Raising a vulnerable prey species can be challenging. The most obvious of these reasons is predators. For the past several years, we have had very few problems with predators. This year has been a different story. Coyotes have been predating the sheep this year, mainly taking lambs but occasionally a ewe. It appears that this year, we seem to be situated in the middle of 2 or 3 families, one of which I suspect has decided lamb ranks high on its preferred menu choice.
We have also seen a lot of coyotes around this spring, so likely the increased numbers mean food competition is high, and lambs are relatively easy meals. This seems to be coinciding with a change in flocking behaviour of the sheep. In previous years, I often notice how tight the group is flocked, rarely being spread out, even in small pastures. This year, for some reason unbeknownst to me, the flock will be spread over nearly the entire pasture, seemingly oblivious to the increased predator pressure. This also makes it difficult for the dogs to effectively protect the whole flock.
In an effort to help the dogs and reduce the kills, I have been gathering the sheep together each night, and also borrowed a dog from neighbours who have more dog power than they need. While I these efforts may be helping, they have not stopped the kills. Once coyotes learn to hunt sheep, they are hard to deter. Luckily, we have a provincial program where a predation specialist can come and attempt to remove the problem coyotes. He will be coming back this week, and with some luck, he might be able to remove the guilty parties.
Predation is one reason why many people choose not to raise sheep, and while I have no plans to stop, I can certainly empathise with them. Aside from the obvious economic loss of dead or missing animals (although we do have a provincial wildlife loss compensation program which provides some reprieve), it is terribly demoralizing to continually find lambs predated. Often they are nice, big, healthy lambs that are found, which would have been excellent market lambs in the fall, or replacement ewe lambs. It is also difficult knowing that there is this continual pressure on the sheep, and aside from either corraling and feeding, or spending every minute out with the flock (neither of which are practical) there is little I can do to prevent these losses until those problem coyotes are removed. Part of our farming philosophy is to coincide with nature, and this is another reminder of how nature makes her own rules, despite our plans.
While we were lucky here on our place in Oregon, we didn’t have any depredations. However, we did notice an increase in the amount of traffic. Tracks, scat and howling, compared to previous years. We even had one in our yard!! Although, I am pretty sure he was after our chickens. Its interesting to see a pattern, even if we are thousands of miles apart.