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Coyotes on Farms: Revealing Hidden Ways They Impact Agriculture

Updated: Mar 17

small brown and grey coyote standing in tall fall grassland
Photo credit: Aaron Brewer via Pexels

Stop by any small-town farming community cafe - especially during the cold winter months - and you’ll probably find a few Carhartt-clad gents drinking coffee. Men (and women) huddled around brew-stained tables adorned with rumpled newspapers. They mull over local and worldly events - crop prices, weather conditions, politics, and football scores.


Eventually, the subject of coyotes is bound to come up. 


Farmers are always forecasting. Spring calving and lambing season is no exception. When it comes to coyotes interfering with herd security, the topic is pretty much one-sided. And not in favor of the wayward coyote. 


The impact of coyotes is significant to a farmer’s efforts and livelihood. Thus, it’s important to understand the role of these predators in the agricultural ecosystem.


Let’s start by taking a personal look at the common coyote.


Traits of the Common Coyote

Reddish coyote in winter field of foxtails
Photo credit: Chris LeBoutillier via Pexels

Appearance

People unfamiliar with coyotes may think they’re more wolf-like or similar in size to a large domestic dog. Instead, American coyotes are typically much smaller - only weighing an average of 35 pounds, and most don’t even reach that weight.1 


They look bigger during the winter months due to their thick and fluffy winter coat.


Reproduction and Lifespan

The female coyote only breeds once a year. The timing is annually consistent - taking place between January and March.2 An average of six pups are born about two months after breeding. 


Coyotes generally do not live longer than 10 years in the wild.2  Some reports, such as in Iowa, show that a 1.5-year lifespan is the norm.1 These numbers vary between locations due to food sources, habitat availability, diseases, and hunting/trapping initiatives. 


Territory

A group of coyotes may have a span of about 10 miles that they consider their home range. However, they don’t get too overly territorial about their space - unless it’s during their denning season when pups are born.2


Although coyotes usually remain unseen, they’re recognized by their chorus of howls, yips, and barks. They’re regarded as the noisiest of the wild animals in North America. Coyotes use their voices (and other senses) to communicate their territories and locations.2


Food Sources

Coyotes rely on both plants and animals for their diet. They primarily feast on small animals such as rabbits, mice, and birds. Yet, they’re also quite comfortable eating insects, plants, and garden produce.1 


These resourceful wild canines are also scavengers. They feed on large wildlife and livestock killed by other methods such as hunters, illnesses, or vehicles. They scrounge through farm waste leftovers, table scraps, and garbage.


Impacts of Coyotes to the Rural Ecosystem

Grey coyote laying in brown fall field grass near a wire fence
Photo credit: David Niedo via Unsplash

To summarize the traits of the common coyote it’s noted that they are small canines that mostly feed off of smaller animals, don’t have a long lifespan, are more heard than seen, and stay pretty close to their home territory. 


Knowing these facts, it stands to wonder how the elusive coyote could have any considerable impact on the rural ecosystem. To answer this, a more prudent appreciation of a coyote’s characteristics is warranted.


Coyotes are Apex Predators

Coyotes are considered apex predators in some locations. This means they don’t have other natural predators coming after them - like wolves and mountain lions.2 Without natural predators, coyotes tend to “rule the roost” in the areas they live. 


As such, both pros and cons exist for the coyote’s position on the food chain. 


On the one hand, the tenacious coyote is an expert at keeping herbivorous mammals such as rodents, rabbits, and deer in check. These primary food sources of the coyote reduce the opportunity for decimation of a farmer’s crop yield. Furthermore, leftover remnants of the coyote’s meals provide a food source for other meat eaters and birds of prey.


On the other hand, without natural predators, it’s the responsibility of humans to control coyote populations to avoid overcrowding, disease, and conflicts with people.


Coyotes are Extraordinarily Adaptable

Coyotes live in all areas of the United States except Hawaii. This makes them the most adaptable animal in America.3 They acclimate to extreme changes in climate and terrains with ease and adjust their diets accordingly.


When smaller animals become scarce, the coyote revises their primary mammalian food source to include more fruits and plant materials. For the produce farmer, this adaptation upsets the balance of the agricultural ecosystem.


