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Coyote Threat Expanding

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Ranchers everywhere continually have to deal with predation of their livestock and wildlife by coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, raccoons, feral hogs and other predatory species. The one that does by far the most damage to sheep and goats is the coyote.  At one time nearly cleared of coyotes, much of the prime sheep and goat production land of Texas’ Edwards Plateau is once again home to Canis latrans, who likes nothing better for dinner than lamb or kid goat.  Why would a rancher begrudge a poor little canine his dinner?  Surely there are plenty of lambs in the flock and he can spare one or two to feed a hungry coyote?   The fact is that coyotes take such a toll on kid and lamb crops they have put more than one sheep and goat producer out of business or at least hurt their bottom line severely. And the lesser publicized but just as economically important damage coyotes do is predation of wildlife populations—deer, quail and turkey. With hunting leases a big part of ranching revenue, coyotes are enemy No. 1.  Coyotes are not endangered. Nor are they in any danger of becoming endangered. Coyote populations nationwide have grown to the point that it is possible there are more coyotes now than ever before on this continent. Once thought to inhabit the western Great Plains, temperate areas of the Rocky Mountains and the Southwestern deserts, the coyote now ranges the entire length and breadth of North America. (3)  Chicago, believe it or not, has a coyote problem. The number of nuisance coyotes removed annually from the Chicago metropolitan area increased from typically less than 20 coyotes in the early 1990s to more than 350 coyotes each year during the late 1990s. (3)    New York City has a coyote problem. This past June two little girls, ages 3 and 6, in a suburb of the city—Rye, N.Y.—were attacked by coyotes in separate incidences.States from South Carolina to California report coyote problems of some sort. (5)  Many urban dwellers who have moved out to new additions in the city suburbs find themselves in frequent encounters with coyotes. They often attribute those sightings of coyotes or problems with them to their invading the coyote’s habitat. In fact, just the opposite is true. Coyotes are proliferating to the point they are re-inhabiting land long cleared of coyotes by early ranchers and farmers or that never contained coyotes in the first place. And, coyotes are among the species that thrive with human help.   Coyotes purloin food from garbage cans or dog dishes. They eat the acorns, fruit and even small pets of suburban residents.  In a study regarding the anthropogenic subsidization, or unintended human-assistance, of one coyote population in Southern California, one conclusion was that “In the most human-impacted area, where 14-25 percent of items consumed [by coyotes] were of anthropogenic origin, coyote density was approximately eight times higher that in the most natural area.” (2)  But suburbanites mostly try to co-exist with coyotes. They’re not actively trying to kill them. Well, maybe they would fire off the occasional .22 shot if they discovered a coyote munching on Kitty or Fido.  A type of similar coyote haven can be created when a former production livestock ranch is divided up and sold to a person or group of people who are more interested in hunting than in raising livestock. Often city dwellers to begin with, the new absentee landowners are either unaware or unconcerned that their inaction regarding predator control can hurt their neighbor’s sheep or goats, or even cattle.  What those absentee landowners should understand is that coyote control not only helps their neighbors, it helps their own wildlife population. Coyotes, and other predators, prey on deer, turkeys and quail as well as sheep and goats.  Fortunately, ranchers have some help controlling coyotes in the form of USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services, a state and federally funded predator control agency headed up in Texas by state director Mike Bodenchuk. Wildlife Services works with participating counties and rancher groups to put in place county trappers whose full time jobs consist of eliminating predators and attempting to control predation of livestock. The agency also has pilots and helicopters to assist the trappers in coyote and hog control.  “Predator control for livestock protection in Texas is doing as good as can be expected in this economy,” Bodenchuk said in a recent telephone interview. “We’re flying more hours. We’re putting more people on the ground. The downside is budgets are being cut . . . and it’s difficult to keep this level of service up.”  Like other agencies, Wildlife Services’ budget in Texas was slashed due to the economic downturn and is $1.4 million less for 2011 that the state’s 2003 base budget total.   “It’s very difficult for us to keep providing the same level of service without getting in somebody else’s cookie jar,” Bodenchuk said. “Right now we cost share with rancher groups and counties to support the trappers. And we just increased the cost to those counties and the ranchers from $2,200 to $2,400 a month. When our state and federal revenues shrink it means that we have to pass more of that cost on to the ranchers. And I hate doing that. I think this is a federal and state responsibility and we should be able to do it, but obviously we work for the legislatures and for the congress, so if they say do it this way we have no choice.”  Wildlife Services’ job is to respond when a livestock producer needs help. Taking priority are those requests in which the producer is suffering losses due to predation, Bodenchuk said.  “We provide preventative services, and corrective services. Corrective is when there’s killing going on and that’s our first priority—to stop the killing that’s going on.  Preventive is what we do when there’s not killing going on but there’s coyotes over on the neighbors’ and we’re going to keep snares in the fence to keep them from coming in. Corrective takes first priority; preventive takes second priority. But we expect our guys to do both.”  The trapper/hunter employees of Wildlife Services in each county are state employees for the most part. Their salaries and benefits are paid by the state of Texas through the Texas A&M system, and trapper salaries start at $23,000 annually.   “We only have so many state dollars to do that. So if we had to rely on our state and federal budgets we’d only have two-thirds of the number of employees that we have today,” Bodenchuk said. “The county and the rancher clubs contribute and pay into the Texas Wildlife Damage Management Association. That association cuts a check to the state of Texas to help support those trappers.”  