BUTTERNUT - When sheep farmers Paul and Judy Canik checked on their pasture on the morning of May 31, their curiosity soon turned to shock.
Story By Ben Meyer
Wolves had killed 17 of the couple's most valuable sheep. They had slaughtered 17 bighorn ewes.
"It was terrible to see them laying there dead like that, torn apart and stuff," Paul said. "They killed them all and never ate [anything]. Just killed them for the fun of it."
"It's almost like they just played with them," added Judy.
The couple has been married for 56 years, and has farmed their land near Butternut for 52 years. They had never seen anything like what they experienced that morning.
"It was just sickening, when you think of how they suffered," Judy said.
Last week, the DNR reported that Wisconsin's wolf population was the highest on record. But since a judge's ruling in 2014, wolves have been on the federal endangered species list, meaning lethal force is off the table to control the wolf population.
Bob Willging, who works SDA Wildlife Services' Rhinelander office, confirmed that the killings on the Canik farm were due to wolves.
"These [were] some of our main breeding stock, right here, for the future," Paul said.
All 17 were a variety of bighorn sheep, being raised to breed and give birth to more bighorns. The Caniks sell the bighorns to hunting clubs and game preserves across America, helping those organizations stock their lands for trophy hunters.
The Caniks' top rams sell for more than $5,000. The breeding ewes, killed by wolves, will cost more than $1,000 apiece to replace, according to Paul.
The DNR is in charge of determining the Caniks' compensation for the wolf killings. No matter what they get, they're still left with one feeling.
"[I'm] very angry, because we belong here, our sheep belong here, our guard dogs belong here," Judy said. "The wolves don't belong here."
"What I would like to see is if you got a group of wolves like is here, eliminate them," Paul added. "The others that stay where they belong and don't [create any] problems, I have no problem with them."
Now, the couple is left to rebuild its flock. And now, any time either Paul or Judy go to check on their sheep, they're wary.
"It's all of the time in your mind, because when we come down to check every morning, we're thinking, 'What are we going to find?" Judy said.
"It just makes our life miserable, is what it does," agreed Paul.
USDA Wildlife Services provided the Canik farm with electrified fencing to keep out wolves. Even so, Paul says he's far from completely confident it will prevent future attacks.