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A coyote prowls the Saskatchewan Prairie somewhere between Kerrobert and Kindersley. ((Submitted by Vera Csada))

The Saskatchewan government is offering a $20 bounty on every coyote killed.

Agriculture Minister Bob Bjornerud announced the bounty Tuesday as part of the Saskatchewan Coyote Control Program.

The program is to help farmers and ranchers who are having trouble with coyotes killing their livestock.

Coyotes have been a perennial problem in rural Saskatchewan, but the situation has been getting worse in recent years, Bjornerud said.

"Producers … have coyotes coming right in their yards and mixing with their cattle right now," Bjornerud said. "It's dangerous out there for farm families that have little kids and that, when they are coming right into the yards. In some cases. they are taking the yard dog and leading him out of the yard and killing him."

A trial version of the program will run until March 31, 2010. After that, the province will look at extending the bounty.

Groups representing cattle and sheep farmers said they were pleased with the announcement.

Ed Bothner, who raises cattle near Beechy, said the coyotes became a serious problem when chronic wasting disease decimated the deer population in the area.

Now he loses part of his herd every spring during calving season. Still, Bothner has mixed feelings about the bounty, noting that coyotes also do some good.

"For one thing, they keep the gopher population under control," he said. "They keep rats from migrating."

Colleen Sawyer, a sheep producer near Saskatoon, also has a grudging admiration for the coyotes, describing them as one of the most cunning animals she has encountered.

However, she also says they have devastated the sheep industry.

On Sawyer's farm, they were responsible for the death of 13 purebred ewes.

"They'll pull at them and pull flesh off them," she said. "Quite often, [they'll] bite around the back and the udder will be opened up."

There will be no limit to the number coyotes on which the province will pay a bounty, but there will have to be proof of the kill, Bjornerud said.

For proof, the paws of the animal will have to be submitted, he said.