Date of Award:
Master of Science (MS)
Michael R. Conover
Shandra N. Frey
Much of the decline of the U.S. sheep industry has been attributed to losses caused by predators. Most predatory losses are inflicted on lambs rather than ewes. Losses have historically ranged from 4-8% of lamb crops, inflicting significant financial loss on ranchers. However, most research providing data on sheep predation is over 20 years old. Changes in the sheep industry as well as predation rates may make previous loss rates inapplicable to current conditions. Coyotes (Canis latrans) are the primary predator of concern when it comes to sheep losses, but increasingly, cougars (Felis concolor) and black bears (Ursus americanus) are reported to be responsible for an increased proportion of lamb losses. I replicated a sheep depredation study conducted during the early 1970s in southwestern Utah and compared the results of the two studies to reassess losses and the predator species responsible for those losses.
Total lamb losses to all causes in my study were comparable to losses reported in the 1970s as well as categories of verified and estimated predator losses. There was a significant variation in lamb losses between the 2 years of my study due to an increase in predator kills on sheep. Cougar and bear depredations occurred at significantly higher rates during my study than during the 1970s but did not produce an additive effect to overall predator losses.
Most lambs killed by predators were located on or near pasture bed grounds as reported by other studies, but a large number were found >500 m from bed grounds. Rough terrain and scavenging by California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) made location of missing sheep difficult. The ability of cougars and bears to remove sheep carcasses from kill sites made the finding of sheep carcasses more difficult and caused an underreporting of sheep killed by these predators. I found that the loss of sheep to predation continues to be a problem for the sheep industry and its magnitude was unchanged from historic predation levels.
Palmer, Brian C., "Predation on Domestic Sheep on Summer Range Lands in Southwestern Utah" (2009). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 362.
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