It’s always a nightmare when a sheep producer goes out into the yard and sees that an animal has been ripped apart by predators.
“Some years are worse than others,” said Bill Gibson, a sheep producer near Bashaw. “We did lose 25 lambs one year in a short period of time, and that was very hard to deal with.”
It’s also a significant financial hit. Last year, a market lamb was worth about $175, said Gibson, who raises about 200 ewes a year.
“Multiply that by about 25, and that would have been our losses that year. That’s fairly substantial, because you put your effort and all that expense into getting that lamb to that size and then you lose it.”
That’s a major reason why Alberta Lamb Producers is conducting a survey to track coyote predation, coyote control, and livestock losses.
“There is some feedback coming from producers that there are some areas of the province where there are quite a few issues with predators,” said Ronald den Broeder, chair of Alberta Lamb Producers. “Generally, coyotes are the biggest issue.”
“There isn’t any way to track,” adds Gibson, the association’s Zone 4 rep. “There’s the survey that we’re trying to get producers to complete, and that will hopefully give us some better information. Right now, there isn’t a lot of information available as far as numbers of producers affected.”
Wolves, bears, and cougars are also an issue, but the Wildlife Division of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development offers compensation when those predators kill livestock. But coyotes are classified as pests, rather than predators, and that means no compensation.
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If the survey finds a large number of producers are having issues with coyote predation, the group will go to the province to ask they be reclassified as predators, said den Broeder.
“It depends on how many people are going to come back to us,” he said. “If we have a decent amount of numbers that say that people have issues, at least we will have a record of something that we can go to government with.”
The anecdotal evidence is that coyote predation is a serious problem — but seems to vary by area and by year.
“About four years ago, we had a big wreck with coyotes, and the last two years — knock on wood — it’s pretty good,” said den Broeder, who farms near Barrhead. “We were losing one or two sheep a day.”
Another problem with the current situation is that coyote control is regulated by the counties, rather than Fish and Wildlife and the Alberta government. That means regulations and assistance vary.
Den Broeder was able to get some help from Fish and Wildlife, who put up cameras to help him track the coyotes.
“But in other counties, they just say there’s nothing they can do, and that’s where it stops.”
Gibson was able to use the services of the county agricultural fieldman.
“We did everything we could and it took several months to resolve it,” he said.
“Since then, we haven’t had as many problems, but we still see coyotes and we have predation problems from time to time.”
Alberta Lamb Producers recommends a combination of good fencing; guard donkeys, dogs or llamas; and in some cases, hunting.
“My personal experience is that if you just rely on one thing, you might get away with it, but generally it’s not going to be sufficient,” said den Broeder. “You have to tackle it with more than one thing.”
Gerty Sorensen, who raises sheep near Bezanson with her husband Albert, has seen lambs with their hind legs ripped off and throats ripped open.
“We should be compensated, as far as I’m concerned,” she said. “You can build what you think is the best fence going (and) the coyotes will find a means of getting under it.”
Spring is the worst time because that’s when pups are being taught to hunt, she said. Coyotes are so smart that they can monitor a farmer’s habits, and figure out the best time to kill.
“We’ve been dealing with coyotes ever since we brought the sheep on the property,” she said. Her two llamas and three dogs reduce, but don’t eliminate, predation.
“I don’t care how many dogs you have. Unless you lock the sheep up at night and lock the dogs in with them, they’re still going to get them. A bunch of coyotes will lure the dogs off one way, and another group will come in and kill (the sheep).”
Sorensen estimates that if she didn’t have her dogs, she would lose at least 50 per cent of her sheep.
“I live right by the creek and the river. I’m in prime coyote country.”
Alberta Lamb Producers voluntary survey should be completed by June 30. It can be found at www.ablamb.ca.