Chuck Shorter has been fighting to keep coyotes from killing his livestock since at least 1973, “and I’m still fighting them,” he said.
Shorter raises beef cattle and goats in Montgomery County. Until the year he lost 50 lambs to coyotes, he used to raise sheep. He’s also lost livestock to black vultures, which often prey on newborn animals and those giving birth. His farm is not far from the Radford Army Ammunition Plant, home to one of the largest black vulture roosts east of the Mississippi River.
“My place is kind of like Hardee’s when they come over the hill for breakfast,” Shorter noted. “They check me out first.”
Shorter, other farmers and the state’s largest agricultural organization fear state budget cuts will kill a program that’s helped farmers stem and prevent livestock losses to coyotes and black vultures.
Virginia’s Wildlife Damage Cooperative Program provides technical information about coyote and vulture depredation, as well as predator management services on affected farms. The program is jointly funded by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services agency. It was established in 1990 to address coyote depredation and updated in 2016 to include black vultures.
In October 2016, $96,250 was cut from state funding for the program, and all state funding has been eliminated from the proposed fiscal 2018 budget. Such a cut would result in the loss of matching federal funds—and farmers’ access to control methods that can be provided only by the USDA.
“Losing the Wildlife Damage Cooperative Program would pose serious detriment to Virginia’s farmers,” asserted Martha Moore, vice president of governmental relations for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Beef cattle operations produce the state’s No. 2 agricultural commodity and generate cash receipts of $714 million, and the sheep industry historically has struggled to stay viable due to depredation by coyotes and black vultures.”
Farm Bureau is supporting budget amendments introduced by Sen. Frank M. Ruff Jr., R-Clarksville, with the support of Sen. Charles Carrico, R-Galax, and Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin County. Both amendments would restore funding to prevent loss of the program.
In fiscal 2016, Wildlife Services reported, the program provided direct control services to 208 livestock farms in 50 counties. During that fiscal year coyotes killed 316 sheep, 82 calves and 16 goats on those farms.
Scott Barras, state director for Wildlife Services in Virginia, said the state’s coyote population appeared to increase over the past 20 to 30 years. “They seem to be leveling off now. … But you can rest assured that coyotes can be found in any part of Virginia, so this type of predation can occur anywhere.” The same is true for black vultures, he added.
Black vulture kills on farms in fiscal 2016 cost farmers five cows, 37 calves, 19 sheep, 50 lambs, six goats, 160 piglets and one foal.
Shorter has received assistance through the Wildlife Damage Cooperative Program. “I’ve never called them that they didn’t (resolve) my problem,” he noted.
But the predators, he said, are not going anywhere. “They cost you several thousand dollars a year, and you kind of learn to deal with them. But it’s a daily battle.”