I think I’m getting a bit countrified – some might even call it redneck. Heck, I probably would’ve called it redneck not too many months ago. I remember when my friend here had the local phone company install service in his cabin on Spruce Knob. I thought it was unusual that the three installers had brought along a rifle – it was propped between the two seats in the front of their car. They said you never know what you might meet up with around here. My friend wears a revolver when on the mountain for the same reason. I used to think that was a little dramatic. Not any more.
In October, my friend and I were up on the mountain one night and heard howls echoing from the ridge. Coyotes. (Here in Seneca Rocks, the word is pronounced “ky-oats”.) I thought it was kind of neat, a bit romantic in an old western sort of way. However, to a cattle rancher those howls mean something completely different.
Coyotes will prey on young calves. They’ll even prey on a cow in labor and take the newborn calf. Now, I’ve become quite fond of the Black Angus cattle on my friend’s ranch and the newborn calves in the herd are a pleasure to watch. As a result, coyotes no longer seem rustic or romantic.
Yesterday morning, I drove up on Spruce Knob to check on four calves at the farm there. They had escaped from the bullpen last fall when we were loading the cattle up for transfer to their winter pasture. We’ve taken round bales of hay to the mountain ranch the last few months along with a tub of solid molasses to keep them alive during the winter. Just a couple of weeks ago we saw the calves, high-tailing it for cover as soon as they heard the truck.
But yesterday, I found no trace of calves hiding in the woods. There was still hay from the last bale and grass has started greening up and growing on the mountain so they had food. I checked the spring-fed pond – it was crystal clear and I saw only old hoof prints. No calves had been in the pond recently to stir up the muddy bottom. The frog population didn’t have to worry about the hundreds (thousands?) of eggs floating in massive clumps by the shore. Even the cow pies (manure) on the ground near the pond were old.
I thought the calves might be hiding in one of the low-lying areas on the other side of the barn, so I headed in that direction. I didn’t see fresh tracks there, either. So I walked into a small cluster of trees, looking around for the calves. Something caught my eye and I looked on the ground. At my feet were the spine and the attached portion of the skull of a calf, completely free of tissue. There were no other bones or parts of the carcass near by. In searching further, I came across pieces of reddish-black fur in the grass and a hind leg, about 25 feet away. The hoof was so small – only about two and a half inches across – and the tissue and skin on the leg were intact. Nearby, I found the lower jaw bones, a rib, and the other hind leg in the same condition as the first one. I just felt sick to think the calf had died this way.
It was unsettling to be alone on the mountain with the remains of that poor calf. Whatever killed it was still in the area. I know that coyotes are very people-shy and I was determined to try and locate the remaining three calves, so I continued my search up the knob, proceeding a little more cautiously. I wasn’t worried so much about the coyotes, but I wasn’t too keen on coming across another dead calf. I didn’t find the calves or even any evidence that they’d been there recently. At least I didn’t come across any additional carcasses.
I had a bag of sweet feed in my car (see – I’m becoming redneck!) and left some of it for the calves in the empty molasses tub. Sweet feed is like candy to the cattle and I’m hoping that if the remaining calves are in the area, they’ll make a beeline for it. Maybe they’ll even stick a little closer to the barn hoping to get some more.
This morning, my neighbor’s son came by. He dropped off a chunk of frozen pork to thank me for checking in on his mom when he couldn’t reach her earlier in the week. (He’d asked me the day before, “Do you like pig?” and I was so startled by his question that I didn’t immediately respond – the first picture that popped into my head was the pig from the movie “Babe” and yes, I like Babe!) After thanking him for the pork, I asked him if he hunted. I have since learned that, in Seneca Rocks, such a question is quite unnecessary. It’s like asking if people breathe. It’s a given. I described the remains of the calf that I’d found and asked if it indicated a kill by coyotes. He said it sure did. He also explained that the two uneaten hind legs were probably left behind because the coyotes had eaten their fill, that they’d be back for the leftovers.
After he left, I went online to do some coyote research and learned that they are a huge problem for ranchers. Sheep, cattle, goats – they’re all fair game to coyotes. In turn, coyotes can be hunted 365 days a year and there is no limit. But they’re tricky. Their sense of smell is very keen and coyotes will steer clear of people. Trappers have to wear rubber gloves while laying their trap lines. Hunters will set up some sort of bait to draw the coyotes in. It seems that coyote trappers and hunters all have their little tricks of the trade, special techniques that they swear by. I think it’s time for my friend and I to see what works best on the coyotes on Spruce Knob.
Back in the fall, if someone told me I’d be looking to shoot coyotes right now, I would have never believed it. But now, just hand me an AR-15. I will have no trouble shooting at a coyote. I might have a little trouble actually hitting it, but not aiming for it.
I told you, I think I’m becoming redneck.
My friend has two donkeys that graze with his Black Angus herd as protection against predators. They’ll kick coyotes to death. I’d been told months ago that the donkeys are incredibly fast-footed and can lash out in any direction. After setting a small tub of sweet feed in the pasture two days ago, I was given a first-hand demonstration of their footwork. Those two little donkeys were not about to let any cattle share their sweet feed. With ears laid back and teeth bared, they intimidated most of the cattle. Any cow so foolish as to not take the hint received a series of kicks or head butts. Even the bull steered clear of the donkeys. No wonder ranchers keep donkeys with their herds. Donkeys are smart, fast, and have excellent senses of smell and hearing. We’ll have to make sure that they go to with the cattle for summer grazing.
As you can probably guess, it’s been a somber weekend for me with the discovery of the calf on Spruce Knob. Tonight when I got home, I saw that my oldest daughter had sent a very humorous email. It was just what I needed. Daughter Number One, married for two years now, was sharing how she’d had full-blown “baby fever” recently and lamented how it seemed that all of her friends were either pregnant or had new babies. Then, she came upon an article called, “How to Put a Toddler to Bed in 100 Easy Steps”. 100 Easy Steps. That put an end to the baby fever, at least until another of her friends introduces her to a sweet-smelling newborn.
I wrote back to my daughter and reminisced a bit about putting her and her younger sister to bed when they were toddlers. We used to live in a brick townhouse in Lake Ridge, Virginia. For some reason, Youngest Daughter got it in her head that foxes were going to climb the brick exterior, squeeze through the window of their second-story bedroom, and scare her and her sister. So each night after bedtime stories, I – being a resourceful mom – sprayed fox repellant all around the window frame. The girls were able to go to sleep peacefully, knowing that no fox would disturb their slumber. Mom had sprayed the window frame. And you know, we never had a problem with foxes in their bedroom.
That gave me an idea. I figure if the stuff worked that well for the foxes in Lake Ridge, it’s bound to work for the coyote problem on Spruce Knob, too. Foxes. Coyotes. They’re similar, right?
I wrote to my farmer friend and suggested we spray Glade air freshener around the pastures and maybe even on the cattle. That’s what I used in the girls’ bedroom.
I haven’t heard back from him yet.