During Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, we experienced our first stormy weather during this year's lambing season. We received just over a half inch of rain, and we had lots of wind. I had put the ewes in a paddock which offered lots of shelter, and the ewes and lambs made it through the stormy weather just fine.
As I was making my early morning check of the sheep, however, I realized that both guardian dogs (Buck and Reno) were missing. We'd had a short section of fence blow down, so I wasn't too surprised that they were out. As the morning went on, however, their continued absence was concerning - usually they stay close by and are anxious to get back with their sheep. I finally found them at a neighboring property just before 10 a.m. They were both happy to see me and to be back with the ewes.
Yesterday evening, after I assisted a ewe in delivering a large single lamb, a neighbor on Shanley Hill called me over to our fence to ask about the dogs being out. She has alpacas, and one of her males had been attacked during the night. While the woman was quite friendly, she clearly suspected that the guardian dogs were responsible. Since our dogs have guarded sheep with llamas, I thought this was unlikely, but I asked her to let me know what her veterinarian thought after he examined the alpaca and the signs of the attack in her barn.
The neighbor called me after I got home and reported that the vet thought that a mountain lion had attacked the alpaca. While we've seen coyotes on Shanley Hill, this is the first possible contact with a cougar. I'm hoping that the neighbors contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the county trapper to verify a cougar attack - in the meantime, I'll be more vigilant when I'm on the Hill by myself!
We have always been (and will continue to be) "predator friendly" - which to me means that we try to coexist with the wild predators in our environment. We like to tell our customers that while we are predator-friendly, our guardian dogs are not. Our dogs are the reason we can coexist - they persuade the predators to look elsewhere for their prey. If the attack on Tuesday evening was in fact perpetrated by a mountain lion, I suspect our dogs interrupted the attack and probably saved the alpaca's life.
I once heard the folksinger Utah Phillips, a confirmed pacifist, describe a bar fight. I'm paraphrasing, but he said that a pacifist must decide in the time interval between being punched and hitting the floor whether he'll remain a pacifist. Being predator friendly is similar, I think - my sheep rely on me (and by extension, my guardian dogs) for protection. I guess in many respects I expect the predators to reciprocate my friendly attitude - they need to look elsewhere for a meal! I believe that I have a responsibility to my sheep to ask the proper authorities to deal with a coyote or a cougar that prefers a meal mutton or lamb.
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