Coyote kill leaves 7 lambs dead, hardship before winter
Washington — Nanne Kennedy, a farmer and fiber artist, walked through a fenced-in paddock behind her home. "That was a beautiful lamb, and this was a good one too," she said, pointing to the merino stock she has been breeding for more than 20 years.
The sheep she referred to were not the lambs standing at attention in her presence — she was talking about the lifeless ones.
"This is devastating to me," she said.
Five lambs were the victims of a coyote attack in the early hours of Dec. 20 that Kennedy considers "sport killing." She said the spring pups are learning to hunt before winter and killed the sheep for practice. Two more died in her barn in the late morning.
Kennedy said she is positive the killings are the result of a coyote attack — a crushed larynx identifying the wild predator. She said dogs will first go for the legs and underbelly.
Kennedy had tended the lambs each day since May.
Most bothersome, she said, is she planned in earnest to keep her sheep safe by installing electric fencing, keeping a large Pyrenees guard dog and housing the most vulnerable in the barn.
She had planned to bring the lambs inside that night, but didn't as she hadn't experienced any problems and felt prepared with the rams also in the enclosure.
One male lamb was injured, but survived and was recovering in a barn stall. He was able to stand and eat by the afternoon.
Kennedy said she has coexisted peacefully with coyotes, describing them as social, smart and beautiful animals.
"I give them enough of an area to hunt and leave fruit trees [coyotes are omnivores] in the woods when I cut logs. They have plenty to eat," she said.
She said she likes to hear coyotes howl and loves wildlife. "I just don't want them to butcher my animals."
"Sheep are so vulnerable," Kennedy said. "They either huddle together to seem like a larger entity, or flee, and the lambs aren't very fast."
The loss equals to about one-third of the spring lambs and Kennedy estimates she has sustained a loss of several thousand dollars. She doesn't have insurance, but was recently inquiring about it. The $500 deductible "would have more than paid for itself," she said.
Each sheep is worth a couple thousand dollars in wool and meat, and the ewes are bred to replenish the herd.
Besides the animal casualty, limited aid and apathy from the state begets further hardship for Kennedy and other animal agriculturalists.
The killings represent a financial tipping point, she said, as she makes her living from the land and her animals.
Kennedy is a fiber artist, producing fine, high-grade wool from sheep she has cross bred to create quality wool.
She makes and sells blankets, sweaters and yarn. She developed a non-toxic solar dye system that uses sea water as a medium. The water is then used as irrigation, a sustainable and recycled method she is proud of.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said she could re-use the amount of water she does now twenty-fold without negatively affecting the land.
All the products she uses come from within a 400-mile radius of her home and she cultivates an indigo flower garden for their bright color. Kennedy is committed to sustainable practices and stewardship of the land.
She said the lack of compensation is devastating, providing no safety net.
The cost of licensing dogs was once designated to reimbursing farmers that lost livestock to domestic dog kills, she said. That funding has since been redirected, which should be reconsidered, said Kennedy.
Another route to provide aid to farmers is a state subsidy for people who raise livestock, especially as Maine is a state of high demand for animal products, she said. The capital, used to cover slaughter costs, would strengthen the industry and allow it to grow.
Kennedy said she wants to create a viable industry in her home state and has worked to accomplish that goal for more than 20 years.
She explained that a system similar to crop insurance through the federal government would be applicable to animal agriculture and be utilized to cover kill losses.
The industry is worth the support, she said. Maine soil is not naturally fit for growing crops due to erosion and high acidity. The need for small animals like sheep and goats is understood by farmers, as the animals add carbon to the soil, she said.
With vegetable production, carbon is taken from the land, and livestock help to replenish the fertility of the soil.
"Resource management, doesn't happen by accident, and it's not free," she said. Adding that to ensure the future of livestock farming, public support is necessary. She is concerned the state will become a monoculture of produce and said the Farm Bill leaves a lot to be desired representing small farms.
There are many positives to livestock farming, such as the diverse landscapes and preserving heritage, she said. "Anyone who eats food or wears wool benefits," she said, and added that animal agriculture embraces the values of Maine.
"You live with the land, not off it," she said.
Courier Publications reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.