Monthly Archives: September 2012

Practice with Coyotes

Certain topics of ranch life are seldom shared with the public, but risking to offend the politically correct, I offer our ‘Practice with Coyotes’.

May 26, 2007

A couple of decades or more ago, I took a page from Dayton Hyde’s book, Don Coyote, and let the coyotes on the ranch alone, hoping their population would stabilize to fit our rodent population. We ran stockers then to help cover the expenses of our cow herd, and the coyote’s threat to our commercial calves was minimal, in part because our mother cows were a diluted heterosis of Hereford, Angus, Brahma and Longhorn mix that could fend for themselves and their calves. In those days, we really didn’t have a breeding program. We bought good bulls and our good mothers stayed, but their multicolored and uneven calves became increasingly difficult to market.

Though I admire Hyde’s experience and philosophy, I haven’t convinced the coyotes to leave our small Wagyu-cross calves alone. From a coyote’s perspective, a pasture scattered with first-calf heifers and sleeping, fifty-pound calves does not go unnoticed. Thirty to forty pounds lighter than our straight English calves, the Wagyu bulls allow us to breed yearling heifers instead of two-year olds, but the Wagyu-cross babies are too tempting for even the shyest coyote.

Primarily tied to the rodent population, ground squirrels, gophers and mice, coyotes also clean-up carrion that limits potential diseases on ranchlands. Between the feral hogs and coyotes, the eagles and vultures, a wild or domestic carcass doesn’t last long. But ultimately, it is the variables of winter temperatures and rain, grass growth and seed that dictate our rodent, and hence the coyote’s, population.

From an economic standpoint, a Wagyu-cross calf can generate $800-900 seven months after it’s born. The extra costs associated with breeding a yearling heifer, keeping her in shape to raise her calf and breed back again might total $500-600. Each heifer that loses a calf can get costly in a hurry.

Daring to play coyote psychologist, we don’t want our calves to become the new main course, our calving fields the easiest place to go for a free meal, so we discourage their presence by beginning in August, a month before calving, with a rifle. We tend to leave the coyotes alone by January, as most our calves are big enough by then to take care of themselves.

So what do I know? What seems to be our impact on the coyote population? Depending upon our competence with a gun, I’d like to believe that we have become part of the natural selection of the coyote, eliminating the slower and more naïve individuals, and educating the rest. 60-70% of my 15-20 coyote kills in August are juveniles, almost full-grown, but most of which would probably not kill a calf in the year they were born. By the end of September, I might shoot five more, almost all adults, and maybe five more adults by December, by which time the juveniles look like adults, especially with longer hair.

Over the past decade, the coyote population remains vibrant, vacillating with weather conditions and food supply. At no time have I entertained the notion that I have truly impacted their numbers, though I do believe I have discouraged their presence in certain pastures, which is what I’ve intended.

Looking back at the days when the use of 1080 squirrel poison was commonplace, we may have had less coyotes. But it also seems in the 1960s that we had many times more ground squirrels, despite the poison’s 95% success rate. Because 1080 would also kill other species that might consume the poison-coated grain, retained in the carcass, it would also kill whatever fed upon the carcass before it became illegal to employ. This was especially good for the coyote.

Comfortable in town and Valley orchards, the coyote may be one of our most adaptable species, and most admirable in these quickly changing times. Even the Native Wukchumni identified with the coyote, a clever symbol of self-reliance and survival that yet endures here.

Additional reading: New York Times, September 27, 2010


                                    With history.
                                    It’s quiet here.
– James Galvin (“Little Anthem”)

We need not name the places, but
to jog the memory where my spring box lid
of two-by-eights and twenty penny nails

fit roughly against more mortar and rock
to keep the leaves out of a cool, dark cave—
but not the rattlesnakes. The lid and rock

are gone, like the Pohots, small pond below
now for the livestock. Not the spring
with the galvanized tank plumbed to missing

little houses wallpapered with newspaper
and glossy, 1940 detective mags—beneath
a Live Oak, it always had a longer name.


