During the spring of 2015, the yips and howls of a pack of coyotes could be heard most nights coming from the area around the donkey pasture. This generated significant concern as we have had friends whose livestock have been ravaged by coyotes. We were a little sensitized to the idea of predation tragedy having experienced the loss of most of our chickens to a black bear in the spring of 2002. We have an electric perimeter fence on our small dairy goat farm, but I knew that it was not complete protection from coyote whose prints I had once seen in snow inside the fence. Our second line of defense had been a pair of livestock guardian dogs that had done an excellent job of repelling such intrusions. But now we were down to a single, tired, aging Anatolian who I feared might not be up to defending the herd from even one very hungry coyote.
My initial disposition toward the coyotes was a mainly one of fear – both for what they could do to my livestock and for what they might do to a family member or me during an encounter in the woods. The fear that I had for the livestock trumped the fear I had for myself. So out I went into the night armed with Sjambok, flashlight and air horn to rendezvous with the vermin in hopes of scaring them away.
Initially, even though there would be an incredible (and very close) cacophony coming from what I guessed to be at least 5 animals, all it took to silence them was my stepping out of the house. But then on my third nocturnal excursion, I met with an animal, face to face about 60 feet away on a slight hill in front of my house. I was surprised at its size (larger than I remember from the last time I saw a coyote about 25 years ago). After our little staring contest, I blasted the air horn. He or she took off.
I had another close nocturnal sighting of a large coyote with what looked like a grayish colored fur on its back and brown fur on its German shepherd-sized body. It appeared to be very well nourished and spry as it pranced up our barn road about 30 feet from where I was. It was a very handsome animal.
For whatever reason, these close encounters with coyote triggered questions that I had never before asked. Are all coyotes the same or are some bigger than others? What do they eat? Where do they live? What are they doing during the day? How many pups do they have? How long to they live? Why do they make so much noise at night? How much of a threat are they to our animals? To us? Naturally, I remained most interested in the part about how best to keep them from hurting our livestock (and us).
I learned that I was probably meeting with coyote-wolf hybrids that had migrated east from Minnesota/Great Lakes region many years ago. These animals are larger – more like the German Shepard size that I had seen – with different colored coats. They are omnivores that subsist often largely on plants and small mammals. Given the opportunity, they prey on young deer in the spring. They live in dens created under fallen/standing trees or in voids in rocky areas. They sleep a lot during the day. They have on average 4 pups per litter. They have more pups when their population is stressed from predation (eg. human hunting). They mate for life. Their lifespan in nature is unknown but has been up to 18 years in captivity. The howls allow individuals to be recognized by other members of the pack. Alpha animal howls are recognized as such. One sound is thought to help a dispersed pack reconnect. Other sounds are thought to signal perceived threat. Basically, little is known about coyote howls.
I also learned that a coyote pack that is exterminated from one area is likely to be replaced by another pack that may actually be more livestock-aggressive. It turns out that coyote tend to quickly adapt to loud noise, flashing lights, and general visual-acoustic stimuli meant to repel them. The best protection for livestock is a well-maintained electric perimeter fence and livestock guardian dogs(!)
I have accordingly changed my practice when it comes to our resident Coywolves. I no longer attempt to harass them. I take care of the electric fence. I have a couple of new Akbash guardian dogs (who live inside the wire) who dependably answer any Coyote cries with sounds of their own.
As for my personal fear of this animal – this has been replaced by respect. I am actually grateful for their presence. They are a reminder of the connection that we all need to have to what is wild. We can share this space. I wish them well.
- Jim Whitlock