Vehicles, support services and aerial support cost about $5,400 a month per trapper in the field, he said. The rancher groups or the counties are paying about $2,400 of that; the rest is subsidized by federal or state dollars, or both.   When a rancher calls for help in controlling predators he can specify whether he or she wants just coyotes killed or whether he’d like other predators like hogs, lions, raccoons or foxes taken as well.  “Most of these guys sign up for multiple predator species on their ranch. They want the raccoons gone right alongside the coyotes and everything else, so that helps decide what methods to use,” Bodenchuk said.  “If we’re going to aerial hunt or put out M44s, it’s really just for coyotes. But if we’re looking for raccoons we’re going to put snares in the fence and traps in the ground and catch coons, coyotes and bobcats, and try and keep the landscape pretty clean.”  In 2009 Wildlife Services in Texas killed more than 20,000 coyotes, Bodenchuk said. In 2010 the take totaled more than 19,000.   “We figured that in 2009, we saved $30 million worth of livestock.  That’s an important number. It cost about $7 million to do that. That’s a positive cost:benefit ratio,” he said. “Remember, all those livestock are out there in rural counties where those dollars are critically needed to support the local economy.”  Even with Wildlife Services’ help in exterminating coyotes, they keep coming. The series of maps with this article illustrates the number of coyotes taken the zero year of each decade. The circle of coyote kills draws tighter and tighter like a noose around sheep and goat country as the decades progress.   A few years back a group of sheep and goat producers and researchers got together in San Angelo to kick around the idea of constructing a coyote barrier fence. The fence would be constructed on cooperating landowners’ ranches that bordered highways and eventually encircle a lot of the prime sheep and goat producing region of Texas, roughly from Del Rio to San Angelo to Brownwood to Kerrville to Uvalde and back to Del Rio. Because any truly coyote-proof fence would be cost prohibitive, the barrier would serve as more of a deterrent to coyote invasion of an area that is still not yet terribly overrun with Canis latrans. The idea was discussed but nothing really came of it.  Could the advance of coyotes into once coyote-rare country be stopped with a barrier fence? Bodenchuk says no. The problem is not the general coyote drift into an area, he said, but invasion from coyote strongholds, like the property of a neighbor, perhaps an absentee landowner or a cattle producer who is not particularly concerned with coyote control.  “I’m sure there is a coyote proof fence but it’s not practical,” he said. A nearly coyote proof fence would have to be 12-foot-high chain link with a buried 3-foot skirt, he said. Even then, the fence would have to be maintained constantly and protected from damage by feral hogs.  But fencing is valuable in the fight against coyotes, he said. “We like net wire fencing, regular sheep and goat fencing. If it’s good and tight it will give us places to target coyotes in slides that go underneath. We can put snares in that fence and do really well.”  Wildlife Services’ arsenal in their war against coyotes includes snares, traps, toxicants, hunting and aerial hunting. The most effective against coyotes are the toxicants, especially the highly regulated M44 sodium cyanide delivery device which blasts a curious coyote in the mouth with a powder containing 3/100s of an ounce of the poison. In 2009, 14 percent of the coyote take was from the air with 86 percent of coyotes killed on the ground with M44 kills making up the larger number, followed by snares, traps and shooting.  Several years ago researchers came up with an idea for a “safe” toxicant for coyotes. They hoped a component of chocolate that is poisonous to canines, Theobromine, chemically similar to caffeine, could take the place of more lethal poisons used to kill coyotes.   Canines, including dogs and coyotes, can succumb to theobromine poisoning from as little as 50 grams of chocolate for a smaller animal and 400 grams for an average-sized animal. The toxicant is prepared by extracting concentrated theobromine from chocolate and enticing coyotes with a baited canister of liquid.    Pen studies of the efficacy, or kill rate, of theobromine are still underway.   “We’re trying to get the efficacy up to 80 percent.  When we give it to coyotes orally--when we inject it in their mouth--they die,” Bodenchuk said. The challenge is to perfect the delivery system so that the kill rate is consistently high.  Bodenchuk described the delivery device as a canister about the size of a 35mm film canister containing a liquid solution of theobromine. The canister screws upside down onto a well anchored stake in the ground.   “You bait the top and the coyote comes along and chews on it and he doses himself while he chewing on it,” Bodenchuk said. “We haven’t got delivery down to where we get 80 percent efficacy. About 60 percent of the coyotes that are chewing on it in that fashion are dying, and the rest are getting sub-lethal doses. That’s a problem for us.   “I’m more efficient with traps than that. If I’ve got to go out and pound those things in the ground and I’m only getting 60 percent efficacy, I’d rather pound traps in the ground and get 95 percent efficacy.”  Researchers are still trying to refine the delivery system so that it’s more effective.    1. Telephone interview with Mike Bodenchuk, Texas state director of USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services. 2. “Does availability of anthropogenic food enhance densities of omnivorous mammals? An example with coyotes in southern California,”  Fedriani, J. M., Fuller, T. K. and Sauvajot, R. M. 2001.  3. “Coyote Predation - Description”. A. Wade, Dale & E. Bowns, James. Procedures for Evaluating Predation on Livestock and Wildlife. Archived from the original on August 6, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20070806144513/http://texnat.tamu.edu/ranchref/predator/coyote/t-coyote.htm. Retrieved August 19, 2007.  4. “Urban Coyote Ecology and Management: The Cook County, Illinois, Coyote Project,”  Stanley D. Gehrt, Ohio State University. http://ohioline.osu.edu/b929/pdf/b929.pdf 5. “Police in NYC suburb warn parents to keep children indoors after 2 coyote attacks on kids;” Associated Press, June 30, 2010; http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/06/30/year-old-girl-attacked-coyote-backyard-nd-attack-suburban-ny-city-days/

