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Prey vs. Predator

If livestock producers in southwest North Dakota could create a "Most Wanted" list, coyotes would most likely come in as enemy No. 1.

The loss of livestock to coyote and other predator attacks is less frequent than deaths by respiratory and digestive issues, but sheep and cattle producer Brad Sigvaldsen, who farms on the east side of Adams County, said he continues to lose animals to coyote attacks every year.

"We haven't had quite as many sheep and lamb losses this year, although I have gone out and found some remains of sheep and lambs on the property," he said. "We have problems with coyotes every year, and we usually have to call in the state trapper, or sometimes we'll just do the trapping ourselves."

Last year, Sigvaldsen said 80 lambs in his flock were killed by coyotes, which amounted to thousands of dollars in profit loss for his operation.

Sigvaldsen said he has experienced fewer predator losses with the cattle on his farm this year, though.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service, 247,200 sheep and lambs were lost due to predators in 2009.

That resulted in a loss of $21 million for farmers and ranchers nationwide in 2009.

In comparison, the USDA reported that non-predator lamb and sheep losses made up 61 percent of all the losses and cost farmers and ranchers $36 million three years ago.

The loss of goats and kids from predator attacks totaled 554,000 in 2009, according to the USDA.

In comparison, the USDA found that livestock deaths from disease and other known factors made up 46 percent of those goat and kid deaths. Another 21.5 percent of the deaths were due to unknown causes and 32.5 percent of the deaths were due to animal predators.

Of cattle and calf deaths, 220,000 deaths were caused by predators and cost producers $98.5 million in 2010, compared to 3.77 million non-predator deaths.

"Non-predator deaths accounted for 94.5 percent of all cattle and calf deaths in 2010," according to the USDA.

If the cause of death is determined to be predator related, Phil Mastrangelo, state director for the USDA Wildlife Services, said a field worker visits with the farmer to determine the best means of protection for their animals.

Roger Fleck, Dickinson, has had issues with coyotes, foxes, skunks and raccoons wreaking havoc on his flock of chickens.

He said making sure his chickens are properly penned has helped, though.

"Raccoons will bite off the heads of the chickens and I once lost 17 chickens in 45 minutes that way. That's why I can't let the chickens run loose. They simply would not last out here that way," Fleck said.

Mastrangelo said his office also gets about one to two mountain lion reports a year, mostly in from the western parts of North Dakota, where livestock predation is most common.

He said livestock predation deaths are common during calving and lambing seasons when coyotes in search of a food source for their pups.

Mastrangelo said his office is called out to about 500 properties a year to assist farmers and ranchers with


"We have field staff that we send out to the properties to evaluate the situation," he said. "They ask to see the dead animal and determine the cause of death. Coyotes have a particular method of attacking at the throat, so if we see trauma to the throat, it's a good indication that it was a coyote.

"But if it's a carcass without any signs of an attack, it's likely that it was natural causes or disease."

Although predator deaths are less common, protection against predators in 2010 cost producers $189 million in preventative measures to keep their animals safe, including fencing and guard animals, like


"If all of that doesn't work, though, we'll set a trap to remove the coyotes," Mastrangelo said. "It's unfortunate when we have to do that, but we do it so they don't continue with that pattern."