Q&A with Dr. Raoul Boughton on New Research
Ranchers will tell you they’re seeing more coyotes than ever before. It’s believed the adaptive canine’s population is increasing in Florida, much to the chagrin of ranchers. Dr. Raoul Boughton, a UF/IFAS Rangeland Scientist at the Range Cattle Research and Education Center, is conducting studies into the coyote population in Florida with a focus on the impact on the state’s cattle.
Central Florida Ag News (CFAN): What does the existing research data show about coyote interactions with calves?
Dr. Raoul Boughton: There has been little research conducted in Florida on coyote interactions with livestock. Because coyotes are relatively small—24 to 40lbs—attacks upon calves are most likely to occur when calves are newly born. We receive reports of calves presumed to have been killed by coyotes by the sign seen on or around carcasses. Coyote calf kills seemingly occur sporadically, although, we have had a few reports of coyotes during the breeding season having killed multiple calves. The difficulty lies in determining whether a calf was actually killed by a coyote or scavenged after dying from other causes.
CFAN: What are the main goals of the coyote-calf interaction research?
Dr. Boughton: There is a proportion of calf loss where the cause of death is unknown. We want to try and ascertain the proportion that may be due to coyotes, but this can be very difficult. Furthermore, we want to know what the home range of the Florida coyote is, how often they are around cattle, and if they change their behavior when calving season occurs. We are planning to track coyote movements using GPS collars, combined with local ranch information of herd locations. The population of coyotes is suspected to have increased; we would like to quantify actual increases.
CFAN: So far, what does the rancher-supplied data concerning sightings indicate?
Dr. Boughton: In general, ranchers all suggest that populations have increased. There is still the unanswered question of how often coyotes directly kill calves. There is no doubt that some have actually seen coyotes kill, but others’ observations suggest that coyotes will spend hours with calves nearby and ignore them. This may be related to the age of calf with a small time window of opportunity for coyotes to be able to successfully attack and kill.
CFAN: What threats could coyotes cause to livestock and life on the ranch?
Dr. Boughton: There is no doubt that coyotes do attack and kill livestock; it is a question of how often. They are likely blamed unfairly for carcasses they have scavenged upon rather than directly killed. How often coyotes are truly to blame is an important question to answer if we are to provide accurate recommendations to ranchers. Is the coyote in the back pasture a real problem or should they be viewed as part of Florida’s amazing wildlife? When coyotes learn that livestock are prey they should be controlled. There is also evidence that apex predators like coyotes suppress raccoon, skunk, possum and rodent numbers, which in turn relieves predation pressure upon nests of important game species like Quail and Turkey. It just depends on how you look at Wile E. Coyote!
CFAN: How will your research possibly help farmers and ranchers?
Dr. Boughton: It will show if coyotes change their behaviors during calving season with the direct intention of disturbing cattle and targeting calves. It will record the time coyotes interact with cattle during calving and non-calving season and allow a fair assessment of their normal behaviors. It will also answer the question of what the increase in coyote numbers may be and if there have been increased cattle-coyote interactions.
CFAN: How can local ranchers report a coyote sighting to you? What information would you like recorded?
Dr. Boughton: We want firsthand observation of coyote-calf interactions and assumed kills by coyotes, but we also want knowledge of carcasses just thought to have been scavenged. If possible, take a picture of the carcass and close-ups of any head or neck wounds, canine puncture wounds, and any footprints nearby. I can be contacted at (863)735-1314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CFAN: What suggestions do you have for ranchers concerning coyotes?
Dr. Boughton: Don’t jump to conclusions. If you don’t have a history of calf death, shooting your resident coyotes will open up the area for a new group with unknown dinner tastes. Better the devil you know. Attempt to understand if a dead calf was killed or scavenged. Killed calves usually have a lot more bleeding, are attacked around the head and often killed by a bite to the ventral side of the neck/throat. Like many predators, the relationship with prey is often dependent on how hard prey is to acquire and if the predator has learned successful capture techniques; this is when problems occur.