I have little quarrel with predators and generally factor in a small percentage loss in animal production — something like a wildlife tax — each year as some of my fowl and even a lamb are taken. We don’t tend to lose larger animals such as calves; our coyote population is large, but not terribly bold around Highland cattle horns. So naturally, most of our predator protection efforts have been aimed at the more vulnerable species. We keep donkeys with the sheep, place a Border Collie on patrol at night, and have the multi-acre poultry pens fenced like Fort Knox.
Our most perplexing loss occurred a few years ago. We had a 450-pound thriving, healthy calf that was hightailing it around the pasture one day and dead and mostly disarticulated a day and a half later. My wife discovered the minimal remains while checking the sheep. We were perplexed — until we did the math.
The night I now suspect the calf was killed, I lay awake listening to the night sounds through the open window, thinking about getting the market hogs sold, when I heard a scream way out south. It was not a human scream. It was a big-cat scream — or it sounded like they sound on television anyway. I put the thought out of my head since Kansas had not yet had any “official” mountain lion sightings. Then I heard it again. Could it be a bobcat?
When I got home the day my wife found the calf’s remains, I headed out to look them over. Wow. Something had crushed the base of the skull, the head was disconnected from the rest of the skeleton entirely, and a large portion of the carcass was missing. We searched for odd bits and pieces, and wondered whether some hungry folks had killed, butchered and hauled off the primal cuts. Finding no real trail, we just chalked it up to paying Mother Nature.
The next day, my neighbor flagged me down wondering whether I had seen the cougar down in the creek bottom bean field between his place and ours. I said no, and he said he had seen it coming off our place two mornings in a row. He also mentioned that he hadn’t seen one for a few years but that they were around. When I relayed the information to the young man who hunts deer on our place, he told me that he was sure he’d seen a lion from his tree stand the night before we lost the calf.
Feeling better with the mystery solved – we’d much rather have mountain lions than trespassers — we wondered how often we’d have to pay that price, and whether we’d need some added livestock protection. We’ve yet to lose another calf that way, and we’ve never seen a big cat on our place. However, we routinely read about mountain lions and coyotes winding up in unexpected places — sometimes in the middle of a big city — where state departments of natural resources say they don’t prowl.
Whether you are building your first livestock fences or battling predators in your own special way, we’d love to hear from you. And if you’ve had any close encounters with predators that aren’t supposed to exist in your area, I’d sure love to hear about them. Email your stories and photos to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and they just might wind up in a future issue of the magazine.
See you in July,
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 Google+.