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Coyotes often considered in livestock deaths

03/13/2014, 11:29am EDT
By MATT MARKEY BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

Experts won't rule out wild animals in killing of Bedford Twp. pigs

Coyotes often considered in livestock deaths

“I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see [coyotes] going after pigs or sheep,” Stewart Grove said.

Two Sylvania Township dogs could be put to death over an incident where a pair of show-quality pigs were killed at a property on Whiteford Center Road, just over the Ohio-Michigan line.

But one southeast Michigan man who has a lot of first-hand experience dealing with coyotes said these clever canine predators also should be considered as prime suspects in any case involving livestock depredation.

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Stewart Grove lives outside Fenton in a semi-rural area similar to Bedford Township where the livestock deaths took place, and he has hunted coyotes, observed their stalking tactics, and also watched in horror as a coyote attempted to pounce on his sleeping dog right in his yard.

“I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see them going after pigs or sheep,” Mr. Grove said. “They are predators, and predators have to kill to eat. And coyotes are professional killers. It wouldn’t be much for them to take out a pig, or any other farm animal.”

Coyotes are not native to the Midwest, but are currently found throughout the U.S., and they are believed to be present in every county in Michigan and Ohio. Coyotes are related to wolves, foxes and domesticated dogs. They weigh up to 50 pounds and live up to 14 years. Coyotes adapt to life in the shadows almost anywhere, including in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles, and even in downtown Chicago.

“We couldn't find an area in Chicago where there weren't coyotes,” Ohio State professor Stan Gehrt said while conducting a multi-year study of coyote behavior nearly a decade ago. “They've learned to exploit all parts of their landscape.”

In a 2008 story on a surge in coyote problems in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources confirmed the growing presence of coyotes throughout southeast Michigan. The DNR repeated that conclusion in later reports, indicating that coyotes had spread throughout southern Michigan, where they were found to be extremely adaptable to habitat with adequate food, water and cover available.

The MDNR reports that coyotes will feed on garbage and pet foods in urban areas, but will also prey on small dogs and cats, and that “some coyotes learn to kill smaller livestock, such as sheep, goats, calves, and poultry.”

Bill Rollo, a wildlife technician with the MDNR, said that although he is not familiar with the Bedford Township case, when the department investigates cases of livestock being attacked or killed, they will consider coyotes as well as wolves, bears, or wild dogs, depending on where in the state the incident took place.

“The coyote is one of the animals that could cause livestock depredation,” he said.

Mr. Grove said that, given the “show” nature of the pigs in the Bedford Township case, they might be more vulnerable to an attack by coyotes, and less aggressive in fending off such an attack.

“Coyotes will attack anything that they think they can take down,” he said. “There’s no question that it could be coyotes.”

The size of the potential prey does not seem to be a deterrent with coyotes, either. Grove said his neighbor’s Boxer dog had been attacked, and coyotes were the prime suspects in that incident.

Coyotes in Michigan are also known to take down white-tailed deer. In a recent study, the Michigan DNR found that coyotes, not wolves, were the number one predator of deer in the western Upper Peninsula.

Larger livestock are vulnerable, too. In a case in South Carolina, a farmer lost two cows and three calves in a trio of attacks by coyotes. The coyotes apparently used the cover of a nearby woods to get close to the barn and pasture where the cows and calves were located.

Due to their secretive nature and their ability to move about undetected, even in suburban areas, coyotes are often overlooked in cases where pet cats and dogs disappear, Mr. Grove said.

“When they’re most dangerous is when nobody considers them being present, or pays attention to them,” Mr. Grove said. “They are all over the place in Michigan, and the more people ignore them, the more aggressive they seem to get. And when you get a couple of them together, or they are hunting in packs, they get even more bold.”

A study by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources showed that livestock made up about 14 percent of the coyotes’ very diverse diet. As far back as 1985, the instances of sheep and calves killed by coyotes led the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation to push for a bounty for killing or capturing a coyote.

The National Wildlife Federation reports on its Web site that coyotes will kill and eat small farm animals, and the organization recommends that livestock be kept inside fencing that is at least six feet tall and six inches deep. The federation also recommends using guard animals such as dogs to protect livestock.

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