The Wily Coyote
In 2009, it was estimated that 247,200 sheep and lambs were killed
by predators in the United States (USDA, 2010), costing farmers and ranchers $20.5 million. Predation accounted
for 37.0 percent of sheep and lamb death losses for the year.
Coyotes were responsible for the majority of losses due to predation.
However, in terms of number of sheep operations affected, free-ranging
or wild dogs may be the most common predator problem. Some producers
experience few or no problems with predators, while countless
others battle the problem or have been driven out of the sheep
business due to catastrophic losses.
Source: Sheep and Lamb Predator Death Loss in
the U.S. , 2004
| Mountain lions (cougars, pumas, or panthers
| Bobcat or Lynx
| Other (wolves, ravens, vultures, unknown)
Sheep have many natural predators: coyotes, wolves, foxes, bears,
dogs, eagles, bobcats, mountain lions, etc. Sheep are vulnerable
to predators because they are basically defenseless and have no
means of protecting themselves. Sheep run when something frightens
them. Their only protection is to stay together in a group.
While there are no documented differences among breeds in vulnerability
to predators, breeds with a strong flocking instinct would likely
be less vulnerable to predators than those that scatter. Some
primitive breeds of sheep may have developed unique flight patterns
which enable them to successfully elude predators.
Means of attack
Each predator species has traits peculiar to it. Coyotes typically
attack sheep at the throat. Dogs are usually indiscriminate in
how and where they attack. Young or inexperienced coyotes may
attack any part of the body as dogs would. Coyotes, foxes, and
mountain lions and bobcats usually feed on a carcass at the flanks
or behind the ribs and consume viscera such as liver, heart, and
Bears generally prefer meat to viscera and often eat the udder
from lactating ewes. Eagles skin out carcasses and leave much
of the skeleton intact on larger animals. With lambs, eagles may
bite off and swallow the ribs.
Smaller predators such as such as coyotes, foxes, and bobcats
select lambs over adult sheep. Bears and mountain lions take adult
sheep as well as lambs. Coyotes, dogs, bears and mountain lions
may kill more than one animal in a single episode, but often only
one of the animals if fed upon.
Some predators are classified as endangered or threatened species
and are protected by federal and/or state laws. These include
Mexican wolves, red wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, and bald
eagles. Control of these predators is conducted by federal or
state animal damage personnel.
While no technique is 100% effective, there are some techniques
that shepherds can employ to protect their sheep from predators.
The most obvious way is to keep sheep and lambs away from predators,
by penning them at night or bedding them nearby. Employing sheep
herders will provide some protection from predators.
Certain types of fences (net and high-tensile electric) will aid
in keeping predators out. Fencing is particularly effective when
incorporated with other methods of predator control, such as livestock
Livestock guardians are becoming increasingly popular with shepherds.
Three animals are used as livestock guardians: (guardian) dogs, llamas,
and donkeys. A livestock guardian dog generally stays with the
sheep without harming them and aggressively repels predators.
Donkeys and llamas have an inherent dislike for dogs. In fact,
any animal that displays aggressive behavior to intruding predators
may be a deterrent.
While some people may find lethal control methods (shooting, trapping,
snaring, denning, and poisoning) distasteful, sometimes they are
the only method to remove individual predators, particularly those
killing large numbers of sheep. Producers are required to follow
federal, state, and local laws governing predators that may prey
on their sheep.
New and better techniques for controlling predators are constantly
under investigation, especially more environmentally-friendly
methods. New and improved traps and snares are being developed.
Lethal methods are more target-specific.
Scientists are evaluating the potential for using reproductive
inhibitors in coyotes to reduce the incidence of predation on
sheep and other livestock. Sheep farmers in South Africa have
developed a protective plastic collar that covers the sheep's
cheek and underside of the neck, thus preventing predator access
to the throat.
Swiss biologists developed a collar that sends a text message to the shepherd's phone when the heart rate of attacked animals goes up.