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Sunday, September 06 2015

Each time we have a close encounter with a copperhead, I'm reminded that even in Paradise, God stuck a snake. I thought about this yesterday as I stood over the scene of our first murder.

I knew she was dead when her mother, Snickers, came up to the house with a full udder for the second time. On Day One we told ourselves the baby had been laid down in the forest, and was waiting for her mother to claim her. This is common with deer and cattle, so we weren't alarmed until the second day. Snickers is the last cow I would expect to lose a baby to predators because she will stomp a dog in an instant and mutates into a Cape Water Buffalo the moment she thinks any calf is threatened.

Snickers is meaner than any donkey, so when this cow showed up without her baby and a full bag, it was time to start scanning for buzzards.

And so began the search. Not only did we search our property, but we had to search the properties to the north and south of us because the fences that cross the creek are nothing more than suggestions of a barrier to a cow. Since one band of cattle came in from the south, we loaded up Trace and Cowboy, drove to the creek, and headed south on foot down the dry creek bed.  And that's when we noticed little Trace was tracking cattle. Hmmmmm . . . didn't know he would do that.

We tracked, and tracked, and tracked. Clearly those cattle had roamed quite a ways. Trace tracked them all the way down the creek and then up through the fields where they looped up behind our house. It was an interesting display of Trace's job skills, but we didn't find the calf. So we loaded up the dogs and drove north. And drove. And drove. And got stuck crossing the creek in dry sugar sand. And cussed. And blamed each other. And cussed some more. And got unstuck. And drove some more.

We ran into some hunters who were happy to help look for a dead calf. They also volunteered to fix fence for beer. Alrightie then. So Other Half exchanged the dogs for fencing tools, and a cooler with ice and beer. I stayed at the house doing chores while they bounced off on 4Wheelers in a cloud of red dust. A couple hours later I got a phone call reporting that they found the calf on our ranch, not far from the house. I loaded up Lily and met the men on the road by the creek.

As I rolled up, one of the hunters cautioned me, " Don't go down there. You don't want to see that. It's bad. It's real bad."

I was puzzled, but then I remembered that he was a stranger and didn't know how I used to pay the bills. I assured him that I was a crime scene investigator and I'd be okay. Lily and I began our hike down the creek bed. It didn't take too long to find the body. Getting to it was another matter.  The calf was on the other side of a set of big boulders.

This area was a death trap for cattle. The banks were steep, funneling the prey into the large rocks where the more nimble predators had the advantage.  The sugar sand around the body made reading tracks difficult, but we saw a few large coyote tracks in a wet area by the bank.

There were long scrapes of hide missing from the calf's legs which suggested a frantic, ill-fated trip across the boulders. If the calf was flushed away from the larger cattle into this area the pack could kill her before an enraged mother could rescue the calf.  It was a good night for coyotes.

We are assuming the calf was killed by coyotes, but I suppose it's also possible the coyote tracks we saw were from secondary predators who happened upon a cougar kill. The calf's body didn't display the tooth marks on her back legs or her nose and ears. In fact, I saw no tooth marks at all on her hide, so I suppose it's possible a cougar dropped down and killed the calf.

Their mode of attack is reportedly to drop down from a tree and suffocate the prey by grabbing it by the neck. Although the calf's injuries seemed more consistent with a cougar attack rather than a pack of coyotes, the placement of the body didn't seem consistent with a cougar attack. It wasn't in or around a tree. It wasn't buried.

We'll never know, but last night a neighbor did report that on the night the calf was killed a cougar was seen by someone else on the gravel road just south of where we found the body. Ironically, the cat was headed north. Regardless of whether or not the calf was killed by the cougar or coyotes, the fact remains that the cougar is dangerously close to my sheep and goats.

Despite Briar's appearance, she is all fluff. Briar only weighs 86 lbs.

That's smaller than the average male cougar, so I won't breathe easier until Judge and Jury reach their full size.

They are growing fast, so if we can just tiptoe through this season, by next year, the small livestock will have a pretty impressive security detail.

Until then we will just have to keep the small stock and the dogs near the house where there is safety in numbers and firearms. Here is my plug for those who so strongly advocate gun control. Hubby and I tracked cattle on foot with two small Border Collies yesterday in the exact same forested area where this was seen:

Excuse me if I feel more comfortable with a gun that fires more than six shots. Out here you have little or no cell phone reception in the forest so if a cougar attacks you, your dog, or your husband, you better be ready to deal with it by yourself because 911 ain't coming.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 07:39 am   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
FArming and guns I can see a use for but why is it necessary in an urban setting? I for one am glad of our controls [farmers do have them] and registered shooters but there are limitations and ak47 is one of them. Now we just need to do something about knives....Will the new dogs also be able to patrol the cattle as they do in Africa?
Posted by Liz (Vic Aust. on 09/06/2015 - 06:24 PM
Trace's tracking is so cute. I love it when he gets something right. It's a shame about the calf. I hope Judge & Jury get a growth spurt soon!
Posted by Elissa on 09/09/2015 - 04:15 AM

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