By Gary Cutrer
Published January 2011

Ranchers everywhere continually have to deal with predation of their livestock and wildlife by coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, raccoons, feral hogs and other predatory species. The one that does by far the most damage to sheep and goats is the coyote.

At one time nearly cleared of coyotes, much of the prime sheep and goat production land of Texas’ Edwards Plateau is once again home to Canis latrans, who likes nothing better for dinner than lamb or kid goat.

Why would a rancher begrudge a poor little canine his dinner?  Surely there are plenty of lambs in the flock and he can spare one or two to feed a hungry coyote?

The fact is that coyotes take such a toll on kid and lamb crops they have put more than one sheep and goat producer out of business or at least hurt their bottom line severely. And the lesser publicized but just as economically important damage coyotes do is predation of wildlife populations—deer, quail and turkey. With hunting leases a big part of ranching revenue, coyotes are enemy No. 1.

Coyotes are not endangered. Nor are they in any danger of becoming endangered. Coyote populations nationwide have grown to the point that it is possible there are more coyotes now than ever before on this continent. Once thought to inhabit the western Great Plains, temperate areas of the Rocky Mountains and the Southwestern deserts, the coyote now ranges the entire length and breadth of North America. (3)

Chicago, believe it or not, has a coyote problem. The number of nuisance coyotes removed annually from the Chicago metropolitan area increased from typically less than 20 coyotes in the early 1990s to more than 350 coyotes each year during the late 1990s. (3)  

New York City has a coyote problem. This past June two little girls, ages 3 and 6, in a suburb of the city—Rye, N.Y.—were attacked by coyotes in separate incidences.States from South Carolina to California report coyote problems of some sort. (5)

Many urban dwellers who have moved out to new additions in the city suburbs find themselves in frequent encounters with coyotes. They often attribute those sightings of coyotes or problems with them to their invading the coyote’s habitat. In fact, just the opposite is true. Coyotes are proliferating to the point they are re-inhabiting land long cleared of coyotes by early ranchers and farmers or that never contained coyotes in the first place. And, coyotes are among the species that thrive with human help.

Coyotes purloin food from garbage cans or dog dishes. They eat the acorns, fruit and even small pets of suburban residents.

In a study regarding the anthropogenic subsidization, or unintended human-assistance, of one coyote population in Southern California, one conclusion was that “In the most human-impacted area, where 14-25 percent of items consumed [by coyotes] were of anthropogenic origin, coyote density was approximately eight times higher that in the most natural area.” (2)

But suburbanites mostly try to co-exist with coyotes. They’re not actively trying to kill them. Well, maybe they would fire off the occasional .22 shot if they discovered a coyote munching on Kitty or Fido.

