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Getting to Know Sheep Predators

In our neck of the woods the prairie coyote is enemy number one to a lot of people. Coyotes however, are not the only predator to sheep flocks.

In other areas dogs, wolves, bears, cougars, and even ravens have made their impact known. Learning as much as you can about the behavior of the predators in your area can help you figure out how to manage with sheep predators and help when working with predator control experts.

We are fortunate that we don't live in an area commonly inhabited by wolves, bears, or cougars. Wolves and bears often kill more than one ewe or lamb at a time and a cougar often only one. The wolf and bear will often consume the entire carcass at feeding, the cougar may bury the carcass and return to feed.

Ravens are very smart birds and have been known to sit in waiting near lambing areas. When the coast is clear they fly in and peck at the head or abdomen of young lambs. It is very hard to deter a raven since they can fly out of reach and wait for the moment when you must eventually go elsewhere.

Ravens may also kill lambs on pasture. They can out-wait the guard dogs or fly in the back door so to speak.

Sheep producers who live in heavily populated areas often speak about domestic dogs being their number one sheep predator. This is a very sad tale as domestic dogs attacking livestock is almost entirely preventable and if prevented would cease the animosity that festers between producers and the dog owning public.

The Difference between Coyotes and Dogs

Coyotes, and other wild animals, will typically attack because they need a meal. They are following an instinct for survival. Often they show up for easy targets like lambs and if lambs are not easy targets they'll move on. When working in pairs or small packs (mated pair with young offspring) coyotes can harass and kill adult sheep but do so sparingly.

Dogs will harass all of the stock often harming and maybe even killing several different animals.

Coyotes often bite the throat area. In the case of small lambs, coyotes will eat the carcass at the site or carry it off and consume it completely. In the case of adult sheep they tend to eat the internal organs first and will leave the carcass, returning to feed later.

Dogs working in groups are more likely to bite the animal several times in several places so the carcass will have numerous bites and tears. Because dogs are not attacking to eat, they seldom carry away or consume the carcass.

Coyotes work as singles (loners with no pack), mated pairs, or pack groups depending on the time of year.

Dogs often work in packs of two or more. Typically they are not attacking for a meal. Rather they are attacking through a subdued predator instinct and a habit that develops due to boredom.

Coyotes are one the most prominent sheep predators and are preceded by an ominous reputation. However, the strong territorial nature of coyotes can work to our advantage. Many coyote hunters and predator control experts will agree that an established pack of coyotes will keep other coyotes off their territory. Killing coyotes who do no harm to livestock only creates a void and that void may be filled with ones who do kill livestock.

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