On July 8, my father in law walked down to the sheep pasture to check on the flock, the same way he has for over twenty years. It was a beautiful summer morning, feeling much cooler after a spell of heat and humidity had just ended, but only one ewe greeted him. It was by the grace of God that she was there.
As he began checking fence to see where the sheep might have gone, he saw a sight straight out of our worst nightmares. He started to find the massacred remains of our family’s flock of sheep. This wasn’t my family’s first go around with a wolf kill on the farm, so my father in-law knew what to do.
Less than two hours later, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife adjuster was out and began his investigation and after finding tracks was able to confirm it was a wolf kill.
Imagine waking up one morning and everything that you have worked towards for the last thirty years is gone. In a blink of an eye you have lost over thirty years of genetics. Thirty years of blood, sweat, and tears. Just to be told that there is nothing you can really do about it except fill out some paperwork and wait for a small reimbursement that won’t equal the true value of the animals you lost.
How do you move on? How do you recover?
The days to follow this horrific event were tough to manage. We woke up to see the story spread across local, state and national news outlets. The true pain and hurt came from reading all the comments made by others judging our ability to be farmers and what we should have done or how we could have prevented it. There were even some people denying this actually happened.
The news stations noted that we would be reimbursed for the value of our animals. Last time our ewes were killed, we had to wait over six months to receive compensation. I read comment after comment talking about our farm’s reimbursement – the problem is that while reimbursement is appreciated, it is only a fraction of the actual value of the animals. A typical ewe that is being sold to market is worth roughly $200, but that is pennies on the dollar when you factor in loss of potential offspring, time spent filling out paperwork and dealing with the loss, feed that has already been purchased or grown, meat that would feed our family, etc
After the last wolf kill, it took months to be able to sleep through the night because we constantly worried about the safety of our livestock and family. I don’t anticipate being able to sleep with both eyes closed for many years.
Currently, gray wolves are listed as an endangered species and protected under federal regulation, so we have very limited options that are effective at protecting livestock from wolf kills. According to studies from the Wisconsin DNR, our state’s current wolf population is nearly three times the size of the population goal set for the state. It is time to return population management back to the Wisconsin DNR for the health of the wolves and the safety of our livestock and rural families like mine.
Even though our family has experienced a detrimental loss, we are not asking for wolves to be eliminated. We understand wolves have an important place in our ecosystem. What we are asking for is that gray wolves to be removed from the Endangered Species List so they can be appropriately managed and we have the ability to protect ourselves and our livestock. We hope that someday our young daughter can play outside, explore nature and do all the things we grew up doing without fear. That someday we can find restful sleep, that we can go on a vacation without the fear of what could happen if we are gone overnight.
My story is not unique to my family. There are other Wisconsin farm families dealing with these same challenges.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting comments on delisting gray wolves from the Endangered Species List through Monday, July 15. Comments can be submitted online at www.fws.gov/home/wolfrecovery/.
Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts on why this needs to happen.
I have already shared my story and hope you will join me. If you don’t have a personal story to share, feel free to share mine. I don’t want my nightmare to also be yours.
Ashleigh Calaway serves as the District 8 Coordinator for Wisconsin Farm Bureau. Ashleigh and her husband, along with her husband’s family, raise beef cattle and sheep in northern Wisconsin. They are also proud parents to their daughter.
Teena Lynn says
My heart breaks for you. And for our industry.
All the programs the ASI and ag dept support are for no good. ANIMAL DAMAGE CONTROL should be the single focus of our industry. Coyotes and mountain lions where I live. Wolves have been sighted. My neighbor just called terribly upset . They turned to pasture 120 lambs and have only 25 left.
This is the slow silent killer of our Sheep Industry. Producers can’t stand the losses – financially or mentally. Watching what you have spend years building genetically, working each animal to grow it to its fullest potential, be ripped up is a very real PTSD. AND there is no recourse. So another producer buys more cattle.
Will anyone in a power position really listen?
Fellow shepherd says
Your loss is devastating and understandable you want some action taken. I didn’t see any reference to verification that it was indeed a wolf kill rather than wild dogs, coy dogs or other predators. Biologists assert that wolves only kill for food rather than sport which other canids have been known to do. How do you know with absolute certainty it was a wolf attack? It seems all other possibilities should be ruled out before demanding recompensatory action on a whole population.
Glenn Rummler says
I live in southern Wisconsin and a couple summers ago a cougar took up residence in my wooded pasture. My beef herd went in to graze one day, and the rest of summer I had to feed baled hay, no compensation for that. At least I didn’t have an animal killed. But did the cougars just happen to wander back to Wisconsin?
