They come out at night making shrill yips in the moonlight. They wander the edge of the forest, stalking their prey. They're the canis latrans — the coyote.
The coyote is an extremely adaptable animal, according to Wildlife Specialist Rebecca McPeake with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. She says coyotes can live in rural and urban areas. Coyotes are usually nocturnal, although they sometimes roam during the day. They can sprint up to 45 mph.
Coyotes eat rabbits, fruit and rodents. And sometimes they eat calves. “Coyotes can be a danger, especially at calving time when the calf is the most vulnerable,” says Shane Gadberry, Extension livestock specialist. “Calves are vulnerable because they don't have the agility to flee from a coyote.”
In 1997, a National Animal Health Monitoring System report said that 6.4 percent of calf losses were caused by predators. Coyotes are the primary predators of calves in Arkansas.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that 95,000 calves were lost to coyotes nationwide in 2000. That's 65 percent of calf loss to predators.
Gadberry cites inadequate disposal of poultry and other dead animals as the reason coyotes are attracted to farms. Carrion is a prime food for coyotes. Once coyotes have eaten a particular animal, they'll be willing to kill for it again.
Gadberry suggests dead animals be incinerated or composted instead of dumped in woods.
Coyotes attack the neck, flanks and hind quarters of calves, says McPeake. They usually eat the heart and liver first. Sometimes dog attacks are confused with coyote attacks. Indiscriminate mutilation is often the most obvious sign of a dog attack. Coyotes may eat the entire animal, leaving only hide and skeleton. If food is scarce, only the largest bones remain.
A tooth puncture in the neck is an indicator of a coyote attack. But coyote teeth marks can be confused with dogs of similar size. Other signs at the site can be used to determine if the attack was from a coyote.
Coyotes generally roll over, rubbing their backs, after feeding. They will urinate and defecate shortly after eating. They will also scratch the dirt with their feet.
“You need all the evidence to tell if the culprit was a coyote or something else,” said McPeake. “Check the shape of the track. Coyotes have a narrower track and shorter stride. The tracks tend to be in a straight line.”
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission allows farmers and livestock producers to kill nuisance animals except migratory birds and endangered species.
The commission's Web site (www.agfc.com) states that landowners or designees must obtain a commission depredation permit before using traps. Trap sizes that must be used are listed on the Web site.
Coyotes also have a designated hunting season. Check with the commission for dates.
There are alternatives to shooting or trapping. McPeake suggests trying propane exploders firing shots every eight to 10 minutes to scare off coyotes. However, the exploders should be moved every four to five days. Turn the exploders on at sunset and off at daybreak unless signs of daylight coyote activity exist.
Gadberry also suggests having a designated calving area if predation is a potential problem.
Livestock producers should also consider shortening their calving period by using a controlled breeding season (90 days or less) breeding.
Electric/netwire fences can be used to keep predators out, but added cost of this type of fencing must be weighed against possible losses.
McPeake warns that livestock producers shouldn't rush to blame coyotes. “Coyotes are scavengers,” says McPeake. “The calf could have been dead before the coyote came along.”