Ask livestock producers in Kansas to name the most threatening predator to their operation, and most, if not all, will have the same answer: coyotes. In Kansas, this member of the canine family can be trapped year-round for fur or sport, or to control livestock predation.
TheU.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service released data in 2010showing that in the United States, loss of sheep and lambs to predators was nearly 250,000 annually, which resulted in a loss of about $20 million to producers.
In Kansas, that report showed death of 1,600 sheep and lambs to predators annually that led to about $120,000 in losses. But, sheep and lambs are not the only livestock lost to predators.
In a2011 NASS report, cattle and calf losses from animal predators totaled nearly 220,000 head the previous year and resulted in a loss of $98.5 million. Kansas' producers reported roughly 800 cows and 3,900 calves lost to predation, which equaled a $2.2 million loss.
The loss values now are likely different than a few years ago, Lee said, but he predicts that the numbers of animals lost currently are similar.
"Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of good research data or statistical studies to determine which livestock practices are best to prevent predation," Lee said. "Livestock management practices vary widely across the nation and certainly within the state. That much variability results in lots of problems for a research trial."
"However, with more than 100 years of Kansas State University being involved in wildlife damage control, we've learned a few things that producers can do to minimize those problems."
Predation on livestock appears to have some relationship to coyotes' energy needs, Lee said. Winter losses, however, are generally lower than other times of the year, despite high-energy needs of individual coyotes.
Coyote breeding season is approaching in February, which brings litters of roughly five to seven young per litter in late April to early May, he said. This spring whelping season usually increases demands for food, and some coyotes will turn to livestock as the source.
Coyotes that kill livestock are usually called "offending animals," Lee said, but not all coyotes will kill livestock. Producers can look for certain signs of a coyote kill. They might see bite wounds in the throat, neck, and the top or back of the skull in lambs; bite wounds to the rectal or pelvic area in small calves are usually signs of coyote predation, as is the occasional presence of a bobtailed calf that tried to get away from the predator.
Lee advises producers who suspect predation to first exercise nonlethal animal husbandry practices. Producers should start with regular monitoring of pastures to recognize a potential problem before a loss occurs. Maintaining calving and lambing facilities near buildings where there's more human activity also seems to reduce loss.
"The No. 1 thing that research has shown to reduce livestock losses in sheep and lambs is to pen the livestock at night. A predator-proof pen to confine animals until the problem predators are captured can greatly reduce losses," Lee said, recognizing that option might not be feasible for all producers.
"Avoid problem areas such as rough, brushy pastures, where it's difficult to observe animals closely," he added. "It's easier for predators to catch animals in that rough-type terrain than it is on flat ground. There are some locations on each individual ranch that are better coyote habitat than others. Avoid places you suspect might be a problem."
Altering the timing of calving and lambing seasons could also be helpful, Lee said, to reduce exposure of young animals to predators. Another nonlethal control option is using guardian animals, such as dogs, donkeys and llamas, to help protect livestock. But, while some individual guardian animals work well, some don't, and producers usually must undergo a trial-and-error process to find the one that works best with their operation.
Noisemakers, such as scare cannons, radios and motion-detecting noise devices, have some limited success when used with visual deterrents that might include lights, scarecrows or flags. But, Lee said producers must move these around fairly often so predators don't get used to them.
Lee said if nonlethal means have not worked, producers should consider taking lethal action with the use of firearms and trapping devices, such as foothold traps and snares.
"Although nonlethal methods reduce the likelihood and severity of the losses, sometimes when the losses begin, you're going to find it necessary to remove the predators," he said.
Lee has taught nonlethal and lethal controls for nearly 30 years across Kansas, and he often receives calls to assist in predator control. Contact him email@example.com 785-532-5734 if you have experienced losses and want tips or assistance.
More information on controlling predators, particularly coyotes, is available at local extension offices throughout Kansas or in the K-State Research and Extension publication,"How to Trap a Coyote," available online.