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Editorial

Toni Kellers: Out on the Farm Dogs and coyotes

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The following is my response to a long and heated discussion about coyotes that I entered into in NextDoor.com for my local area. By the time I finished typing I realized that it was something I always wanted to say to a larger audience.
My point in my essays here in the Herald has always been to inform and educate the “city folks” who come to live the good life here in “the country.”
In my 30 years of raising sheep (a miniature breed that has males at 125 pounds) I have lost several domestic animals. The first attack we had many years ago was by two Rottweiler dogs. One jumped a 6-foot fence and killed a sheep and a goat before escaping. I got a good look at him before he got away.
The other, younger and smaller, hid under the sheep shed and was caught. It was pictured on the front page of the Doylestown paper- bloody wool all over – that is how rare this attack was. The authorities said that the younger dog was not appropriate as a pet and if it was not claimed by the owner (no ID on it), it would be put down. Naturally he was not claimed (many fines pending). We electrified the fence and had no problem for some years.
Then we began having problems in the field behind the house that borders a protected area of a stream and woods. It is a wild animal haven and highway. Over recent years we have had kills of sheep, some by dogs and some by coyotes. You can usually tell by the nature of the wounds on the dead animal. Coyotes eat, dogs usually just kill.
Dogs, by the way, can be shot during an attack on a domestic animal if seen. Coyotes can be legally shot at anytime.
But all of these attacks were at night, far more common, so the culprit was not visually identified. The dog warden was always called and she is very informed and professional. We systematically upgraded our fencing over the years and finally have it pretty secure. Our latest innovation is solar motion-sensor lights on the top of fence posts along that wooded area. We also have security lights that let us know if the power is off for any reason.

I lost a couple of flocks of chickens to a fox and her offspring, back when the chickens were free-ranging. (Free-range has a complex definition - in those days they ran loose on the property during the day.) These were morning, daylight attacks, seen by my neighbor. Again, you could tell by the dead animals. Mom was teaching the kiddos to kill and the birds were too heavy for them to drag home – killing was today’s lesson, and dead chickens were scattered in the field but not eaten. That is nature at work. My decision was to enlarge the chicken pen and leave the field to Mrs. Fox. My choice. We are not overrun by foxes and there was plenty of wild prey for mom’s little school.
So I try to enjoy my domestic animals and our wild neighbors. I investigated using donkeys or dogs as guards. Discovered that mini donkeys are not appropriate – small enough to be prey themselves, usually by coyotes, and dogs really need a larger area to guard – local fields on small farms like mine are a few acres - 1 or 2.
Large donkeys are good guards but need more space too. Also guard dogs bond to their flock and it is difficult or impossible to introduce them to another flock. If anything happened to me and my flock was dispersed, there would be an unemployable dog left behind. Not fair.
These days we get all up in the air if a bear or big cat is spotted. That should actually be a good sign. Nature is balancing itself. But that will be a long, slow process and we humans have been too quick to try it in the past, with very unsatisfactory results.
And I doubt that we are smart enough to leave Nature alone in the future.
Toni Kellers lives and raises sheep on a farm in Bedminster Township.


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