|USDA Releases Sheep and Lamb Predator Loss Report
(December 1, 2007) In 2004, more than one-third of U.S. sheep and lamb death losses were due to predator causes. This information comes from a report recently released by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Wildlife Services and its National Animal Health Monitoring System. The report entitled “Sheep and Lamb Predator Death Loss in the United States, 2004” is conducted every five years and is available at http://nahms.aphis.usda.gov/sheep/sheep_pred_deathloss_2004.pdf.
A total of 600,300 animals (385,000 lambs and 215,300 sheep) were lost due to predator and non-predator causes in 2004, representing 9.4 percent and 5.6 percent of lamb crop and sheep inventory, respectively. Predator losses account for 37.3 percent of the total number of losses while non-predator losses represent 62.7 percent.
The report indicates that sheep and lamb losses due to predators have decreased from 368,050 in 1994 to 224,200 in 2004. A substantial factor that is not accounted for, however, is the number of lambs lost prior to docking Additionally, there were twice as many sheep in America in 1994.
In 2004, as in the 1994 and 1999 reports, a higher percentage of lamb losses (41 percent) than sheep losses (30.8 percent) was due to predators.
Coyotes accounted for the highest percentage of sheep losses in four of the five regions in 2004, equating to 51.7 percent of sheep deaths due to predators. The exception was in the southeast/other region, where dogs accounted for the highest percentage of predator loss. Coyotes also accounted for the highest percentage of death losses in lambs in 1994, 1999 and 2004 with 69.4 percent, 64.3 percent and 64.2 percent of total predator loss, respectively.
As noted by Margaret Soulen Hinson from Idaho, secretary/treasurer of the American Sheep Industry Association, the “other predator” category has substantially increased since the 1994 report. Those animals included in this category are wolves, ravens, vultures and unknown predators. The percentage of sheep lost to “other predators” was 2.8 percent in 1994 and had risen to 8.6 in 2004. As for lamb loss, the “other predator” category rose from 1.4 percent in 1994 to 6.5 percent in 2004.
“My guess is that this category will continue to increase as the wolf population continues to expand,” explains Hinson, who also noted that she has seen an increase in raven- and vulture-caused deaths in sheep and lambs.
The report also noted that bear losses are on the rise which have been a recurring problem for Butch Theos, ASI executive board member, in Colorado.
“Our personal operation is having as many bear losses as coyote problems,” explains Theos. “Several factors enter into this, such as the drought we’ve had seven out of the last eight years, the bears just have less to eat. In addition, we have very little predator control over bears now because of an amendment not allowing spring bear hunting or the use of hunting dogs or baiting, which has probably been the biggest influence on the bear population.”
As mentioned earlier, lamb losses occurring before docking in the Pacific and West Central regions are not included in these estimates. While these numbers may be difficult to measure accurately, these losses account for a substantial portion of total lamb losses. Five states (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana) publish state-level pre-docking losses. According to these reports, more than 61 percent of all lambs lost are lost to predators prior to docking.
As for the next report, to be published for 2009, both Hinson and Theos believe the trends will remain constant with possibly an increase in losses attributed to “other predators.”
Controlling predators is a major concern of sheep producers across the country. That being said, nearly 32 percent of all operations in 2004 used non-lethal predator control methods according to the report. Of these operations, the most commonly used means of non-lethal predator control were fencing, night penning and guard dogs.