Agricultural producers often attempt to control coyotes on their property to protect livestock and/or wildlife. Coyotes certainly do kill livestock and wildlife. However, lethal control is not always effective and there are several things that producers should be aware of to prevent frustration, wasting resources, and potentially making the situation worse.
The diet of coyotes is diverse and mostly consists of small mammals (especially rodents), insects, scavenged dead animals, and plant material. Scavenging and rodent consumption is probably desired by most landowners.
Coyotes rarely kill adult quail or wild turkey, but they sometimes eat opossum, armadillo, raccoon, and other medium sized mammals that are known to eat ground nesting bird eggs such as wild turkey and quail. If managing for these gamebirds, controlling coyotes is not usually in your best interest. Coyote do occasionally kill fawn deer. If you have too many deer and are having crop damage, carefully consider if you wish to control one of the few predators of deer on your property. Hunters wishing to have a healthy deer herd that is at or under the carrying capacity of the land should also carefully consider whether coyote control is helpful. Coyote control would rarely be recommended in Oklahoma for deer management objectives. Coyote form strong pair bonds and have defended and established territories. When you kill a territorial coyote, it opens up the territory for other animals to move in and sometimes the density of coyote will actually temporally increase.
There are situations where coyote control is warranted and coyote that are causing agricultural damage can be legally controlled year around. Sheep, goat, and backyard poultry producers can suffer substantial losses. Also, calves are occasionally killed. Targeting select coyotes that are killing livestock can help alleviate damage. In areas where deer or pronghorn populations are below desired levels, coyote control may help increase fawn recruitment. This is especially true with pronghorn.
Coyotes can also be a problem with some garden vegetables such as watermelon. If you are having damage issues, try to target the specific coyote(s) causing the damage.
As coyote are territorial, target your control efforts on the area where damage has occurred. Coyote can be called in for shooting with prey distress calls, coyote pup distress calls, or coyote territorial calls depending on the season of the year. Trapping can be highly effective with a #3-4 buried leg hold trap using a scent lure. These can be set at scent posts, coyote trails, fence crossings, or near carcasses.
Trapping coyote is not easy as they are very intelligent. Landowners are encouraged to adequately research how to trap coyote and talk to professional trappers before starting to trap. Not only will this increase chances of success, but will minimize nontarget catch such as your neighbors pet or a skunk (neither of which is fun to deal with!). If you do not have trapping experience, consider hiring a professional trapper (https://www.wildlifedepartment.com/law/nwco-operators) or contact USDA Wildlife Services at (405-521-4039).
Finally, while targeting specific animals that are known to be causing damage can reduce problems, random opportunistic shooting or coyote hunting contests are not likely to help anyone and may be counterproductive to landowner objectives.
Try to avoid body condition loss now
Cows in some Midwestern herds are calving (or already have calved) in marginal body condition. Unfortunately, this is a season where maintaining or gaining body condition on spring calving cows is really quite difficult. Warm season grasses have not yet begun to grow. Dormant grass (what little is left) is a low quality feed. Cows cannot, or will not, consume a large amount of standing dormant grass at this time year. If the only supplement being fed is a self-fed, self-limited protein source, the cows may become very deficient in energy. Remember, the instructions that accompany these self-fed supplements. They are to be fed along with free choice access to adequate quality forages.
There is another factor that compounds the problem. A small amount of winter annual grasses may begin to grow in native pastures. These are the first tastes of green grass many cows have seen since last summer. The cows may try to forage these high moisture, low energy density grasses, in lieu of more energy dense hays or cubes. The sad result is the loss of body condition in early lactation beef cows just before the breeding season is about to begin.
Body condition at the time of calving is the most important factor affecting rebreeding performance of normally managed beef cows. Nonetheless, condition changes after calving will have more subtle effects on rebreeding especially in cows that are in marginal body condition. Body condition changes from the time the cow calves until she begins the breeding season can play a significant role in the rebreeding success story. This appears to be most important to those cows that calve in the marginal body condition score range of “4” or “5”.
An Oklahoma State University trial illustrates the vulnerability of cows that calve in the body condition score of 5. Two groups of cows began the winter feeding period in similar body condition and calved in very similar body condition. Below is an example of a body condition score 5 cow.
However, after calving and before the breeding season began, one group was allowed to lose almost one full condition score. Below is an example of a cow in a body condition score 4.
The other group of cows was fed adequately to maintain the body condition that they had prior to calving. The difference in rebreeding rate was dramatic (73% vs 94%). (Wettemann, et al., 1987 Journ. Animal Sci., Suppl. 1:63). Again this illustrates that cows that calve in the body condition score of 5 are very vulnerable to weather and suckling intensity stresses and ranchers must use good nutritional strategies after calving to avoid disappointing rebreeding performance.
Cows should calve in moderate to good condition (scores of 5 or 6) to ensure good rebreeding efficiency. Ideally, cows should be maintaining condition during mid to late pregnancy and (if possible) gaining during breeding. The goal of the management program should be to achieve these body conditions by making maximum use of the available forage resource.
Continue feeding a source of energy, such as moderate to good quality grass hay free choice and/or high energy cubes until the warm season grasses grow enough to provide both the energy and protein that the lactating cows need.
Yes, the feed is high-priced. But the cost of losing 21% of next year’s calf crop is even greater!