Farm Progress

Calf and fawn losses to coyotes still a major concern for Texas ranchers

July 23, 2018

5 Min Read

Times have changed down through the years for farmers and ranchers, from plant and animal genetics to improved animal health practices, modern agriculture has taken great steps toward improving the way we raise and grow our food, employing technology to increase both productivity and profitability.

Some things, however, never change. Livestock can and are still being rustled, and predators like coyotes, mountain lions and, in more recent times, wild hogs, can plague an otherwise successful farm or livestock operation.

Just ask producers in Victoria County and across the entire Crossroads region of south-central Texas.

"Ranchers in these parts are still dealing with predators, especially coyotes," reports Victoria, Texas, rancher Russell Hessler. "I have lost calves to coyotes, as have most of the ranches in Victoria County, and all of us, farmers and ranchers, are having to deal with feral swine rooting up fields and pastures."

Predation reached such a critical point in the region over the last several years that Victoria County commissioners became involved in control efforts, eventually contracting with a professional trapper in an effort to lower predator populations.

"The State of Texas helped out as much as they could and producers became even more active by stepping up control efforts. But coyote and feral swine populations exploded faster than we could control them, and that's when we started asking the county for help," Hessler said.

But with county government feeling pressure last year from lower tax revenues because of a downturn in the regional oil and gas industry, Victoria County's Commissioner's Court was forced to reduce spending, and the predator trapping program was targeted as one area where budget cuts could be realized. The move was not only disheartening to agricultural producers in the county, but many of them flooded into a public meeting to argue how important the trapping program had become to the welfare of their farm and ranch operations.

In an effort to find a compromise on the issue, commissioners agreed to pay half of the trapping program fee if producers could come up with the other half of the needed funds. Hessler says that's when the Victoria Prairie Wildlife Management Association (a non-profit 501C-3 corporation) became involved in the issue.

Hessler, who serves as president of the association, says that so far this year the association, with the help of a number of producers across the county, was able to meet that challenge to raise half the funds needed to sustain the county trapping program. He remains uncertain though how long the support can continue as a result of tough commodity prices and especially in consideration of developing trade barriers.

"But it looks like if we will be able to meet the final quarter's matching fund obligation for this year in support of the trapping program, commissioner's may be in a better position in the new fiscal year to take the program back over. At least that's what producers are hoping for," Hessler said.

Hessler says he runs a cattle operation and also operates a fencing business in the region. He has first-hand experience on the devastating effects of predators on area farms and ranches. In spite of feral swine being very elusive, especially in the daylight hours, he frequently spots large sounders with up to 30 or more swine while he's building fences on ranches and farms across the county.

"I've spotted a lot of wild pigs while working out in the rural areas, and we also have seen feral swine encrouching on urban areas, like the golf courses and neighborhoods in Victoria. Farmers are notoriously targeted by swine that root their crops, and ranchers report heavily damaged pastures," he said.

In addition, he says he is concerned with the feral swine that root on the banks of ponds and rivers in the area because of the diseases they can carry and spread to both domestic animals and to wildlife in the region. Another problems, he reports, is that many ranchers in the area depend heavily on hunting lease revenue, but predator problems include the loss of many fawns among the whitetail deer population. He says that equates to less deer for hunters and potentially less revenue from hunting for property owners.

"As far as coyotoes are concerned, we've seen a major increase in their numbers, but more importantly, the older and smarter ones are taking calves and fawns down on area ranches. These are the ones we are hoping to hunt and eradicate," he added.

He says ranchers have been and continue to do their part to push back on the predator problem, but says the time and even the equipment needed puts them at a disadvantage. While producers will shoot at predators they spot on their property, most predation occurs after the sun sets, and both feral swine and coyote are smart enough to avoid human contact. He says the contract trapper on the other hand, works full time tracking, trapping and hunting these predators and has a much greater success rate, though often times the predators 'outsmart' the hunters.

"We have also received support from Texas Parks and Wildlife. Just last month they brought in a helicopter for a couple of days to hunt wild hogs and managed to bring in about 170 swine."

Hessler says that may sound like a lot of relief, but it actually demonstrates just how many feral swine populate the county.

"We're seeing them everywhere, on golf courses, in neighborhoods and on farms and ranches."

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