No eternal rest amid self-righteous throngs
sipping ambrosia within alabaster walls, no
Maxfield Parrish reflection pools beyond

the finish line. I dawdle, instead, like a child
lost in discovery, back when we walked
to school, pockets full of lucky things.

Somewhere in the hazy middle of the race,
the urgent brain beat softens with the flesh
to take up bird songs and wildflowers—

those delicate and fleeting magnificences
that will outlast our pious imperatives,
slogans turned to draw mindless stampedes

to hungry bone piles. The immortal yet live
and work among the leaves of grass, and
not contained between my hat and boots.

Into Fall

Though we’re past the Autumnal Equinox and the days are noticeably shorter, summer temperatures persist. Yesterday’s high was 99 degrees. Most of the Wagyu X calves above find shade by early morning.


Missing from the bunch of sixty,
somewhere off to herself to calve
for the first time, dilated weeks

before the light contractions,
tightening without notice
growing to seize her flesh.

She left sometime yesterday
to become a mother, bring him out
of the trees and rocks, moving

slowly, stopping to let him suck,
then meander across the cobbles
of the creek bed pausing

while he caught up to the shadows
of oaks and sycamores. Now
a perfect, black white-faced cow.


1240’s calf

The coyotes got off with another Wagyu tail in the pasture around the house. 1006’s calf was born and lost his tail while we were in Tahoe. 1240’s calf is healing. I’ll have my eyes peeled this morning.


I was fishing in my dream on a river,
wading thigh-high in tennis shoes and levis,
fly rod bowed, German Brown dancing on his tail.

I could not feel my toes pinched between boulders
and cobbles, nor the current, nor my knees braced
bone to bone as I cast again to catch a rainbow.

Fat hungry trout on a gray river, round rocks held
in the cutbank, canopy of dogwoods, cedar and pine—
pure delight behind an old man’s eyes searching

the next riffle and eddy, reading water beneath,
moving upstream with the grace of a heron, patiently
in my sleep—a final cut edited for prime time.


A deep blue you can see
ten-feet through
from high in the Sierras,

little towns trickling down
canyons, grassy ranches
slipping into the churn

of the Valley burning
outwards, bursts of yellow
equipment on freeways

singing with truckloads
on the Delta—four lane
busyness as usual.

Perhaps erosion only
slows amid the panic
of the guilty—as the

chubby turn hungry
when all the icing on
their birthday cake is gone.

Trip to Tahoe

Robbin and I headed to Lake Tahoe for a Western Folklife Board Meeting at the Thunderbird Lodge, taking State Route 88 over Carson Pass where a historical landmark exists at the spot where Kit Carson inscribed his name in a tree in 1844. Our meeting was held in the Thunderbird Lodge built by George Whittell in 1936, currently owned by the Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society administered by WFC Board Member Bill Watson. We even got to ride on the fifty-five foot Thunderbird yacht built to Whittell’s specifications and driven by two 1,100 hp. engines.

After the Board Meeting, Robbin and I drove north through Lassen National Forest to Loren Mrnak’s ranch, and then came home south through Santa Cruz to see our granddaughter Elsie. We met the ‘old man tree’ each time we stepped out of our room at The Inn at Pasatiempo. Good to be home.


1240 – September 11, 2011

1240 – September 11, 2012

I was a little concerned Monday morning when I made my rounds of the first-calf heifers, 1240 leaving her brand-new Wagyu X calf right where she’d had it to be with the rest of the heifers. Tuesday morning I found her in the same place with four other concerned cows, the calf having just escaped a coyote less than an hour before, but without the end of his tail.

Our selection process for replacement heifers requires fertility that is established by the Wagyu bulls when the heifers are yearlings. If they are bred and can have the calf, we note the good and mediocre mothers as they raise their calves. As this calf is just now getting its breakfast in the photo, 1240 apparently had left it in the same place, scent of afterbirth upon the grass, to graze and socialize. As the cows were still surrounding the pair when I arrived, the coyote hadn’t been gone long. 1240 gets poor marks for judgment. Whether she redeems herself as a mother depends on whether she’s learned to be more attentive to her calf. Just like humans, the ability to have a calf doesn’t necessarily mean that she’ll be a good mother.