be difficult to tell the difference between dog and coyote attacks.  The prints are the best way to tell coyote from dog.  Dogs have a wider track, and coyotes have more elongated paws.  And dogs nails tend to leave deep tracks in the dirt then coyotes. 

Methods of preventing coyote attack-

Ariel shooting-  Many thousands of coyotes are killed every year by gunmen in helicopters.  This method is inefficient because usually it is a single Alpha pair that is doing most of the damage to livestock.  The cost of this method can quickly become prohibitive. 

Guard Animals-  More about this method can be learnt in other sections of this web page.  If trained properly and socialized properly this can be a very effective method of prevention.

Wolf Urine- Wolves are the natural enemies of coyotes and both species use their urine to mark their territories.  Now most of the wolves have been eradicated from coyote territories.  However, wolf urine can be purchased and spread around your property to ward off coyotes.  Wolf urine can be purchased at :

Fences- Fencing has its ups and its downs.  If done properly it can be a good deterrent for coyotes.  However, building fences is expensive and costly and if you own a large amount of land it can be near impossible.  Also once the fence is done coyotes may dig under it if the fence doesn't have a hot wire six inches above the ground.  Again hot wires can be difficult to maintain.

Noise devises-  Noise and light scare tactics are effective to a point, but are best used in conjunction with other defenses because coyotes can become used to the devises.  If the noise is changed often and the devises location is changed often it has a better chance of working.

Poisoning- A very indiscriminate method, that may harm other harmless wildlife and should only be used in extreme cases.

Leg trapping-   This is a good method if there reason to believe that there is a single of pair of coyotes that is causing the trouble.  However, trapping can be very difficult.  Coyotes are very wary and have highly developed senses of smell.  If you wish to leg trap a coyote it would be worth while to hire a professional trapper.

Foxes (Vulpes vulpes)-  Another member of the caindae family.  Much smaller than a coyote so they will only be able to take the smallest of lambs.  Their tracks are similar to that of coyotes, only smaller and more oval in shape. 

Prevention Methods for Fox Attack

See coyote, with the exception of aerial shooting.

Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos)-  These are large birds of prey that can at times take young lambs.  Unfortunately there is very little that can be done about Eagle attacks because not only can they not be stopped by fences, and it is illegal to kill or hurt them in anyway (they are a protected animal under the Endangered Species Act).  Guard dogs may frighten away a Eagle, but donkeys and llamas would not be as effective. 

Domestic Dogs, Mountain Lions, Bobcats, and many others may also serve as predators for sheep flocks depending upon the area.

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