FIBERuary Day 7 with Jill Horton Lyons – Sheep breeder, Angora Rabbits, Guard Dogs, Herding Dogs , Spinner and Weaver and so much ore
Keeping the Sheep Alive or Living Harmoniously with Coyotes
We’ve been raising sheep since 1985. First in Leverett, then in Deerfield for six years, then back to Leverett for thirteen years. And then in 2013 we moved to Colrain.
Our place in Leverett had only ten acres (which seemed a lot, coming from suburbia). We fenced about half with hi-tensile wire and built a small sheep shed. And began to search for unused fields in Leverett and nearby towns for summer grazing. Over the years we grazed something like twenty properties. Some arrangements worked well, others not so well. And since we checked each group every day we did a lot of driving. The six years at Woolman Hill Retreat Center in Deerfield were lovely- we had fenced fields, places to graze with electronet and even a hay field. Coming back to Leverett with sheep was not easy.
Now our first coyote experience was early on….probably about 1990 in Leverett. Our four geese (white Chinas) free ranged. Jim looked out the window one day and saw a coyote carrying off a goose. He dashed outside, yelled and gave chase. The goose was smart- she spread wide her big wings and the coyote couldn’t pass through some brush. So the coyote dropped the goose (named Coyote for the rest of her days) and Jim brought her in to heal. And that was it- we don’t even remember hearing coyotes during the early Leverett days.
We did hear coyotes in Deerfield. But our fencing was good and the sheep were fairly close by- very close by in winter. We also had Abby- a big farm dog (wolfhound-akita cross). Abby liked to circle our end of the acreage- especially early morning and late evening. Which undoubtedly helped.
While we were in Deerfield the Leverett coyote population had evidently grown. We heard them more often, and several times saw some rather mangy ones in our driveway. But we co-existed just fine until 2010. One day in August that year the ewes and ewe lambs were in electronet at Gordon King’s in East Leverett . (These fields were part of the land Gordon gave to the town which became conservation land.) There had been a drought, so we were feeding hay. After some rain the fields were greening but we still fed hay, wanting the fields to recover. Now electronet is something you train the sheep to- it’s mostly psychological. And sheep love fresh grass much more than so-so hay. So the night of the attack the sheep busted out. The neighboring coyotes seized their opportunity- somehow all the sheep survived, but we lost seven of our eight ewe lambs. Even though Gordon’s was our best and largest grazing, we moved the survivors that day. In part hoping that the coyotes would forget about their feast. (The good thing about coyotes is that they eat what they kill and they kill pretty efficiently. Nothing like a domestic dog attack.)
The winter of 2010-2011 was fierce, with lots of snow. Snow completely covered our perimeter fence. So the sheep were fed in the field each day but came in at dusk. But one day I left two of the wethers we use for dog training out in a back field. They were dead in the morning. Score is now coyotes 10- and they ate a couple of geese as well.
We researched and decided to buy a guard llama. Supposedly quite effective and looking not at all threatening to all the walkers on Gordon’s land. Very expensive.
Sam the llama was a beautiful guy but absolutely no match for the now even larger coyote pack. Who well remembered the taste of lamb. So this time they stampeded the sheep through the fence themselves- and picked off another seven- six lambs and my favorite ewe. (Sam did just fine later that summer guarding lambs in North Leverett. The resident coyote was respectful of both fence and guardian.)
Do we stop raising sheep? We sure can’t afford these losses! So we spent most of the summer and early fall taking turns sleeping in the truck next to the sheep fence. (And dusk comes early in fall.)
We decided we wanted to keep the sheep. Many of our friends used livestock guardian dogs to stop predation. We were concerned that the dogs would frighten the walkers. But we couldn’t figure out what else to try.
Part 2 tomorrow