Sheep producers construct fenced “safe areas” to ward off coyotes

Insurance Fencing some of your pasture area can protect flocks, especially during lambing

Coyote predation is the biggest problem in sheep production, say Cherry Allen and Mark Ritchie who have raised sheep on Ontario’s Amherst Island near Kingston since 1992.

A decade ago, the couple put predator-resistant fencing around 65 acres and have since expanded the “safe area” to 300 acres.

“In the last 10 years we’ve had no sheep losses to coyotes within the safe area,” says Allen.

Dick Kuiperij, another Ontario sheep producer, constructed his 45-acre safe area this summer using a similar design.

“I suffered severe losses to coyotes in 2005,” says Kuiperij. “Losses have been tolerable since then, but predator problems are unpredictable, and fencing is insurance against times of increased coyote predation.”

The two operations differ in both size and management practice. Ritchie and Allen’s 1,500 ewes lamb on pasture within the safe area in May, producing about 2,100 lambs annually. They are then moved elsewhere to give the pasture a rest before returning for weaning.

Kuiperij does accelerated lambing, with five lambings a year. His 400 ewes are on an eight-month lambing interval and produce over 1,000 lambs annually. He plans to use his safe area primarily for pasture, with the possibility of some fall lambing on grass. Generally, lambing ewes are under cover in the barn.

Annual coyote predation on Foot Flats Farm outside their safe area has ranged from 20 to 50 sheep.

“Losses of three per cent or less are economically tolerable, but keeping losses to that level without a safe area takes considerable time and energy,” says Ritchie.

“There is time spent every day checking livestock for predator activity, looking after maimed animals and implementing predator control measures,” adds Allen. “Dogs are a valuable predator control tool, but cost and time are significant factors in their training and care, and they are not 100 per cent successful in preventing predation.”

Predator-resistant fencing consists of 1047-6 galvanized page wire (10 rows, 47 inches high with six-inch verticals) with 12.5-gauge mesh fastened to T-bar posts. A live wire nine inches above the page and another dead wire nine inches above that provide a total height of 5-1/2 feet — too high for coyotes to jump.

Site preparation

Site preparation is important before stringing the fence. Brush, small trees and their roots should be removed to prevent suckering and to aid fence maintenance. In Kuiperij’s case, this amounted to 10 per cent of the cost.

Ritchie and Kuiperij stress that predator-resistant fencing must be put up properly. Posts should be no more than five yards apart to keep the fence tight, and the page wire needs to lie tight to the ground to discourage coyotes from digging under. Ritchie runs a 12.5-gauge wire along the ground before stringing the fence and wires the mesh to it. Regular checking and filling of gaps between the ground and fence bottom, including gates, are essential. Gate openings are especially susceptible to gaps due to ruts created by vehicle traffic.

“A tight fence lasts longer and offers better protection,” says Kuiperij. “It’s essential to properly brace corner posts and crib them with stone.”

In addition to T-bar posts, he placed wooden posts, with horizontal wooden cleats below ground, at intervals along his fence for additional anchoring. Gates on both farms are custom made to the necessary height and installed against the posts, rather than on hinges, to avoid gaps.

Kuiperij’s 45 acres required about 7,000 feet of fencing at a total cost of $28,000, with government funding covering about one-third of that. Fencing along his creek cost another $8,000, with most of that coming from environmental grants. Ritchie and Allen’s fencing costs were $2.66 per foot, established on a clean fenceline.

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