BARNESVILLE, Ohio — A tug of war between sheep farmers and coyotes begins in February.
Farmers head out to the field to gather a new lamb, but it’s gone. Or they find carcass evidence of what once was a prize ewe.
The combination of lambing season and coyotes coming into their breeding season can wreak havoc on many sheep farms, not only in Ohio but in most states across the United States.
Stanley D. Gehrt, a professor at Ohio State University who concentrates his efforts on coyotes, spoke at the Buckeye Hill Region Sheep and Goat Program in Barnesville Jan. 28, sharing some interesting coyote facts livestock producers could use to their advantage.
In pack or solitary
Gehrt said the coyotes are not native to Ohio. They transferred from prairies, the southwest area of the United States and desert areas. They were first recorded in Ohio in 1919 and have been increasing in population over the past 20 years.
A coyote weighs between 24 and 39 pounds and eats a flexible diet.
They can survive either as a pack animal or as a solitary floater. If the animals live as part of a pack, they travel and live in a 2-square-mile radius. If a coyote is a floater, meaning he lives by himself, then he covers 30 square miles.
A coyote can also travel up to 150 miles from where it was born in order to find an area to live.
Coyotes typically breed one time a year and February is the peak of the mating season. The litters are born in April and usually have between four and seven pups, but can include as many 15.
Short life span
The one good thing is that only between 25-40 percent of the pups live through their first year of life. On average, 80 percent of all coyotes are dead before they reach their third birthday, Gehrt said.
Alpha animals, which are the dominant male and female in the pack, are responsible for 90 percent of killing livestock and Gehrt said it is almost always related to litter rearing.
Mate for life
Coyotes are monogamous and work together to raise their litters.
Gehrt also said coyotes reproduce according to needs. If the population density decreases, it signals to the female coyotes more animals are needed and increased litter size is the result.
The expert said there are some ways to keep your livestock safe. Use dogs, llamas and donkeys and keep them in the pasture with the sheep. The coyotes shy away from herds with any of these animals included.
Some types of dogs to consider are Great Pyrenees, Akbash, Komondor, Anatolian, and mixed breeds.
However, Gehrt noted there is a strong difference between dogs reared with the sheep and others brought into the herd when they are a little older. He said it’s better to get the dogs introduced to the sheep before the dogs are two months old rather than after they are two months old.
Another way to prevent a coyote attack is to use different types of fencing. Keep the fencing low to the ground and high enough so coyotes have difficulty jumping.
Gehrt said it is not uncommon for some farmers to find live coyotes tangled in fencing in the morning hours. He said he has witnessed some trying to jump a fence but they end up getting tangled in barbed wire.
Other ways to keep coyotes away include repellents, an electric predator guard and taste aversion where a sheep wears a collar that has a poison in it. If the coyote bites into the collar, it dies.
Another controversial treatment called M-44, which is sodium cyanide and euthanizes a coyote once it enters the body. It is used in the western United States but is not allowed here in Ohio.
Gehrt said one other predator Ohio producers must keep an eye out for is the black vulture, which are creeping into southern Ohio.
“They are a real challenge, If they get established on a property, it is hard to do something about them,” Gehrt said.
Because of the bird’s beak, they are not able to attack an animal’s skin like others. Instead they attack an animal through its eyes, mouth or anus.
Gehrt said his best suggestion for all producers is to stop black vultures before they become a problem by using tactics to scare the birds or placing animals such as dogs or donkeys in the herds to scare them away.
And if coyotes are a problem, use some of the same practices including an animal to guard the flock or poison but beware the problem could backfire with the pack producing even more coyotes.