Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sheep Being Cruel and Unusual

Back in 2008, I put up a post on this blog entitled Fox From a Shepherd's Point of View in which I noted that fox had almost no impact on sheep and goat populations, while feral and loose dogs of all kind were major stock destroyers.

Back in 2005, citing the research of fox biologist David MacDonald, I noted that foxes do almost no damage to sheep populations.

After spending countless hours observing fox in sheep country, often at night and through infra-red goggles, MacDonald concludes that fox are not very fond of mutton and that they do very little predation on live lambs. Given almost any kind of alternative food source -- rabbits, bird seed, worms, baby birds, fruit or roadkill -- a fox will give sheep a pass. When fox do eat sheep, they tend to focus on already-dead detritus -- sheep testicles that drop off into the field after castrating bands are applied (MacDonald notes that he often finds fox feces containing these same undigested rubber bands), after birth, and even sheep dung from young lambs -- the latter loaded with still-undigested milk products. MacDonald does not deny that fox may kill a few very young (and perhaps already fatally weak) sheep, but such attacks are so rare they have never been filmed and are statistically negligible. MacDonald notes that in the fell and upland regions, where fear of fox predation is highest, sheep mortality is often 25% with many lambs born starving due to over-grazing abetted by a government policy that subsidizes overly-dense sheep production. With ewes in poor feed, and lambs borne wet on cold and windy slopes without shelter, lamb mortality is very high without any fox participation at all. The fact that fox, on occasion, scavenge the already-dead does little harm to the living.

And why do fox do so little damage to sheep?  Well, there is the matter of size!  A fox weighs about 15 pounds, while an adult sheep can tip the scales well north of 120 pounds and a charging ram has no problem tipping my 200-pound self straight over on my ass!

And what about the fox?  See below!


For those who want to see a fox hunting in a Scottish sheep pature, look at the horors of this!

1 comment:

Seahorse said...

I just got a copy of "Running With The Fox" last week, and intend to dive in soon. Fascinating stuff!