Rancher's loss to wolves reaches $50,000 in one year

Sep 6, 2013

—Wolf kill hits rancher financially and emotionally.

For Jeff Siddoway, fourth-generation owner of Siddoway Sheep Co. of Terreton, ID, the savage slaughter of his family’s precious grazing ewes and lambs by ravenous wolves is not only an extreme financial loss, it’s heart-rending.

Siddoway Sheep Co. runs five herds on thousands of primarily National Forest acres toward the Idaho/ Wyoming border, ranging from St. Anthony to Palisades to Island Park. Each allotment spans 6,000 to 11,000 acres. The Dog Creek allotment where elk feed has been hit worst with 35 sheep kills on the Bridger- Teton National Forest. About 1,200 ewes and lambs graze there.

This summer’s wolf depredation in the Teton Valley area has been especially hard on the Siddoway operation. The worst loss of sheep to the predators happened on Aug. 17 when apparently two wolves of the Pine Creek Pack attacked 2,400 sheep bedding on Caribou-Targhee National Forest land between Pole Canyon and Fogg Hill, about five miles south of Victor.

Terrified sheep closest to the marauding wolves stampeded down the hill and started piling onto sheep below, suffocating those on the bottom of what ended up to be a huge mound of wool. As a result, 119 lambs, 57 ewes and three Pyrenees guard dogs were trampled and killed in that vicious wolf attack.

“This is the first time we have had this many killed at one time,” Siddoway told the Western Livestock Journal, adding that kills normally run from four to 28 at a time. This is the first time such a pileup has been caused by wolves, instead of bears, sheep herders and their dogs, he said.

Eight Siddoway sheep were killed on a public land grazing allotment south of Hoback Junction two weeks after the Fogg Hill slaughter as the carnivore carnage continued.

Siddoway estimated losses over the summer due to wolf, bear and coyote kills have totaled between 200- 300 head, which really hurts when profit margins are only 1-2 percent. “We’ve been able to live through those ups and downs before, but the market is real bad right now.”

He estimates his family operation has lost $280,000 to wolf kills the past seven years. “This will be a $50,000 year. It just hurts. We don’t have that kind of margin. … It just crushes you. Because of high feed costs, we’re going to be losing money anyway this year.”

Siddoway noted that hay traditionally costing $100 a ton now costs $200 a ton. Corn that cost $110 a ton now fetches $320 this year. If the wolf attacks on the sheep do not ease up, “it just makes it really, really tough.”

Wolf attacks usually occur under the cover of darkness between 2-5 a.m. “You can’t see them in the dark,” Siddoway said. A herder could hear the guard dogs being killed by the wolves on Aug. 17 and futilely fired shots into the air.

When guard dogs hear wolves approaching, they will run out to protect the sheep and push the wolves away, sacrificing themselves. Many of the dogs have been raised with the sheep since they were pups. Usually three guard dogs are kept with each band of sheep. The attacking wolves will kill them first before moving onto the sheep. Area ranchers are considering the purchase of large dogs that can fight off wolves, black bears and mountain lions, Siddoway mentioned.

Wolves will “hamstring” the sheep they kill, biting their hind legs and ripping their tendons out, crippling them so they cannot run. Then, the wolves gut them, partially eat them and move on to their next prey. The loss of those sheep has taken an emotional toll on Siddoway, his wife Cindy and their children.

“Sheep are gregarious. Cattle, elk and deer are not that gregarious. They disperse and go in every direction. Sheep find safety in numbers. They bunch up. Sheep are easy prey. Wolves can just start ripping into them. You very seldom see any other critter in bunches of 2,300 or 3,000.”

Because of their ideal habitat, wolves have proliferated in the area. “If they’re not eating elk, they’re eating sheep,” Siddoway said, observing that hunters who were supportive of protecting wolves now are not so inclined because the wolves have killed so many of the deer and elk they hunt in the wild.

Siddoway said if it were not for his fifth generation son, J.C. Siddoway, 35, running the operation, he would not be able to serve in the Idaho Legislature where he has completed his seventh year in office as a senator. He is president of the Fremont County Wool Growers Association and former president of the Idaho Wool Growers Association.

Siddoway Sheep Co. has been operating for 127 years. “We’ve got grandchildren who go out all the time with us. We would love to pass it on to a still future generation, but I don’t know if that is going to work,” Siddoway said. — Mark Mendiola, WLJ Correspondent