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Preventing coyotes from getting a taste for lamb

“So many dogs fail because they protect the kids playing by the swing set, but the lambs are all getting slaughtered by the coyotes in the pasture.”

David Brennan says that coyote predation can be controlled, but you must first realize that you’re dealing with a smart opponent.

“The coyote is right at the top of the ecological pyramid for intelligence and adaptability, he’s heads and tails above a wolf or a bear. He lives in the backyards of producers.”

Brennan, a member of the Alberta Agriculture Predator Management control group, gave a talk about coyotes and their impacts at the second ultimate sheep seminar, held in Stettler Oct. 23.

Brennan was initially hired as a predator specialist in 1982. “For the first 20 years, I was in the field I lived and breathed sheep production,” he said.

He says the animals are quick to learn the routine around a farm.

“The coyote is there, he’s always going to be there and hopefully you don’t have some that learn some nasty habits. They are of value and the Department of Agriculture is not in the business of wiping them out. But they understand, and I surely understand, that coyotes sometimes have to be controlled when they pick up some bad habits of killing calves or lambs, especially.”

Brennan says not all coyotes kill livestock. “They learn to kill livestock because the opportunity is there. Coyotes will kill lambs and ewes and have even been known to kill the odd ram,” said Brennan.

Brennan used photographs to show how coyotes attack and maim their prey. “The worst thing the sheep can do is flee, because that gets them really going,” he said. They grab them by the shoulder, or they will grab them by the throat right away. They’ll hammer on the brakes and they’ll keep their grip on the throat, and they’ll puncture the windpipe and just hang on and shake them until the lamb goes down and the animal is asphyxiated.”

Coyotes will then tear open the lamb’s flank and devour the vital organs first. Each coyote may kill differently, but they generally follow the same pattern. “They don’t eat everything they kill either,” said Brennan. “Many sheep producers know they don’t just take the sick, the injured and the wounded.” Coyotes kill calves by biting the animals on the flank until the animal falls down. They will then bite into the loose skin and rip it open. Cows may also be vulnerable to attack when they are calving.

Control measures

Brennan recommends installing electric fences around the perimeters of the sheep pen. Coyotes will need a large shock to be deterred and electric fences need to be monitored and grounded properly, he said.

Guard dogs and other guard animals such as llamas or donkeys can also help. “The pup has to be bonded to the sheep flock and learn not to be too rough with the lambs,” said Brennan. “The pup also has to have as little interaction with people, so the pup bonds to the sheep and not to the people. So many dogs fail because they protect the kids playing by the swing set, but the lambs are all getting slaughtered by the coyotes in the pasture. The whole upbringing of the dogs is critical.”

Dogs will patrol the area and assert it as their territory. In some cases, the coyotes will learn how to get around the dog, which will create a problem as it’s difficult to poison a coyote without affecting the dog.

Brennan doesn’t recommend leaving a flock outside overnight. He also recommends care in carcass disposal, so coyotes don’t get a taste for lamb or mutton.

In severe cases of livestock predation, poison is available to livestock producers. Agricultural fieldmen within every municipality in Alberta are licensed to use poison on coyotes. The chemical used by the fieldmen is a poison which works specifically on canines and felines.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for the Glacier FarmMedia publication, the Alberta Farmer Express, since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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