Grit Blogs > The Daily Commute

Animal Husbandry is Heck on Predators

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

Tags: coyotes, predators, farms,

A mugshot of Hank Will and Missy.Sometimes in life you react to a situation in a certain way because you instinctively know what you need to do, even if you don’t like it. I had one of those experiences at the farm last night. I was enjoying the lingering light of late dusk, sitting in my favorite lawn chair and having a phone conversation with a friend. Gus and Clover, my trusty Border Collies, were unusually attentive and quiet. In fact, they were asleep, more or less at my feet.

I noticed a bit of commotion coming from the sheep paddock but didn’t think too much about it until the female coyote came into view, pacing along the outside of my “new” sheep fence. And then I saw another and then one more, and sure enough there was a fourth inside the fence. Gus and Clover have been great at running off the wild canines – at least when they are so close to the barn, but for some reason they weren’t on task last night. The donkeys are also heck on wild dogs – they were bedded down in the corral on the other side of the barn.

Coyotes can be tough on sheep. Tony Campbell

I take my role as animal husband quite seriously; part of that responsibility includes protecting the flocks from predators. I appreciate predators, especially opportunists like coyotes. I am particularly fond of coyotes because of their song, the social structure they adhere to, and because they have been so willing and able to adapt to virtually every move humans make to destroy their habitat or to eradicate them. I find no joy in killing coyotes.

Without so much as a second thought, I excused myself from the telephone and grabbed the .270 and a handful of rounds. Four shots and, just a few minutes later, it was over. Gus and Clover were hiding in the barn, the sheep, hogs and chickens were safe, and I was swept with the remorse that you can only feel when you waste a life. I wondered whether I mightn’t have somehow deterred that coyote mom and her three pups. Intellectually, I know the answer to that question is a resounding no. She was teaching her babies to live out their genetic destiny, and they all got caught in the crossfire of my animal husbandry.

Had I not been enjoying the evening outside, the scene would have played out much differently. And come morning, I would have felt the terrible remorse of having failed in my animal husbandly duties.

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

1/7/2011 8:19:00 PM

If he'd set the donkeys on a momma/babies coyote pack, he might have been calling the vet to stitch up the donkeys and maybe pay for a rabies shot, too. Not a good idea to pit one animal against another if it can be avoided, especially one with babies to protect.

bryan welch
6/18/2009 11:19:37 AM

Personally, I think you should have awakened the donkeys.

hank will_2
6/17/2009 4:21:07 PM

Hey Paul -- Thanks for your kind and thoughtful words. Unfortunately, in this season, the pelts are really worthless because of mange and just that their lush winter hair has long blown out. I had a few coyote pelts around the house from the olden days, but the terriers found and ate them last year. I believe in feeding the buzzards too, so I guess they won't go completely to waste. I appreciate your thoughts. Hank

paul gardener
6/17/2009 4:13:20 PM

Hey Hank, I do value these beautiful creatures but I can't say I'm necessarily sorry as I think it's just a part of the cycle of life around a farm or homestead. I was thinking though about your comment on wasting a life. That is a shame. In that vain, I thought I'd offer a couple of suggestions. Is it possible for you to skin the animals ans put that part of them to some use? Or perhaps give them to someone that does do that. I know there are people that skin, tan and treat animal hides for money. Perhaps it would even help someone in a tight spot to make a couple of dollars. As for the carcass, is there perhaps a distant part of your land or adjoining land, where it could be placed to finish it's cycle providing food for other animals, birds and insects? Just a couple of thoughts. I like to try to find out how something can be used to it's maximum potential. Even when that potential has been necessarily cut short. Best to you. Paul~