Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Predators have patience

The first thing we saw when we got home from Arizona was a dead lamb just outside the fence line of their 'safe' pasture. Our sheep had found a way out into the main pasture and a coyote had killed a small black lamb. I wondered is it one I knew? Did its mother have twins and does the twin mourn its loss? The sheep don't tell me.

So knowing how the coyotes were watching to get our lambs and much to the sheep's dismay we continued to keep them confined to the house pasture (good grass but no adventure) and only let them out when we were close by or so we thought. A second kill happened anyway when a small white lamb got out by wiggling under a fence. I might have known that one. I had seen one that thought it was outsmarting the system before we went to Arizona.  We had thought we got the fence spot stopped. Was it the same one? Again no way to tell for sure.

The third loss was amazing as I had let them out for the afternoon. I stood watching from a small knoll as they happily spread out across the pasture, even some of the ewes leaping in the air with joy at being in the main pasture. One lamb led the way. A vulture circled overhead, and I thought he was thinking ahead to a promising meal but didn't imagine he would get one, not that day. I then moved down and watched longer from the barnyard gate making sure that I was seen by what I expected was watching. Everything was peaceful

Farm Boss was working on a fence job to the front of our farm. We didn't imagine a coyote would be so daring as to hit the flock with us so close; but a few hours later there was another dead lamb toward the back. Maybe the small one I had watched race out. Did the coyote zero in on it right then and attack at its first chance?

It's not hard to recognize coyote kills if you have ever seen them. They kill quick and fast, which is my only consolation for this, as they go straight for the neck. This time it had had no time to even eat as we evidently were back out interrupting its meal. The buzzards were on the ground almost instantly.

The thing is, a predator, whether human or animal, just waits for its chance. As the old saying goes-- we have to be right every time. It only has to be right once.

Generally when an animal dies on the place, we bury it (which is disappointing to the carrion eaters) because we do not want predators to get a taste for lamb. But when it's a kill, we want what killed it and we leave the body there. At night Farm Boss put two leg traps close to the remains but didn't leave them out during the day to avoid catching a vulture.

One morning Farm Boss didn't get out there soon enough to spring the traps, and he did catch a vulture's toe. He learned something rather interesting that unlike a hawk or many other animals in traps, this bird simply gave up and submissively waited for the end which enabled Farm Boss to free it with little damage.

We spent some time one afternoon preparing what we hoped would be a more effective trap. Farm Boss went out first and slipped into the barn to wait with his rifle. After a bit I made a show of opening gates, letting the sheep out and then going back to the house. After which, I quietly went out the backdoor where I could view the part of our pasture that Farm Boss could not see from the barn. So we waited.

After awhile I began to have a feeling that it was like a horror movie where you know the monster is out there but it watches and waits for a weak moment to kill again. In this case that moment didn't come. We got the sheep back in but left the carcass where it was visible from the house.

On Monday with Farm Boss at work, I was the one keeping an eye on the lamb remains. About 9 AM, there was the coyote tearing at the kill. It was a big one, by the coloring and size, it may have been one I got a shot at two years ago. Naturally I could not see for sure but the body type made me think it was a male. I wanted to get closer before I took a shot as the cows were also in the vicinity.

Quietly I went out the backdoor and got as near as I dared before I was afraid it would see me, and before the cows might move in front of my target. When I took my shot, I missed (time for some target practice with the scope), and it ran for the back of the place with no safe second shot as it went right toward the cows who finally were all excited by the activity.

The sad part of all this is I sympathize with the coyotes. They have to eat. A neighbor and his family came by one day to tell us that there is a coyote family living in an old shed maybe 300 yards from our farm (opposite direction of where this one ran), but on someone else's property. They have watched the pups as they grew and have seen them playing. There are six of them.

I remembered, as they described it, of all the times I have watched, from a distance, wolf pups in Yellowstone doing the same thing. I understand that mother coyote's need to protect her young, to give them food, but I have to listen to a ewe as she calls for her young who won't ever return and that makes me sad too. There really is no winning with this, not for me.

So I have to have the patience to go out and keep an eye on the place, carrying my gun. Farm Boss and I have to do all we humanly can to stop the coyote from killing again (which might mean a very costly fencing project). The thing is, a lot is at stake.


robin andrea said...

Those are very tough choices to make. A coyote has to eat, and you have to protect your sheep. We had a coyote-proof fence in Washington, but the bobcats could get through anything! Good luck with it all, rain.

mandt said...

There comes a time when we must defend.

Harold Babb said...

It's a challenging ethical dilemma. At some point you have to stand your ground and not permit it to encroach on your territory. With an established appetite for your lambs, I don't see how this can end well for the coyote.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Not an easy life, Rain. And I empathize with you and Farm Boss. But, as you say, there is a lot at stake and you have to protect that. I'm not sure I could do what you are doing--I think I could in theory, but, in actuality, I am not sure I could be so brave, even knowing the importance of keeping the sheep safe. You are brave, my dear---very very brave, and I admire you so very much for your bravery and protective instinct toward your flock.

20th Century Woman said...

There's so much to think about in this and in your previous post. In some way they seem related, but I don't exactly know how.

I feel sorry for the coyotes and for the lambs. And for all of us misguided and puzzled humans as we spoil our land and our society. I wonder if it has to be this way. I wonder whether we really could make it better. But in the end, the coyotes will kill and eat the lambs and we will kill the coyotes. At this point in time we don't have a choice.

Rain said...

I think your intuitive seeing that they are all related, and that includes our border issues, is right on, 20th century woman. We do face being both predator and prey or watching it play out other places and it happens over and over. I guess it's the cycle of life but the not fun part. We take something to survive and most of the time that is from someone else even if not directly. That can be money. It can be oil that leads to things like the Gulf. We don't pay enough attention to what is being done in our name. Well it just goes on and on.

If we think on it too much, we go nuts. We just have to live and do the best, most honest approach to it that is possible. Sometimes that means killing or authorizing killing. Economically to fence this place enough to keep the coyotes out will be very expensive and take time, but long term might bring the most relief.

I have one more post on this regarding the farm. That comes tomorrow with another connection.

The whole thing is quite depressing to me right now. Sometimes we can do something about things and sometimes not...

Darlene said...

To me this is the hardest part of ranching. Nature's 'prey and predator' balance is hard to deal with. It's necessary for survival, but I am not strong and would hate having to go through what you are doing. I know your tender heart makes it difficult for you, too.

I admire your patience in waiting for the coyote to appear. That can't be easy.

Rain said...

I don't like to kill any things (not even spiders if I can avoid it) and certainly don't blame the coyote as everyone has understood. So fencing is really the answer but it just will take a chunk out of our budget *ouch* but the emotional stress is probably going to make it worthwhile to do it. It will take time though to get it up.