Life of a Ranch Wife

Predators like coyotes present a serious threat to cattle producers. (Photo by Colby Robinson)

By Lanna Mills

As ranchers, we are constantly battling something—drought, flooding, fire, grass shortage, theft, market crash or illness, and even predators. While we cannot eliminate this threat completely, there are things that we can do to help protect our livestock. Who are these predators? How are they a threat to cattle and other stock? What can we do to protect them?

For ranchers in our area, one of the main predators that threaten our livestock is the coyote. In other areas, ranchers may face threats from mountain lions, bears, and wolves. Bobcats may also pose a threat to smaller farm animals like chickens.

Coyotes play a big part in Native American history. The coyote was a mythological figure for almost all tribes, and there are many legends and myths pertaining to the coyote. These characters varied from intelligent with a big appetite and the stealth to fulfill it to a hero to humans or a comic tricky creature.

These characteristics hold true: coyotes are intelligent animals with a great appetite and can be quite tricky. There is a reason why coyotes have thrived all these years and are so widespread today. They are said to be one of the most adaptable animals.

They can live in all climates from hot and dry desert to snowy mountain range. Their diet varies depending on location, time of year, region and what is accessible. Coyotes prefer a fresh kill but will eat other dead animals. When available, they will also eat berries and other types of vegetation.

Hunting alone, in pairs or in a pack (often consisting of their young), coyotes are opportunistic hunters, meaning they eat what is easy to access. Sometimes this means a newborn calf whose mother has left it bedded down. Sick or weak stock can be an easy target especially for coyotes working in pairs or packs.

As I was feeding our cattle recently, I noticed a cow coming by herself away from the others. When she reached the feed ground I noticed she had calved not long ago: her tail and back end still redden with blood, heavy bagged, and a smaller belly than the last time I saw her.

She ate quickly and trotted back from where she came. As she approached a small thicket, two coyotes darted off to the east. Luckily they hadn’t reached the calf yet, and it was still alive and well. That doesn’t mean that they will not be lurking nearby waiting for her to leave the calf again or until the next calf is born.

It may often be hard to distinguish if coyotes were the actual cause of death or if the animal died from other causes and the coyotes were just eating on the carcass. This is especially true for cattle that are turned out in a large pasture.

It could be that a calf was born dead or that a yearling was sick and died, but the animal was found by coyotes before the owner saw it. This makes it hard to say exactly how many deaths are caused by predators.

In December 2017, the USDA reported cattle raisers lost 3.9 million head of cattle in 2015. Of those 2 percent of adult cattle and 11 percent of calves were lost to predators. Of these predator death losses, 40.5 percent were caused by coyotes.

The threat is serious, but what can we do to prevent it? Predators can be managed through lethal and nonlethal techniques.

Some cattlemen and livestock owners choose to use guard donkeys or llamas to help keep predators away. These donkeys and llamas are turned out with the stock.

Donkeys are aggressive toward dogs and coyotes so when one comes near the stock they will kick, bite and bray, chasing them away. Jack donkeys (intact males) can be too aggressive and may injure calves if they were not raised with cattle. Therefore, jenny donkeys (females) or geldings are often used.

Great Pyrenees dogs are another nonlethal way to protect livestock. These dogs are raised from puppies with the stock and their instinct is to protect them from harm. Pyrenees have a deep impressive bark that scares away would-be predators.

There is a lot of controversy when it comes to lethal techniques. Lethal predator techniques consist of trapping, shooting, aerial gunning, hunting with dogs and poison. The use of poisons is less popular now being that other animals and even humans can be harmed or killed accidentally.

Some people think of Wile E. Coyote and wonder how anyone could ever kill a coyote. The truth is that coyotes are a serious threat to livestock owners, and we must do all we can to protect our livelihood.
Killing a predator is the only sure way that it will stop preying.