The magnitude of predation problems varies enormously among individual sheep operations. Some flocks suffer no predation, whereas others have lost such a substantial percentage of their lambs that some ranchers have given up on the sheep business and sold out (usually converting to cattle or subdivisions). Data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) indicate that over the last several decades, millions of sheep have been lost to wild predators, and certainly many producers cite predation as a major problem for the sheep industry. Each ewe or lamb that is killed typically represents years of careful breeding, economic commitment, and varying degrees of emotional attachment.
Predation by wild animals is clearly a distressing and economically significant problem for many sheep producers, but it is only one of a variety of challenges that face the sheep industry. All predation, according to NASS, amounts to a loss of 3-5% of the sheep and lambs. In 1994 that was 41.8% of all losses. That includes kills by domestic dogs, increasingly significant problems in many areas. Other problems such as weather hazards, disease and birthing difficulties account for a greater portion of the total lamb losses (58.2%).
Consider predation in the context of all the complicated global factors that have contributed to the post World War II decline of the American Sheep Industry. Everything from evolving markets and supplies in China; the Persian Gulf War; the marketing savvy of other meat industries and synthetic fiber manufacturers; drought in Australia and infrastructure logistics in the U.S. have depressed prices and/or demand for lamb and wool. It is much easier to fit a coyote in our rifle sights than those gnarly issues. There is no doubt that predation is real, but if we were to "fix it" tomorrow, the sheep industry would still be in trouble. Perhaps our native predators, because they are local and tangible, have received an undue share of the beleaguered shepherds' frustrations in a threatened industry.
Read on to " Why Should We Care About the American Sheep Industry?" to learn more about the broader context of the predator control controversy.
|THIRTEEN MILE LAMB & WOOL COMPANY
13000 Springhill Road
Belgrade, Montana 59714