The coyote’s versatility also means they have no qualms about coexisting with humans. They’re well known for overstepping the boundaries around homes and farm buildings - in both city and rural communities.


Coyotes are Considered a Threat to Livestock

As mentioned before, the subject of coyotes gravitates toward undesirable conversations among farmers. Most farmers share no love lost with the opportunistic predators. 


The viability of the coyote is compromised when populations rise, habitat is poor, and food sources are scarce. These factors cause coyotes to seek alternative methods of survival. They may turn to easy targets such as farmer’s calves, lambs, poultry, miniature horses, and goats.


Besides the threat of outright killing a farmer’s livestock, more dangers exist. Coyotes may carry parasites and diseases. Neospora caninum causes abortion and death in newborn cattle. Rabies and tapeworms risk the lives of wildlife, livestock, personal pets, and humans.


Methods of Balancing the Rural Ecosystem with Coyotes

Reddish brown coyote walking through fall brown grassy field
Photo credit: Mana5280 via Unsplash

Maintaining a harmonious and balanced ecosystem with coyotes is possible when the true impacts of these wild canines are measured. A farmer, protective of his flock, may express that the only good coyote is a dead coyote. Yet, a judicial approach is more effective for a fair and complete assessment.


Consider the findings from the following studies involving coyote removal from cattle ranching in Texas and from sheep management in California and Oregon:


Study #1 Results:5

  • Foods consumed by coyotes included 50-70% fruits, insects and vegetation, rabbits and other rodents, and about 25% carrion - although it is unknown if the coyotes were originators or scavengers of the carrion.

  • Even when coyotes were considered the primary reason for predator-related cattle deaths, these deaths paled greatly in comparison to non-predator deaths such to weather, disease, calving difficulties, and physiological disorders. 

  • Removal of coyotes may only serve to produce a “feel good” aspect for farmers and ranchers - to have a sense of doing something about the issue instead of doing nothing.

  • Snares and Large Guard Animals (LGA) placed one month before the calving season had the greatest effectiveness for reducing coyote-related losses to cattle.

  • The cost and time involved with the care of the LGAs and for equipment, setting, and monitoring of snares as compared to the price of cattle loss need to be considered.


Study #2 Results:6

  • Trapping of coyotes did not reduce or end sheep loss.

  • The more coyotes removed resulted in a higher rate of lambs killed by predators.

  • Killing coyotes resulted in a more voracious population of coyotes. A stronger group of coyotes meant larger litters, more competition for food sources, and a need for larger prey to meet nutritional requirements. 

  • Snares proved to be ineffective and detrimental to the ecosystem because non-offending coyotes were killed. Likewise, other wildlife, birds, and livestock were unnecessarily snared. 

  • When non-offending coyotes are killed, the social hierarchy and territories are disrupted creating an unbalanced field of competition leading to livestock predation.  


These studies provide a small glimpse into the pros and cons of coyote management. Although brief, they help to explain the roles coyotes play in rural landscapes. 


Exploring the advantages and drawbacks of coyote governance through the research of others improves the relationship with your wild canine neighbors.


Coexist with a Better Understanding of Coyotes

Two grey coyotes stand near a dead fawn
Photo credit: Taylor Write via Unsplash

Farmers and landowners are justified in protecting their livestock and crops. These are their livelihoods. Their sources of income. Their means of providing for their families.


Although small in stature and elusive, coyotes are a persistent factor in the rural landscape. Their adaptability to the environment and resources is second to none


Studies have shown that coyotes may very well do more benefit to the agricultural ecosystem than what initially meets the eye. Compared to all other elements negatively impacting livestock and crop loss, coyote-related influences are low on the list.


Culling older, brazen coyotes that pose a legitimate problem for livestock survival must be balanced with the support of protecting the majority of “well-behaved” coyotes. The latter serves as a shield for croplands against small rodents, insects, deer, and rabbits.


So, the next time you have the pleasure of listening to a congregation of farmers exchanging tidbits of news at the local diner, pull up a chair. Ask them what they think about coyotes. Be prepared for a spirited conversation. But also be willing to learn and share a touch of insight into the impacts of coyotes in the agricultural space. 


Having a better understanding of coyotes helps foster empathy and informed decision-making for more responsible coyote management. A greater awareness secures their welfare and is central to fostering a compatible coexistence between humans and wildlife













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