A type of similar coyote haven can be created when a former production livestock ranch is divided up and sold to a person or group of people who are more interested in hunting than in raising livestock. Often city dwellers to begin with, the new absentee landowners are either unaware or unconcerned that their inaction regarding predator control can hurt their neighbor’s sheep or goats, or even cattle.

What those absentee landowners should understand is that coyote control not only helps their neighbors, it helps their own wildlife population. Coyotes, and other predators, prey on deer, turkeys and quail as well as sheep and goats.

Fortunately, ranchers have some help controlling coyotes in the form of USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services, a state and federally funded predator control agency headed up in Texas by state director Mike Bodenchuk. Wildlife Services works with participating counties and rancher groups to put in place county trappers whose full time jobs consist of eliminating predators and attempting to control predation of livestock. The agency also has pilots and helicopters to assist the trappers in coyote and hog control.

“Predator control for livestock protection in Texas is doing as good as can be expected in this economy,” Bodenchuk said in a recent telephone interview. “We’re flying more hours. We’re putting more people on the ground. The downside is budgets are being cut . . . and it’s difficult to keep this level of service up.”

Like other agencies, Wildlife Services’ budget in Texas was slashed due to the economic downturn and is $1.4 million less for 2011 that the state’s 2003 base budget total.

“It’s very difficult for us to keep providing the same level of service without getting in somebody else’s cookie jar,” Bodenchuk said. “Right now we cost share with rancher groups and counties to support the trappers. And we just increased the cost to those counties and the ranchers from $2,200 to $2,400 a month. When our state and federal revenues shrink it means that we have to pass more of that cost on to the ranchers. And I hate doing that. I think this is a federal and state responsibility and we should be able to do it, but obviously we work for the legislatures and for the congress, so if they say do it this way we have no choice.”

Wildlife Services’ job is to respond when a livestock producer needs help. Taking priority are those requests in which the producer is suffering losses due to predation, Bodenchuk said.

“We provide preventative services, and corrective services. Corrective is when there’s killing going on and that’s our first priority—to stop the killing that’s going on.  Preventive is what we do when there’s not killing going on but there’s coyotes over on the neighbors’ and we’re going to keep snares in the fence to keep them from coming in. Corrective takes first priority; preventive takes second priority. But we expect our guys to do both.”


Maps 
illustrate coyote kills on the zero year of each decade by Wildlife 
Services.
The trapper/hunter employees of Wildlife Services in each county are state employees for the most part. Their salaries and benefits are paid by the state of Texas through the Texas A&M system, and trapper salaries start at $23,000 annually.

Coyote kills for the year 2000 show advance of coyotes toward sheep and goat country. Source: Wildlife Services. “We only have so many state dollars to do that. So if we had to rely on our state and federal budgets we’d only have two-thirds of the number of employees that we have today,” Bodenchuk said. “The county and the rancher clubs contribute and pay into the Texas Wildlife Damage Management Association. That association cuts a check to the state of Texas to help support those trappers.”

Vehicles, support services and aerial support cost about $5,400 a month per trapper in the field, he said. The rancher groups or the counties are paying about $2,400 of that; the rest is subsidized by federal or state dollars, or both.

When a rancher calls for help in controlling predators he can specify whether he or she wants just coyotes killed or whether he’d like other predators like hogs, lions, raccoons or foxes taken as well.

“Most of these guys sign up for multiple predator species on their ranch. They want the raccoons gone right alongside the coyotes and everything else, so that helps decide what methods to use,” Bodenchuk said.  “If we’re going to aerial hunt or put out M44s, it’s really just for coyotes. But if we’re looking for raccoons we’re going to put snares in the fence and traps in the ground and catch coons, coyotes and bobcats, and try and keep the landscape pretty clean.”

In 2009 Wildlife Services in Texas killed more than 20,000 coyotes, Bodenchuk said. In 2010 the take totaled more than 19,000.

“We figured that in 2009, we saved $30 million worth of livestock.  That’s an important number. It cost about $7 million to do that. That’s a positive cost:benefit ratio,” he said. “Remember, all those livestock are out there in rural counties where those dollars are critically needed to support the local economy.”

Even with Wildlife Services’ help in exterminating coyotes, they keep coming. The series of maps with this article illustrates the number of coyotes taken the zero year of each decade. The circle of coyote kills draws tighter and tighter like a noose around sheep and goat country as the decades progress.