Brenda Poling says
Thank you for educating us that aren’t from your area. My heartfelt sympathy for your loss.
I thank God that your father wasn’t out there when this was actively happening. Thankful for his safety! Is that what it’s going to take before the government steps in? Do the wolves have to attack a person??? Let’s just pray that that never happens. I pray your officials get their heads out of their butts and do what’s right before anyone else has to suffer terrible losses.
Wow, what a trauma you have been through and I’m sorry also that you’ve had to deal with people” blaming the victim”, awful when humans turn on each other online, where it is so anonymous and cowardly.
You make a very reasoned argument that wolves have their place in nature, but there are now too many. (But unfortunately some of the hunters cause big problems to land owners with their roaming pack of hunting dogs and lack of respect for safety on the roads, parking anywhere in the road, etc). So let’s be smart about how to proceed, take them off the endangered list, but perhaps it should be Landowners who should do the hunting, not out of area, or even out of state hunters who do so.
A question: in our area we appear to have Coy-Wolves, likely also interbred with Dogs. I have read that this is common across the US. Humans breeding wolf dogs is a huge problem because they lack the fear of humans and thus are much more bold. So what happens if someone shoots an animal thinking it is a coyote, and it is some mixture of canines?
Donna Kline-Tekippe says
There are way many more wolves than the DNR is willing to admit to. We even see them in the daylight hours walking across our fields. My Mom watched a black wolf mate with a grey wolf right out in her field It is not safe for young children to be outside here on the farm by themselves. They should be taken off of the endangered list, they are way more wolves out here then they admit to. Nearby farmers have had cattle killed. And these wolves do it for sport not food!.
I hunted the Tomahawk area this year and I saw more wolves the deer.
I am very sorry for your loss. But even if they bring the number of wolves down won’t they still be a threat to the sheep (an easy meal)?
Have you looked into Livestock Guardian dogs? They are bred to live with their flock, even in WI winters, and protect them from attacks. There are many different breeds that have different traits. Some do better against smaller predators, like coyotes, while other can take on wolves and even bears.
Yes, it is an added expense but you have the peace of knowing your animals are being protected 24/7.
Lee M Kissinger says
This family lost everything they had due to management of the DNR ( Department of No Results)
As a livestock producer. if I had one of my animals killed or being maimed It would not take me long to decide what was going to happen in short order! As farmers we are all treated as second class citizens we are in the way on the roads, the smells people do not like we are uneducated that is why we farm because any idiot can be a farmer( if I had a dime for every time I heard that I wouldn’t need to farm) And when a situation like this arises we are left to suck it up too.We do not have pockets deep enough to stand the loss of a whole herd or flock of breeding animals. At that point our bread and butter gone! Just so we can save the natural predators or so someone can feel warm and fuzzy when they see one?. Go and tell that to a banker when he comes looking for the money for a loan payment! When you start to put the importance on feeling good about something over the lives of the people who suffer a terrible loss to the point of possibly loosing there business something is wrong with the system. This is what is wrong with government in general. If you sequel loud enough you can get whatever you want on someone else’s dime while the working people who rarely ask for anything are hit by another problem. This family has been changed for life and need to be helped in more than aspirin kind of way! If this is such a rare occurrence there should not be any problem providing restitution for what they have lost If it is actually happening more, and we are not being made aware of it, and that turns out to be the reason they are unwilling to pay what the claim is worth,Then the problem needs to be dealt with and the population of these predatory animals needs to be reduced to levels where they are no longer a problem. This is not the wild west anymore you don’t take the life’s work of anyone and intentionally harm them. This what the wildlife management department signed up for now you need to stand behind what you have done.
We too own property in Wisconsin and the gray wolves definitely need to be removed from endangered listing.
I agree, wolves need to be takenoff the endangered species list! We have a cabin in northern Wisconsin and wolves are a large issue. We have taked to a lot of different farms in norther Wisconsin with very similar stories as this!
I think that wolves are a very beautiful animal and do play an important role, however i too beleive they are getting out of hand and it makes it very difficult for farmers to protect their precious livestock and family pets!
Trish Kieckhafer says
We are so sorry for your loss of livelihood and peace of mind. Thank you for sharing your story.
Heidi Slinkman says
Thank you for sharing your story & how we can act to help farmers like your family!
Cal Dalton says
I feel your pain after losing several Beef calves and a guard donkey to wolves last July we had fish and wildlife confirm a wolf kill it took 6 months to to be compensated We lost another calf this spring new born you could see the drag marks in the hay field 3 days later they called back with no body no loss