Monday, September 3, 2007

Canis latran

The coyote (Canis latran) is a shy and very common predator. We've only seen them a couple times, and of course we've heard them at night (Canis latran is Latin for barking dog). We've never had trouble with them. They're like wolves and dogs, so of course I've had an interest in them. My liking for them now is plummeting by the day.

It seemed to have changed two weeks ago when we had a solid weekend of rain. The pastures had flooded, the creek had turned into a river, and the river had spread into the sheep pasture. Ophelia's ewe-lamb (the black with white spots on her face) had disappeared. Considering the newly formed river in the sheep pasture, we had all assumed that she had gotten caught in the river and had been washed away. It still didn't make sense though. The rain had stopped and the pastures had gone dry again. Then Minerva's ram-lamb (the black and white spotted) disappeared. This time we knew it wasn't the flood. The only other thing that could've done this was a coyote.

So we examined the pastures and found huge gaps in the electric fence due to holes in the ground. We hung extra electric wire on the fence to fill the gaps. Our guard dog that had been with the goats, we put in the sheep pasture. No lambs were taken for two whole days. Then we saw the dog trotting down the road. Not knowing how he got out, we stuck him in with the goats again. The next morning, we went outside and discovered that two twin rams (the white ones) had gone missing. After fixing the fence so that the guard dog couldn't get out, we put him back in there last night. This morning, we went out there to discover that Majik's ram-lamb (the heavily spotted white, gray, and black) had gone missing.

The odd thing with all of these attacks is that there has never been one speck of blood. Usually when they carry off lambs or kids (baby goats) they leave a trail of blood. But in books and websites, they talk of larger breeds of sheep, and we have Shetland Sheep which is a small sheep (running 50-100 pounds). The lambs can't be more than five to ten pounds. There's a good chance that they just grab hold of the neck of the lamb and take off. Scientists say that coyotes highly respect electric fences. When an animal gets shocked by a fence, they don't try to go between the wires or over the fence because they don't know when the voltage ends. However, local homesteaders are saying that more coyotes are learning that they can simply jump through the fence and even touch the wire, but not get shocked. To get shocked by an electric fence, you have to be grounded. So obviously this coyote (or coyotes, considering we lost two at once) has figured out the simple world of the electric fence.

But why are these coyotes going after our lambs? What's wrong with all of the rodents and rabbits? Are there enough rodents and rabbits? The population of coyotes is steadily increasing for many reasons. The main reason is when female coyotes are stressed, the have more babies, earlier in their life, and more often, according to the December 2004 issue of Ranger Rick.

Another reason is Tyzzer's disease. Tyzzer's is an untreatable disease that is transferred from animal to animal from fecal to mouth contact. It started in laboratory rodents and then it was discovered in Iowa muskrats. It's not rare for them to be found in all laboratory animals worldwide. In many areas, Tyzzer's is making dents in the wild rodent population (muskrats, rabbits, mice, rats, etc.)

Spring comes and rabbits are out and about. We can't go down the road without nearly hitting a rabbit. Usually we'll come across many rabbits. This spring came, and we'd go down the road and we might see a rabbit. We'd go into the woods and every now and then a rabbit would jump out of nowhere and run to the nearest hiding place. But then in May we'd never see rabbits running down the road, or jumping in the path in front of us. Not being a big deal, we just shrugged it off.

We've always had trouble with mice in our milking parlor, but this past spring and summer, not a rodent has bothered us. Our LaMancha goat, Muse, was a bit thinner than normal earlier this summer, so we dewormed her and gave her more grain at milking time. In July, she got diarrhea, so we started give her treatment for Coccidia (a single cell organism that affects animals like a parasite). One morning, I went out there with a milk bucket and when I milked her, she had no milk. Maybe two drops. The previous night, she seemed a bit low, but we just assumed she hadn't gotten enough to drink. I told my mom that she was dry, but she wouldn't believe it. A goat cannot dry up in less than 24 hours. The following evening when I was bringing in the goats, I heard Muse letting out muffled screams from the goat shelter. I ran in there to see that she was having convulsions and was foaming at the mouth while screaming with her two kids standing next to her staring at me as if saying, "Can't you do anything?" I ran to get help and we carried her into the barn, and ten minutes later she died. With such an unexpected death, we brought her to the local vet for an autopsy and a week later, they called and said it was Tyzzer's. They had never heard of it being in a goat. We immediately started researching this mysterious disease. It took a couple days for us to put two and two together, but we finally realized this was why we hadn't had mice in our milking parlor or rabbits running down the road.

So the wild rodents get Tyzzer's and die, and the coyotes have no food. I'm surprised they didn't discover our buffet sooner. The only thing we can come up with is that the flood drove them over here and they discovered that they have five pound meals right in front of them. Our only option is to move the sheep. As soon as they have all of our lambs, they're gonna start going for the adults too. We'll figure out something... and hopefully the rodent population will go up again.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting, and I love your photos!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry about the lambs. That's really sad.

ivy said...

I usually read your mom's blog; now I will also read yours. It is very interesting!

Sounds like you need a guard that is bigger than the fence gap; how about a llama? I heard it is effective in fending off predators. Of course the draw back is the cost of getting one :-(

Katherine said...

Yeah, llamas are really good guardians. We had one for a couple years, but something caused him to fall down a hill (I think it was ice, it was January and snowy) and he broke his neck. : / That's when we got the guard dog.

Nancy said...

I really enjoyed your blog. Thanks for sharing with me. I look forward to reading more.

Anonymous said...

Did you over come up with a solution?

Katherine said...

I ended up camping out in the pasture for well over a month. Since coyotes fear humans very much, they never visited the sheep again. :-)

Anonymous said...

You camped out in the pasture for a month?!?!? Anything excitng happen? Any stories to share? It's a shame that we cannot mark our territory ike animals do. I mean, we do MARK it, but not in ways that they take notice. How often is it that we hear about wild animals loose in a city, such as a bear or a cougar. Speaking of which, what is the biggest predator in your area? Is it the coyote, or anything bigger?

Katherine said...

Nothing really exciting, no. The first couple weeks I was often awoken by coyote yapping but that was about it.

And about how often coyotes, cougars, and bears get into the city... it's not something that happens every day, but with how much is populated nowadays, it's happening a LOT more than it use to. Actually, coyotes are pretty much making homes in cities like Los Angeles and Chicago.

The biggest predator in our area... to be completely honest, we believe we had a cougar that was briefly in the area in May 2007. There were a couple nights where I heard what sounded like an angry cat in the woods. Except it sounded about fifteen times bigger and angrier than your average house cat. And the local vet said that a feline print was found a couple miles from where we live that was 4" wide.