MASON COVE, Va. (WFXR) — Predation on livestock, poultry, and crops costs U.S. farmers millions of dollars every year. That cost is passed on to consumers when they buy food.

As predator numbers have risen in Virginia, especially coyotes, the number of farm animals has risen, too. Some farmers have turned to trappers to help them with their predator issues.

“That’s a coyote track,” said Samuel Catterton of Catterton & Sons Wildlife Nuisance Specialist as he walked a farm property in Roanoke County where his services are employed.

Catterton says his primary job is protecting farm animals and livestock, but it is also about helping predators to thrive. That means reaching a balance between predators and prey.

“If you have a healthy predator population and prey population, the whole ecosystem thrives better,” said Catterton. “In areas we control the population or attempt to control the population, not wipe it out because we love a healthy ecosystem.”

According to wildlife experts, the most common predators in Virginia are coyotes, raccoons, opossums, and foxes. The trapping industry is highly regulated, and trappers are required to practice their trade ethically and humanely. For Catterton, that is not a problem. He is an avid outdoorsman and conservationist who loves wildlife.

“We have check laws, we have to maintain our stuff,” Catterton said as he bent to look at another animal track on a trail. “We put in the work to make sure these traps work correctly, efficiently, and ethically. We don’t want an animal hurt, we don’t, and that’s the bottom line of it.”

Most of the farm animals taken by predators are either young, like calves or lambs, or they are defenseless like poultry. Farmers can face losses of $300 per each animal predators kill.

Farmers can also help. Land management practices which encourage small game and deer on some parcels can actually help keep predation kills down. Small game like rabbits and squirrels, as well as deer, can provide predators with an ample food source so that they are not as likely to become dependent on livestock and poultry.

Dogs are also beneficial. They can be trained to protect livestock, poultry, and crops to keep predators away.