My Coyote ... friend? Eek!

As you may have guessed from my preferred choice of dog companion, I'm kinda in love coyotes and wolf-like creatures. (PSA. Neither of my dogs has any "wolf blood". They are 100% doggy breeds. They just look and act like wild things, as I prefer it.)

"Sister Lyra, we don't look that much like coyotes? Right? Right?!"

Due to my long-time love and respect for wild canines, I was really excited when a family of coyotes made a den next door to the farm this spring. Growing up in the Midwest, I'd seen (and heard!) plenty of coyotes. However, coyotes are quite notoriously shy. All my encounters were from quite far away.

This year, all that changed. The area in and around DC has experienced an explosion in the coyote population. Hell, this year a coyote was even spotted on the National Mall.

#just2020things

So, that family of coyotes at the farm? Yeah, they've become a regular visitor in my barn life. In February, a coyote trailed Bast and my dogs on a ride. We came a little too close to the den, and he wanted to make sure we were properly escorted out of the area. That's pretty normal behavior for a coyote during denning season, and isn't necessarily problematic. I made sure the dogs and I stayed together and quickly moved out of the area. I considered myself lucky to have experienced such an encounter, and hoped that would be it.

"Plz leave now." -- Coyote sentry #1

Then the pups grew up.

By late summer, we started seeing more and more coyotes (or, likely, the same ones more frequently). They didn't seem to be very afraid of people or dogs. We caught glimpses of them crossing the property in the mornings and evenings, and noticed a decline in the local fox population. (Coyotes will kill or drive away foxes in their territory.)

In the last few weeks, things have really come to a head. The horses in field board have started acting like they've been bothered by coyotes. While Bast and Pig's field is surrounded mostly by fencing difficult for coyotes to access, it seems something has been scaring them from the nearby treeline. I have seen a lot of coyote activity in that area myself, and my dogs alert me to evidence of coyotes there as well.

"Hey mom. They're in those trees..."

Finally things reached a head, when we were followed for over a mile by a very curious young coyote. We were walking around a field alongside the farm, when Bast got a bit spooked. Something out of sight was making him nervous. After a bit, he settled in and walked out confidently. Imagine my surprise when I turned around to see a coyote trotting along about 20 meters behind us! My silly horse is apparently only afraid of coyotes he can't see! I guess I've done a great job making him "dog broke".

That is not one of my dogs. Though seems like he'd like to be.

This coyote didn't seem to be aggressive in any way, in fact he came across as incredibly curious and playful. He alternated between 50 and 10 meters from the back of my horse, completely unafraid. My dogs knew he was there, but are trained to leave strange dogs alone. They stuck to their training, and largely ignored the 'yote. As we went along, I made sure to keep myself and Bast between the coyote and the dogs. I also turned around occasionally to talk loudly at the coyote, trying to encourage him to shove off.

Hoping the wild thing would fall back, we turned onto the main barn property. Unfortunately he didn't leave. He was stuck to us like glue!

I see my very good dogs, my saint of a horse, the farm fencing, and ... a fearless coyote.

At this point I called the barn manager and asked her to help me run the coyote off. His lack of fear worried me. I didn't want my dogs to get tangled with him, and I didn't want him to think it was okay to be on the property like this. This much lack of fear in a coyote is bad news. It's how they get themselves in trouble and end up getting killed.

The manager showed up with another staff member. They tried scaring the coyote away by driving towards it with the Kubota, while honking the horn and making noise. The 'yote was 0% buying their feint. He almost looked like he was having great fun playing this new game. I called her back over with another suggestion that ended up solving the issue.

I suggested the manager hold my dogs. Once she had their collars, I picked up the reins and picked up a canter. And, that's the story of how Bast and I ended up chasing a coyote through the brush for a half mile, with pricked ears and trilling screams on our part. Adventure over.

Such a good little cow-horse. I think I'll keep him.

In the following days, the barn saw continued coyote visits. Right now, we're experimenting with a few control methods for the coyotes. Foxhunting season is picking up, so the hunt has been asked/allowed to ride through our property (not just around it). Fingers crossed repeated harassment by packs of big hounds and riders on horseback can teach these young coyotes a healthy fear of humans and their animals. There's plenty of space and resources out here for the coyotes and people to exist without coming into contact. We're an attractive place for them, and need to make our property less comfortable.

A couple of notes on coyotes and their behavior:
  1.  Seeing a coyote in the daytime or a coyote that doesn't immediately run away is not a sign of rabies. Coyotes are not purely nocturnal. While coyotes can be rabies vectors, simply seeing one like this doesn't necessarily indicate rabies. The fact that the coyote was able to be scared off was a good sign. Rabid animals often move strangely, staggering, weaving or otherwise appearing confused. They can also look scared. A calm or playful animal like this is not likely to have rabies. However, always be alert and aware when in areas with coyotes. Even if they don't have rabies, you don't want them in your business. They are unpredictable and wild. Never try to engage with a coyote, even if it appears to be struggling or sick.
  2. Never allow pets to come near coyotes. They also often consider dogs to be threats, and will kill them. I've heard of coyotes initiating play with a larger dog to lure them closer to the pack, where the dog is killed. Dogs and coyotes aren't friends. Please keep your dog under control at all times around coyotes, for their safety. My dogs wear e-collars, which has saved their lives in many situations like this by maintaining my recall control. I also never allow my dogs wander without supervision. Always vaccinate your pets for rabies.
  3. Coyotes can harass horses, but typically pose no harm to them. A coyote is relatively small, weighing between 30-45 pounds. They're about the same size as my dogs. As a pack, they can be more trouble. However, as a pack they are more danger to deer than horses. My horses' spooky behavior frequently alerts me to the presence of coyotes, but I have never had an issue with a coyote injuring my horses in any way. I have heard that foals or horses with mobility issues can be more at risk. In this area, prey is plentiful. A coyote would need to be quite desperate to take on a healthy adult horse.

Comments

  1. So cool! I love having unexpected (safe!) encounters with wildlife!

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  2. Coyotes come into our barn area all the time - it's unfortunately a side affect of habitat encroachment (through housing development) and a readily available food source of rabbits and squirrels fattened on horse grain leavings and hay lol.

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  3. I think this is my favorite post on your blog, ever. We have a pack of coyotes behind our farm, and I love hearing them yipping and "singing" behind the pastures. They don't bother the horses at all and are very skittish of people. Just the scent of our dogs seems to keep them out of our yard, though we see them on trail cam regularly. When lock down first started, people in the valley started freaking out and posting on social media about coyotes being out and about in the day. I chimed in to point out that they've always been around, and that I see them regularly on my drives. It's the HUMANS who aren't normally around during the day time to see them!! Thanks for sharing your really cool story and tips for how to safely co-exist with coyotes. They shouldnt' be feared, but they do need to be respected (and kept out of bounds when they get too bold).

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  4. Thanks for the great post! We have coyotes that come on our land a lot. I 've never seen them, but can hear them and see their scat. We are just careful to lock up our sheep and chickens at night. I'm confident they won't bother the horses. Some neighbors don't like them, but I'm more worried about loose dogs in our area coming onto our property and killing our sheep. That's the most likely culprit!

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