Farm Horizons, December 2014

Coyote populations are increasing, but problems with them are not, according to DNR

By Tara Mathews

In the late summer and autumn months, rural residents may hear the sound of howling coyotes, and fear for the safety of their pets or livestock.

But generally, there is nothing to fear, according to Department of Natural Resources Sauk Rapids Wildlife Manager Fred Bengtson.

“If a coyote is healthy, it will usually hunt smaller animals and road kill,” he said. “We typically don’t get reports of coyotes attacking livestock.”

Despite the dense coyote population, only a few reports are received each year, according to Bengtson.

“It’s few and far between, but when a pair of coyotes learns to take out sheep, it can amount to a significant loss for the rancher,” he noted. “Losing four or five sheep adds up.”

Coyotes have been known to attack small sheep or lambs, fawns, and rarely calves. Sometimes a pair of coyotes will learn how to take down a larger animal such as a deer or cow, and will continue to cause a problem until they are removed from the area, he added.

Free-roaming poultry has the most risk for coyote attacks.

Usually, problems with coyotes will occur in the spring, during the peak of livestock birthing season.

“In the fall and winter, livestock owners keep their herd closer,” Bengtson commented. “But in the spring, livestock is out in open areas, making them more vulnerable.”

Dogs, coyotes, or tall tales?

“The majority of livestock attacks are actually from domestic dogs,” Bengtson said.

Domestic dogs that are left loose will wander at night, especially in the late winter months, he said.

During their wandering, sometimes they will meet neighborhood dogs and form a pack.

“Poorly fed or not well taken care of dogs account for about two-thirds of livestock attacks,” Bengtson stated. “People blame coyotes because they never think their dogs would do such things.”

All breeds of dogs will get a “pack mentality” if they are able to roam, meet other dogs, and are not well cared for in the winter, he added.

“It can be a poodle; it doesn’t matter,” Bengtson noted. “But I am happy to report that the problems with domestic dogs have gotten better.”

Some of the horror stories about coyotes attacking livestock are just stories, according to Bengtson.

“People like to spread stories, and most is anecdotal,” he commented. “Usually, you can tell which ones are because a coyote or pack isn’t going to take down a large number of livestock or half of a herd.”

Sometimes, stories change from one calf being injured by some kind of predator to five cows being eaten by coyotes while farmers watched, he added.

Protecting livestock

Farmers can protect their livestock by

• bringing them in at night;

• keeping them close in spring months, especially young livestock;

• getting a companion animal such as a donkey or horse, which will aggressively protect herds;

• having a dog trained to protect the herd; and/or

• trapping or shooting problem coyotes.

“It’s not easy to get rid of them once a pair of coyotes has learned to hunt livestock,” Bengtson said. “But coyotes can be trapped or shot year-round.”

They are unprotected, and there is no limit to the number of coyotes one can hunt or possess.

Coyote furs can be sold for money, and the price per fur has been increasing, he added.

It is also legal to chase coyotes with dogs during hunting or trapping.

“Some people will use a dog to scare coyotes out of hiding or into a trap,” Bengtson stated.

Another way to protect livestock is an energized woven wire fence, which works especially well for poultry. Energized fences will also keep out other predators, such as foxes.

“The tall fences are pretty expensive and not necessarily any more effective than an energized fence,” Bengtson noted.

General information about coyotes

Coyotes are Minnesota’s most abundant large predator, according to the DNR. Their prey consists of small mammals such as rabbits, skunks, and mice. Occasionally, a coyote will attack small poultry, small livestock, or fawns, as well.

Coyotes resemble a small, lean German shepherd with a gray coat, and white throat and belly. Their fur is long, heavy, and coarse. They have long, erect ears, and a large, bushy tail.

An adult male coyote will weigh about 25-35 pounds, and an adult female will weigh about 20-30 pounds.

Coyotes are very vocal in the autumn, and younger coyotes have a higher-pitch voice than adult coyotes.

Coyote mating begins at age 2 and they sometimes pair for life. Their mating season begins in January, and lasts through February.

In April, the female will have five to seven pups, which are born blind, but gain sight shortly after birth.

Coyote pups learn to hunt at 8 to 12 weeks old, and leave their mother’s den the following autumn or mid-winter.

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