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2/9/2005

Missing Tracks

Snow fall can be a challenge for cattlemen, especially when the prairie winds blow. Cattle can survive a lot of what Mother Nature has to throw at them as long as they can get out of the wind. Our most recent snow was one of those gentle kind of snows that remind one of those little shake-‘em-up winter scenes. The snow fell through most of the day yesterday just a pretty as you please and by mid afternoon the sky cleared and a brilliant sun showcased the wonders of winter in extraordinary fashion.  
 
This morning the sun broke onto a magnificent winter landscape. As I broke tracks through the freshly fallen snow I gradually became aware that one of my old friends was nowhere to be found. Wandering through the snow I found tracks of the rabbit, raccoon, Opossum, deer, and others that belong here along with my cattle, but there were no coyote tracks to be found.  
 
In this part of the country the coyote has been plagued with a severe infestation of mange. The animals that come down with it lose most of their hair. For years now I have found the pathetic carcasses of these forlorn creatures after they have succumbed to freezing temperatures. Last winter I happened upon one along a country road. As I drove my pickup near I expected him to run into the ditch and out into the nearby grass, but unexpectedly he turned and ran directly in front of me. With no time to react I drove over him. I’m not sure, but I think he was so miserable that he just decided to end it all right there.  
 
I’m not one of these ranchers that thinks every predator needs to be eliminated. I figure that if that ol’ mamma cow can’t protect her calf from a coyote then she probably doesn’t need to be in my herd anyway. Over the 30 some years that I’ve been raising cattle and at least another 10 or 15 years before that I am only aware of one time that a coyote actually attacked a live calf in our herd. That particular time the cow was paralyzed from birthing and the coyotes moved in close enough to realize there was no danger from her. Even then, we saved the calf. Our cows will generally protect calves from the herd, especially if they bawl out. Not too worried about coyotes.  
 
But, I do remember the 1950’s. At that time the coyote population was hunted to extremely low numbers. Then the rabbit population exploded. Rabbits were eating everything in sight. The government offered a bounty on rabbit ears to prove the kill and everybody was shooting rabbits. Then, Jack rabbits were hunted to near extinction. Even today Jack rabbits are rarely seen. Not so with cottontails. It wasn’t until the coyote population rebounded that the cottontail population came under control.  
 
Now, we are seeing a big die-off of coyotes and I’m wondering what kind of impact it will make this time on the balance of nature. These things tend to run in cycles. Sooner or later the stronger, more resistant coyotes will breed a new robust animal and the balance will return. Lets hope the cycle doesn’t swing too far before that happens. I kinda like that ol’ wiley coyote. 
So Long, 
The Cowboy 

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