Incisive Perception, by Walkaboutlou

The title applies not just to the coyotes, but also to the author and rancher who are figuring this out and willing to change their human behaviors to make it work.

Hi Janet,

This past weekend we got a reminder that while successful sheep raising among coyote is totally possible and achievable, it can on occasions be challenging.

This ranch I check on is very efficient. The LGD (livestock guard dog) are spread out in teams of 2-3. They are all experienced and steady and bonded to their sheep. The rancher doesn’t allow deceased sheep to lay about. All new lambs are birthed in specially designed areas.

Most of all, the local coyote are “trained” well, and live off the abundant rodent, jackrabbit and deer. They rarely test the sheep.

Until recently.

A very strange and particularly specific behavior has surfaced. A pair of coyote have preyed on 3 different ewes the last 2 weeks.

What is so unusual is all 3 ewe were visiting to be bred by the ranch’s top Ram. They were visitors, though to our eyes you couldn’t pick them out among other sheep. They are same breed. Same Looks.

But obviously something has set them apart. We suspect somehow the coyote not only “know” a newcomer, but somehow have been given a green light for predation. The LGD ironically may be subliminally less protective of a “new” or strange ewe. It seems unlikely, but this is totally uncharacteristic. This ranch hasn’t experienced any predator losses for years. Something has occurred.

Whenever any new challenge arises, it’s good to sit back, review and so some analysis. What has changed? What is different? What is the true situation? It’s easy to say “coyote can’t help themselves”…but that isn’t true. Many coyote have shown they can and do refrain from certain choices. And when they have for years…and then suddenly take 3 ewes, 3 VISITING ewe, (one at a time)…you have to sort it out, or at least make it unavailable for them. Another ewe is slated to visit for breeding. She will be kept in small pasture with ram and dog and cameras.

It just shows, the dynamics, changes and circumstances never are 100% predictable. But we’re determined to solve or at least stop this new behavior of new ewe predation by changing our behaviors.


What I’m learning from this is just as guard dogs may not guard a stranger or neighbor’s house…an LGD may not necessarily guard all livestock or livestock it isn’t “bonded to”. It can vary and obviously we don’t know all. We do know that obviously the herd, the dog’s….and coyote…recognize new livestock…and it’s possible there are vulnerabilities here, at least in this ranch, we never thought about.

It seems crazy…but it’s possible that some dogs may give “permission” to coyote in certain situations. Its something we want to avoid and modify. Elimination of this coyote pair isn’t an option because we don’t know what the inevitable replacement would be like. It’s always better to influence and modify coyote behavior rather then see what new nomad shows up. (and it’s always several vying nomads which increases instability for a time) We will change this current canine conversation/dynamics eventually.

It’s always dynamics, fluctuations and new learning with coyote. There are so many variables of behaviors and different situations the coyote is truly a canid chameleon. They are very different in their various regions, strategy and skill. Even individually.

[Read the UPDATE posted on February 5]

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jo Thompson
    Feb 01, 2020 @ 12:13:15

    Absolutely fascinating. We know so very little. I am eager to hear more about this situation as it develops!


  2. Charles F. Wood
    Feb 01, 2020 @ 17:34:57

    That’s interesting. I have no particular expertise to offer, just some thoughts. Let’s assume that the dogs and the coyotes know what what each individual sheep smells like. And let’s assume the dogs and the coyotes don’t care what the sheep look like. So we could say, and this is all speculative, that to a canine, an individual sheep looks like “that which it is doing”. So smell identifies an individual, and the eyes keep track of the motions of an individual that smell has already identified. To a coyote, a sheep is nothing except something to eat. To a LDG, a sheep is an intimate. I’m not sure a coyote could conceive of prey as an intimate. But it could distinguish that a fellow canine had claimed prey. Let’s imagine that’s so anyway. So a coyote sees sheep-prey everyday and notes: the dogs haven’t eaten that one yet. And notes as always: It’s theirs. Nothing to do.

    One day three new sheep come into the range. All the canines know these are three distinctly smelly individuals that they haven’t seen before. The LDG’s don’t know who they are. The LDG’s think “Their not my family.” So let’s say the LDG’s act in a way that shows the coyotes that these new sheep are fair game. If the LDG’s don’t care, then there is nothing to respect here. It’s good good. And lots of it. And the LDG’s don’t give a crap about them.

    Regardless of the plausibility of my speculation, I think these relationships are entirely relationships between individuals. The coyotes test the prey terrain everyday you point out. They are testing the dogs. A sheep as prey isn’t much of a challenge to a coyote I assume. But the dogs are. They aren’t worth it, why kill a sheep to have a dog chase one away, from the coyotes point of view, why let a dog eat a sheep the coyotes killed and got chased away from. Everyone chases everyone else at a carcass. I don’t mean to belabor the point. But I think Lou is right on the mark when he suspects the demeanor of the dogs with respect to three new individuals was seen by the coyotes as clearly laissez faire. We wouldn’t notice, such things are communicated by not looking, looking away, slightly relaxing, pretending to not notice, etc. When the dogs do care, they stiffen up, pay attention, don’t look away, etc. We’re going to miss most of that. It is subliminal to us. But to the canine? It’s the lingua franca of a predator, all that body language is habitual in order for the signals to be unequivocal. No one wants a pointless fight. Everyone has skin in the game.

    If any of that is credible, what’s to do? Beats me. But that doesn’t stop me from further speculation. When a ewe comes to be bred, bring her dog along. It will care about its own sheep, but not necessarily the others. The others have their own dogs? But I would bring the new sheep’s dog first alone for maybe for a week. Then let it go back to its own sheep for a couple days. Then bring it over with its sheep. The coyotes are going to know there is a new dog. A week or maybe less, they know its now part of the pack they know and respect. So as onlookers, what does the new dog do? Well dang. It goes out and gets itself a new sheep (new sheep). That’s a powerful new dog right there, bringing a new sheep back like that. And of course the new dog is going to protect it. It sure acts like it protects its new sheep. Who wouldn’t? The other dogs didn’t get it. But the new guy or gal? The coyote thinks. “Well, these are interesting developments here, new guy, powerful guy or gal with his own sheep.” Tips his hat to the newcomer. “Nothing to see here.”

    But if with the new sheep you just bring one dog? What are the resident dogs going to do? Side with the new dog, or just not help it. They coyotes could test for that and read it. If it takes two dogs, bring two? This all seems a little silly to me. And dogs and sheep aren’t cheap.


  3. Hilary Cole
    Feb 03, 2020 @ 19:50:24

    This is really interesting! I shall look forward to hearing further about this.. as it develops…

    Hilary 😊


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Feb 03, 2020 @ 20:12:27

      Hi Hilary — Yes, there’s always something new about these critters that we’re learning about. But also, aren’t we lucky to have ranchers who respect coyotes and are willing to put in the effort to investigate what is really going on. I’m sure Lou will keep us posted! :))

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