Coyote (Canas latrans)

Cougar (Felis concolor)

Black Bear (Ursus americanus)

Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

Bobcat (Lynx rufus)

Artwork by Robert Sullivan
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service


    The Wily Coyote

    Predator losses
    In 2014, it was estimated that 61,712 adult sheep and 132,683 lambs were killed by predators in the United States (USDA, 2015), costing farmers and ranchers almost $32.6 million. In 2014, predation accounted for 28.1 percent of sheep losses and 36.4 percen of lamb losses.

    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.

    Predator losses
    Percent of losses
     Mountain lions (cougars, pumas)
     Eagles, ravens, vultures
     Bobcat or Lynx
    Source: Sheep and Lamb Predator Death Loss in the U.S. , 2015

    Natural predators
    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 lungs.

    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.

    Endangered predators
    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.

    Predator control
    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 guardians.

    Livestock guardians
    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.

    Lethal control
    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 techniques
    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.


Last updated 19-Apr-2021
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