To provide a little background----we've had issues with Zephyr, one of our Maremmas, and her hip dysplasia, so we had been bringing the girls in at night when it was going to be cold and wet. Zephyr really paid for it otherwise the next day. Maya got to come in too, because otherwise her jealousy forced her to beat the stuffing out of Zephyr when she re-appeared in the morning. Our house filled with us, two huge dogs, one small one and two cats is another story.
To add to this we had been letting our hungry sheep self-feed---leaving them the barnyard with the gate open to the corridor leading to their pasture. In addition, since the breeding time was over, Studley and his two little wethers, aka "joy toys", were left out 24/7 in one of our pastures. About a month ago, they had been moved from the pasture closest to the house to one a couple of pastures down the corridor.
In all honesty, I confess to our stupidity and laxness. It's why Studley met his demise.
Bob discovered him on morning rounds out in his pasture....and not knowing what else to do buried him. (kudos to him--I couldn't have done it!!) And then we sat back trying to figure out what to do next. Whatever had eaten him, had passed over the two smaller wethers (with MUCH smaller horns) in favor of Studley--the biggest and baddest of our flock. And he/she now not only had the taste of lamb in his brain, but also the ease with which to get a penned up animal versus a deer or elk on the run. Ooops. We might as well have a big neon sign hanging over the farm saying "EAT HERE".
Now we HAD been losing our muscovies---currently we only have one left--Ivan. These ducks never took to going into a house at night, but insisted on total free range: perching on fence posts, houses, etc. As they are the only ducks or geese out here that fly, it seemed ok to be out at night. Proven wrong yet once again! Anyway, I digress...back to the fact that we had been suffering a steady loss of ducks....with no feathers, or remains (at least not up till sweet little Bella whose half-eaten body was left in the front yard). We had attributed our loss to a coyote or bobcat.....as raccoons would have left a mess.
In retrospect, the duck loss was probably the precursor to Studley. This time of year the female mountain lions are pushing their yearlings off to fend for themselves, because they're busy planning for their new litter.... This is where a lot of people think "aw, poor little thing". Right. 80-100 pounds of cat...able to take down an 80 pound 2 year old ram...NOT so little. I took to taking a weapon with me when I was walking in the christmas trees our in the more hidden areas of the farm....but no sight of him.
When this first happened, we had decided to move the daytime sheep quarters to pasture 6--the pasture closest to our living room and the one with the most visibility....and at night bring them into the barnyard. We were going to bring the wethers in and put them into the old dog kennel at night. We gave the dogs access to their side of the barnyard and the orchard area.
Around midnight, about two days after Studley's death, we heard the dogs barking frantically on our (are you ready for this?) baby monitor: one half of which is located right outside the barnyard. We got up and Bob headed out the door with our big car headlight/flashlight. As he was heading out to the barnyard, I heard a sound which stopped me dead in my tracks and had me frantically grabbing for our cats to keep them inside. Mountain lion snarl...twice. (I had never heard one before, but it was unmistakenable!!) By now, Bob was out of earshot and the dogs were busy leading him out to the orchard.....to show him what they were barking at. As I saw the light moving towards the far side of the orchard next to the highway, I heard the snarl again---amazing at how far that sound travels!!! The cougar was definitely pissed....and the dogs were in their element. The trio of sounds was incredible. (What was amazing to me was that Bob, who was right there, never heard the cougar....I was way back at the house!! People are wired SO differently!!)
In what seemed like an eternity, Bob returned to the barnyard with the dogs---which I asked him to keep in the barnyard. Together, in the dark, we managed to round up all of the sheep and lambs and cram them into the barn (tight quarters for 26 sheep!!)....and then left the dogs full access to the barnyard around the barn....and crossed our fingers!
After actually HEARING that cougar (and verifying online that the sound that I had heard WAS indeed a cougar!) we moved into high gear to get local hunters with cat tags out here to get the guy responsible for Studley's death. For two weeks we waited and when noone actually showed up, I gave up and contacted the Oregon Wildlife department. Their trapper came out the next day and we walked the property with him looking for pawprints---evidence of what had been getting our animals. It was fascinating....In one spot, he found a cougar print with a bobcat print inside of it--right next to a coyote's print....all on a path leading down to the river behind the christmas trees. What chilled me though was finding the cougar prints in the pasture that we had had our females and 15 lambs in the day before. It had rained that night and the prints were fresh....and cougars don't limit themselves to night-time hunting--they hunt during the day too.
The trapper set up traps and snares around the farm, in places where the elk and deer wouldn't be in jeopardy and we waited. Nothing for 5 days or so....so he went up on the hill across from our farm where a neighbor had seen a cat sitting on a log scoping out the farm and placed a cat call up there surrounded with traps. He caught him....or what was left of him. A bear or other cougar had been feeding on him. YUCK. It was a young cougar about 5-6' long and about 80-90 pounds.
Now there's a lot of people out there that are TOTALLY against hunting these cats with dogs. What an absolute CROCK!!! Mountain lions are smart with a capital "S". It's so much easier on the cats to hunt them with dogs than to trap them!! If some of these people against using dogs to hunt the cats actually SAW, or at least envisioned an animal caught in a leg trap, or neck snare (where it chokes them to death the harder they pull away) I think that they'd change their minds. I have a friend in New Mexico that hunts cats running on foot with a pack of well-trained dogs. After tracking the cougar down, the end is swift---clean.
In the past, I would say that I was against hunting bear and mountain lion for "sport"--- But I think that since the state has outlawed hunting mountain lions with dogs, their population has skyrocketed....and the small farmers and ranchers are paying for it. Cougars are too hard to catch with a trap and too wily to track on your own without dogs. And I miss Studley. I'll get off of my soapbox now.
As an aside, within another week another young cat, the same size as the first was hit by a truck about a mile down the road. Some people will say that when you lower the population of animals like this more will move in to fill the void so we shouldn't kill them. May be true---but the new ones moving in won't have a taste of lamb rattling around in their mouth!
I'll never look at a mountain lion in a zoo in the same way ever again.