Coyotes and wolves targeting more cattle

Oct 15, 2010
by DTN

Brent Tanner has seen just how adaptable and wily coyotes are firsthand. He recalls one male who learned how to separate a calf from the herd, run it down into a canal, corner it near a head gate and eat it.

“This old male got a few calves before we figured out just exactly what was happening. It’s true they are very adaptable, and they learn what works,” says this rancher in northwestern Utah. “In fact, it’s because they’re so cunning that we are very careful about how we go about removing them.”

Tanner, who is executive vice president of the Utah Cattle Association, says while there are plenty of offers from hunters willing to come out and shoot coyotes in his area, he’s found this approach just teaches these predators to be more elusive. The better tactic is to turn control over to the USDA’s Wildlife Services office, which uses a combination of shooting, trapping and M-44 devices (cyanide ejection) to control predators that have proved they will kill cattle or other livestock.

At just around 35 pounds, coyotes may look small, but they continue to take the biggest bite out of the cattle industry when you look at statistics. According to the latest National Agricultural Statistics Service data, nearly 32 percent of cattle deaths due to predators were chalked up to coyotes; dogs came in second at 13 percent, followed by mountain lions at 9 percent. The survey showed 97,000 head of cattle were killed by coyotes at a dollar figure of some $43.9 million. That doesn’t include economic losses due to herd stress caused by the presence of predators, which can affect conception rates and even body condition.

Include other predators, and the numbers get even bigger. Total cattle/calf losses to predators are about 190,000 head—an estimated value of $92.67 million. And while these losses continue mounting, cattlemen are spending $184 million on nonlethal control methods.

Mike Linnell, director of USDA’s Wildlife Services office in Utah, says this has been an especially tough year for livestock operators because there was a crash in rabbit populations in his state. That has led to more depredation on cattle, especially by coyotes.

“A big part of what we do to control predators is aerial hunting,” he says. “We have three fixed-wing aircrafts and we fly helicopters, too. We are able to remove predators in this way very effectively.”

Effective doesn’t mean cheap. But in Utah, the program is a collaboration between the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food and USDA-Wildlife Services. In addition, livestock producers help support the program with a 25-cent-per-head assessment on cattle at time of sale and a 70-cent-per-head assessment on wool. The brand inspector or wool buyer collects the fee. Given the large area trappers have to cover in a state like Utah with a lot of open range, aerial control has proved to be one of the best methods available. Open range grazing areas are some of the worst for loss, says Linnell, especially during calving and lambing seasons. That’s because this coincides with the time coyotes are whelping pups, and as they feed their young and teach them to hunt, livestock can be very enticing.

But Linnell points out while, statistically, coyotes are the biggest concern in many states, in his area, there are also problems with bears, mountain lions and, more recently, lots of talk and worry over a growing grey wolf population.

“Talk to cattlemen in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming right now and you’ll hear a real string of profanity at the mere mention of wolves,” he says. “They will take down full-size cattle. They were reintroduced in Yellowstone and the stated objective was to get the population of grey wolves to 300. It now stands around 1,700, and they are moving into other states. We had a string of calves killed here by wolves in the northeastern corner of the state— about five lost in three weeks. So it’s a growing problem, and at this point, the animals are still federally protected.”

Another state with a serious predator problem is Texas, where cattle losses are climbing, says Mike Bodenchuk. State director of the USDA’s Wildlife Services office there, Bodenchuk says part of the reason more cattlemen are seeing coyotes now is the state’s sheep industry has pretty much been decimated by the predators.

“As that industry has disappeared, coyotes have been forced to look elsewhere, and cattle are getting more attention.”

He says control measures here include trapping, snaring, M-44s and aerial shoots, which like Utah’s Linnell, he feels are one of the most effective control measures they have.

“We can take a helicopter or a fixed-wing aircraft and find the areas where these coyotes are causing the damage. Then we can get them out selectively. This way, we get the right coyotes and the right place. It’s expensive, but it’s an investment in our rural communities.”

Bodenchuk says in Texas, $10 million is spent on predator control, but for that money, more than $38 million in livestock losses are stopped in the state.

“I work for the government, and one of the classic complaints is that government is not efficient. But this is one program that creates wealth in rural communities and we’re doing it in a way that’s environmentally friendly. We’re making a difference in these small towns.”

Maurice Clark knows first-hand what coyotes can do to the bottom line. The Bulverde, TX, producer left the cattle business a few years back but continued to raise sheep and meat goats. Today, he is one of the folks Bodenchuk is talking about when he recounts how sheep have all but disappeared from the state.

“We got to the point where we couldn’t raise sheep. The coyotes killed us out of the sheep business. We’re still trying to raise meat goats, but they are trying to kill me out of that, too.”

In the last two years, more than 90 coyotes have been taken off Clark’s ranch by his wildlife services agent, S. L. Bennett, using trapping and the M-44 device. “Our trapper has been a lifesaver for us,” says the rancher.

“Just to show you how bad it can be, we had a herd of about 70 or 80 nannies on one pasture. When it came time for them to kid, before we could stop it, we’d lost one-third of the kids to coyotes. We salvaged some, and then started noticing herd numbers were just slowly diminishing from one day to the next. So we started running them through a fence to count them, and we were losing one to two a day. By the time it ended, we had just 25 kids left of that crop of 70. That is a tremendous economic loss.”

Contacting Wildlife Services

What should livestock producers do when, like Clark or Tanner, they experience herd losses to predators? Most of the time, it’s best not to take matters into your own hands because states laws can differ great ly.

Instead, call 866/487- 3297 to reach the USDA’s Wildlife Services national center. From here, you will be directed to your state office where you’ll be put in touch with the right control person in your area. — Victoria Myers, DTN