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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Return of the coyotes

Fergus the Golden Retriever and I went for a walk in the back forty on a sunny autumn day. Halfway through the second field I realized I had chosen the best possible conditions for the dog to get as muddy as possible. The pasture, which appeared to be lush and green, was deceptively wet. Fergus was in his glory. I looked down and realized my own legs were splattered with mud. There was no use turning back.

More than once I have realized I am very lucky that Fergus does not have the urge to roll in foul-smelling things he finds on the ground. The carcasses of roadkill and the droppings of other beasts are irresistible to some dogs. They drop and wriggle happily in the stink like a pig in mud. The smellier the better. But Fergus is not tempted. He stops and sniffs and sometimes he marks the spot as his own by peeing on it. But that is the extent of his interaction with the offensive things. For this I am truly grateful.

On this particular walk, Fergus found something really strange. He was quite captivated by it, so I came closer to have a look. It looked like a pile of dog droppings, but it was covered in white fur. There were half a dozen similar art installations, in a semi-circle at the corner of our field. This corner is slightly raised in elevation, which made it a favourite spot in the past for our cattle, and coyotes. Clearly this pack had found a meal of wild rabbit.

In earlier years when we had sheep the coyotes used to perch on the velvety moss-covered rails of the cedar fence and watch “sheep TV.” From that elevated spot, they could see all the way up the field into the barnyard, where the fat fluffies were snacking on hay, oblivious. From that vantage point, the wild dogs could plan their next move.

I only witnessed one attack, from two fields away, for about thirty seconds. I saw the coyote pouncing toward the grazing flock like a pup that wanted to play. When he made his selection and moved in for the kill, I ran looking for the Farmer.

“Coyote’s got a sheep!” I screamed. I couldn’t shoot a gun, so I just ran out of the house in my sock feet, flailing my arms and hollering. The coyote didn’t even look at me. He dragged the sheep to the edge of the field, where he left her. He and his pack would be back later for their feast.
Usually coyotes are much more discreet about their dining habits. They take the smaller or weaker animals that stray from the group. They invite their friends to share the meal. They leave very little behind.

After that bold daylight coyote attack, we got Donkey. And that was the end of the coyote kills, to our knowledge. The Farmer and his hunting buddies left the coyotes alone, because they were staying in their own territory. They ate rodents, rabbits and groundhogs and left our sheep alone. They weren’t our favourite animals, but they were allowed to stay.

When we replaced our sheep with cattle, the coyotes appeared to leave. But now that the cattle are gone, we see more deer, and the coyotes have returned.

They can stay, as long as they leave my dog alone. Fergus is on a wireless fencing system, and we don’t leave him outside when we aren’t home so he should be ok. The deer are on their own. Hopefully the coyotes will be satisfied with smaller animals for food.

A friend told me the local wildlife sanctuary is building a special kennel for coyote rehabilitation, to help build up their numbers. I was a bit flabbergasted. I know coyotes must have a purpose in the larger ecosystem but I did not think they were in danger of extinction.

In the spring we will have turkeys and chickens and a few steers that we will raise for our own beef. Fergus should be big enough by then to be pose a threat to any hungry coyotes.

But then the coyotes might be the least of our worries. On her way to Sunday dinner the other night, one of our guests reported seeing a ‘big cat.” We have confirmed cougar pawprints in the last few years, and we have seen a catlike creature at the back of our property.
I’m hoping the big cat has no interest in Golden Retrievers.


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