I swear any time I change my schedule, something goes really wrong. I drove my son Cass to Laramie yesterday to move him into a dorm for his freshman year at the University of Wyoming. It was a fun but stressful day as I tried not to think about the fact that my son just moved out of my house. I missed him terribly before I even completed the five-hour drive home. Jim fed the dogs for me since I was gone, and I didn’t see my animals all day.
This morning when I entered through the pasture gate, honking my horn to alert the dogs, the dogs did not appear. They usually come bounding out, meeting me alongside the ditch where I feed them every day. Not today. Instead, I could see about 20 ravens swirling and flying along the hillside, not in any one spot. Anytime I see a big group of ravens, I start getting nervous because it usually means a carcass is present.
I couldn’t see any cattle at all, but I could see the sheep along the bank of the river where they were watering. I drove toward the river in a hurry, and as I approached the willows, the two guard dogs came racing out, huffing and agitated. Obviously something was wrong. They didn’t want their food, and didn’t want me to enter the willows where they had just emerged. Rant kept getting in my way, crying and throwing the weight of his body against my thighs. I shoved him away and went through. I saw spatters of blood, part of a sheep rumen, and handful-sized tuffs of bloody wool. I searched and searched, with Rant barking and being aggressive next to me, keeping the sheep and burros away from the area, fussing about me being there.
About 100 yards away, I found a similar kill site – a rumen, tuffs of wool, and a lot of fresh blood. No head, no spine, no ribcage. Two lambs had been killed – I’m guessing each weighed 40-60 pounds. When I breathed in, I could smell blood in the air, but not the smell of a decaying carcass.
And where were the cattle? I realized I was in a willow thicket without a firearm, so went back to the truck and to look for the cattle. I started driving through the pasture, and the cattle (cows and calves) came stampeding out into the open, running for the truck. What the heck? They were glad to see me, but there were about 10 head missing. I realized I needed some help, so I called USDA Wildlife Services. I got lucky, as one of the specialists I know was only about an hour away, and he would stop in to look over the situation as he went by from addressing a wolf predation issue in the northern portion of the county. This was really lucky for me, as Wildlife Services specialists are short-staffed here in western Wyoming, trying to address six different wolf depredation problems at once. We are being over-run with wolf problems in this area, and we thank heavens when Wildlife Services can provide assistance to stop the killing.
By the time the specialist arrived, I had found where the stampeding cattle took out a span of barb-wire fence, including five wooden posts. Something had got those cattle to run through the fence and into the river. I found the missing cattle on an island on the river, and got them put back with the rest of their herd.
With so little to go on, the verdict from the specialist was this predator event was caused by either a bear or a wolf/wolves – something big enough to scare the cattle, and consume two entire lamb carcasses, bones and all. My assumption is that the lambs went to water early and were killed there. When the main herd went to water, accompanied by the dogs and burros, the killing was already history.
Wildlife Services will fly the pasture tomorrow, and search for predators from the air. Here’s hoping for a quiet night.