CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mae and Wayne Waggy raise sheep, poultry and cattle on their 670-acre Pendleton County farm, which has been continuously operating since Wayne's family purchased the land in 1901.
The farm might not be in business, however, without help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's predator control program.
Twenty years ago, coyotes had nearly driven the Waggys out of the sheep business.
The predators first began killing the flock in 1984. The problem grew worse over the next decade, until coyotes had nearly wiped out their flock. They killed 75 of the family's 330 lambs in 1995 alone, plus 10 ewes and a calf.
"It just took so much of the profit, and it kept getting worse. It didn't matter what we did," Mae Waggy said.
But then USDA Wildlife Services employees moved in and helped the Waggys develop a plan for managing their coyote problem. Livestock deaths dropped precipitously.
There are many more farmers with similar stories to tell. Last year, the program helped 174 livestock producers across West Virginia protect their farms against predators and lost profits.
The program is now facing threats of its own.
Although the program is run by the federal government, it is funded by the state Department of Agriculture, and department officials are recommending Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin remove the program's funding as part of a new round of proposed budget cuts.
Spokesman Butch Antolini said Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick thought it was best to focus the department's limited funding on programs that more directly benefit humans, like meat inspection, animal health and food supply regulations.
But Mae Waggy said ending the predator control program would be a big blow to state farmers.
"If it didn't exist, it would be totally devastating for the livestock producers of West Virginia," she said.
Joe Aucremanne, 61, began raising sheep on his farm near Hinton in the early 1980s. It has been a profitable business for most of that time, except when predators have attacked his herd.
His biggest problem used to be free-ranging and wild dogs, until coyotes moved in about 10 years ago.
He said the coyotes ignored his sheep at first, because they were living on small game and deer. They eventually killed off all the groundhogs, foxes and deer around the farm, however, and began attacking the livestock.
Aucremanne tried everything to fend off the predators.
He bought a Great Pyrenees, but the dog did little to scare off the coyotes. He kept the sheep in corrals surrounded by high quality woven-wire fencing. The coyotes just burrowed underneath, like convicts breaking out of jail.
"I couldn't believe it," he said. "Coyotes are sneaky critters."
Aucremanne said the attacks prevented him from expanding his business.
"Every time I'd build it up, something would come along and eat them," he said.
Then, in early 2008, Wildlife Services spent two months on the farm. They found where the coyotes were coming from and identified the paths they were using to get into Aucremanne's farm. Workers set up snares and special traps known as M44s, which dispense a cyanide-based poison gas designed to kill coyotes.
"I thought it was just a wonderful thing. It really cut back on the coyote problem," Aucremanne said.
He lost about two dozen sheep in the three years before Wildlife Services' visit to his farm, but coyotes have only killed one of his sheep in the last five years.
Like Aucremanne, the Waggys were nearly at wits' end when they began receiving help from the program.
The family tried bringing the sheep closer to their house each evening, but that wasn't a long-term solution. They brought in donkeys to protect the flock, but that didn't seem to help
Neighbors began trying to hunt the coyotes, staying up all night in the barn to wait for the varmints. Waggy said they rarely saw any coyotes. The predators just waited until the humans returned home before attacking the livestock.
One farmer came up with a special collar for the sheep, made from carpet and scented with a coyote repellant. That worked for a while, but the collars had to be re-scented often and the coyotes eventually became used to the scent.
The Waggys began working with Wildlife Services in 1996 and now seldom lose more than eight lambs per year. Coyotes took 25 lambs in 2012, but Mae Waggy said that was the worst year in almost two decades.
John Forbes, state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services, said the predator control program is an important resource for many of the state's sheep, goat and cattle producers
"The elimination of this program, in my opinion, would be devastating to many of them," he said.
It also would affect Forbes' office.
Although Antolini said the state Department of Agriculture would not lose any positions from budget cuts, Forbes said his office likely would be forced to lay off three or four full-time employees if the cuts are approved.
The predator control program was once mostly funded with federal money, although the state Department of Agriculture provided some supplementary dollars.