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Friday, November 6, 2009

and then there were 12...

“Thirteen isn’t so lucky after all, it turns out,” the Farmer said on his way through the house to get his gun.
“Coyotes got one of your lambs.”
I moved toward the door then stopped in my tracks, and sat down on the couch. I didn’t want to go out and see which lamb it was, or whether it was dead yet, or what was going on.
My husband and defender of fat fluffy lambs stopped beside me on his way out to hunt the coyotes. He put his hand on my shoulder.
“Sorry, hon.”
A few minutes later, after firing a couple of shots he came back in and reported that he had scared the wolves away, but they would likely be back to finish their meal.
The lambs come up the field toward the barn at dusk, but they aren’t always smart enough to follow the fence down to the gate. Sometimes they just sit up in the corner, closest to the barn, and fall asleep under the tree.
That’s where the coyote got one.
The lambs that I bottle-fed are so tame, they probably thought the nice doggie was coming over to touch noses and play tag. If he was slinking toward them through the long grass they would run – I’ve seen the entire herd of sheep dash up the field away from a prowling wolf - but if he just approached them casually, they would likely keep on eating, allowing him to join their group. When the attack happened, some of them might have been startled enough to run away, but others might have just kept on grazing. I have witnessed this before. It’s very strange.
All of these thoughts went through my head as I watched the Farmer loading his gun.
“I should have been leading them up to the barn every night,” I scolded myself. But to be honest, they might have just gone back out to the field after I left them.
The ewes have Donkey to protect them. The lambs are with the cows during the day. But at night the cows are smart enough to go to the shelter of the barn.
We sell our male lambs at market, but we keep our females to build up our herd. Most of the Farmer’s original ewes are about ten years old now. The lamb that died was supposed to have her first of many babies next spring.
Sheep are pretty easy prey for a coyote – especially if the coyote brings along his friends for back up. The sheep has no defences. She will stamp her foot when provoked. Sometimes she will try to butt her head against another sheep (or shepherdess) that is annoying her. But when attacked by a wild dog, she just plays dead.
We recognize that all animals have a right to hunt and live the only way they know how. The rule on the Fisher farm is, if the coyotes stay in the back field, in the long grass, we leave them alone. We don’t go hunting them. They can eat all the mice and squirrels they want, and sleep beside a warm hay bale. But if they come up to the pasture, they are fair game. All bets are off.
After this event, now that the coyotes have taken one of my lambs that I helped to deliver, bottle feed and raise myself, I find myself wondering, “what good are coyotes anyway? What purpose do they serve?” I know we haven’t had near the amount of problems that some sheep farmers have had. And some people living in rural communities have even reported having their family pets attacked by coyotes. What’s next? An attack on a child?
I heard a few more shots. Then footsteps on the porch, and the door slid open.
“There were four. I got the big one.” After seeing how upset I was at losing my lamb, the Farmer had sat out there for the rest of the evening, waiting for his chance. Sure enough, the four coyotes came back to eat their kill. And then there were three.
The next morning I went out to see the coyote where it lay in the shed. It was a beautiful animal. Its caramel-coloured fur was lush and thick, tipped with black and white highlights. It was about half the size of the yearling lamb, but its teeth looked dangerous enough. And the stench coming off that thing would take your breath away. The Farmer made the mistake of touching the horse on the end of her nose, after carrying the coyote in his gloved hand. She pulled away and snorted at him. She was greatly offended.
I looked at the coyote and thought, it is so dog-like that I probably wouldn’t be able to shoot it myself. Unless, of course, it was attacking one of my lambs in front of me. I’m not looking forward to the day when that happens and the Farmer isn’t home.
Maybe it’s time I learned how to shoot one of those guns. Every self-respecting Farmwife knows how to handle a firearm, doesn’t she?

-30-

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