A few years back a group of sheep and goat producers and researchers got together in San Angelo to kick around the idea of constructing a coyote barrier fence. The fence would be constructed on cooperating landowners’ ranches that bordered highways and eventually encircle a lot of the prime sheep and goat producing region of Texas, roughly from Del Rio to San Angelo to Brownwood to Kerrville to Uvalde and back to Del Rio. Because any truly coyote-proof fence would be cost prohibitive, the barrier would serve as more of a deterrent to coyote invasion of an area that is still not yet terribly overrun with Canis latrans. The idea was discussed but nothing really came of it.

Could the advance of coyotes into once coyote-rare country be stopped with a barrier fence? Bodenchuk says no. The problem is not the general coyote drift into an area, he said, but invasion from coyote strongholds, like the property of a neighbor, perhaps an absentee landowner or a cattle producer who is not particularly concerned with coyote control.

“I’m sure there is a coyote proof fence but it’s not practical,” he said. A nearly coyote proof fence would have to be 12-foot-high chain link with a buried 3-foot skirt, he said. Even then, the fence would have to be maintained constantly and protected from damage by feral hogs.

But fencing is valuable in the fight against coyotes, he said. “We like net wire fencing, regular sheep and goat fencing. If it’s good and tight it will give us places to target coyotes in slides that go underneath. We can put snares in that fence and do really well.”

Wildlife Services’ arsenal in their war against coyotes includes snares, traps, toxicants, hunting and aerial hunting. The most effective against coyotes are the toxicants, especially the highly regulated M44 sodium cyanide delivery device which blasts a curious coyote in the mouth with a powder containing 3/100s of an ounce of the poison. In 2009, 14 percent of the coyote take was from the air with 86 percent of coyotes killed on the ground with M44 kills making up the larger number, followed by snares, traps and shooting.

Several years ago researchers came up with an idea for a “safe” toxicant for coyotes. They hoped a component of chocolate that is poisonous to canines, Theobromine, chemically similar to caffeine, could take the place of more lethal poisons used to kill coyotes.

Coyotes are elusive yet make their presence known where there are small livestock. Photo courtesy Kyle Lange, Lange Helicopter. Canines, including dogs and coyotes, can succumb to theobromine poisoning from as little as 50 grams of chocolate for a smaller animal and 400 grams for an average-sized animal. The toxicant is prepared by extracting concentrated theobromine from chocolate and enticing coyotes with a baited canister of liquid.  

Pen studies of the efficacy, or kill rate, of theobromine are still underway.

“We’re trying to get the efficacy up to 80 percent.  When we give it to coyotes orally--when we inject it in their mouth--they die,” Bodenchuk said. The challenge is to perfect the delivery system so that the kill rate is consistently high.

Bodenchuk described the delivery device as a canister about the size of a 35mm film canister containing a liquid solution of theobromine. The canister screws upside down onto a well anchored stake in the ground.

“You bait the top and the coyote comes along and chews on it and he doses himself while he chewing on it,” Bodenchuk said. “We haven’t got delivery down to where we get 80 percent efficacy. About 60 percent of the coyotes that are chewing on it in that fashion are dying, and the rest are getting sub-lethal doses. That’s a problem for us.

“I’m more efficient with traps than that. If I’ve got to go out and pound those things in the ground and I’m only getting 60 percent efficacy, I’d rather pound traps in the ground and get 95 percent efficacy.”

Researchers are still trying to refine the delivery system so that it’s more effective.


  1. Telephone interview with Mike Bodenchuk, Texas state director of USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services.
  2. “Does availability of anthropogenic food enhance densities of omnivorous mammals? An example with coyotes in southern California,”  Fedriani, J. M., Fuller, T. K. and Sauvajot, R. M. 2001.
  3. “Coyote Predation - Description”. A. Wade, Dale & E. Bowns, James. Procedures for Evaluating Predation on Livestock and Wildlife. Archived from the original on August 6, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20070806144513/http://texnat.tamu.edu/ranchref/predator/coyote/t-coyote.htm. Retrieved August 19, 2007. 
  4. “Urban Coyote Ecology and Management: The Cook County, Illinois, Coyote Project,”  Stanley D. Gehrt, Ohio State University. http://ohioline.osu.edu/b929/pdf/b929.pdf
  5. “Police in NYC suburb warn parents to keep children indoors after 2 coyote attacks on kids;” Associated Press, June 30, 2010; http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/06/30/year-old-girl-attacked-coyote-backyard-nd-attack-suburban-ny-city-days/


 

 

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