It’s all about preventative measures. If they kill once they will kill again. Here are management practices to help stop that from happening.
Protecting livestock from predators is an age-old challenge. Depending on geography and livestock type, predators can range from foxes getting into chicken coops to wolves killing calves. With coyotes cruising the streets of Manhattan and wolf and grizzly bear populations recovering in many western states, predation challenges can affect urban backyard farmers and rural producers alike. Predation by sheep, goats and cattle costs livestock producers about $120 million dollars annually, in addition to a whole lot of heartache. As a result, understanding how to ward off predators is an important endeavor for a farm of any size.
How, you ask?
Livestock are less flighty, beefed-up versions of their wild ancestors and, as a result, are inherently attractive to predators. However, hunting domestic animals often requires that predators learn new behaviors. For example, a red fox must first overcome his innate wariness of unfamiliar prey that doesn’t respond in the way he expects, so he will explore with caution, investigating, sniffing, poking and testing before going in for the kill. Once the fox has conquered this novelty and been rewarded with an easy chicken dinner, he has learned a behavior that may contribute to future preferences and will be quicker to display the behavior moving forward.
How much quicker?
Recent research in Applied Animal Behaviour Science found evidence that preventing predators from learning about livestock may be more effective than responding to predation after it has occurred. The study, which used wolves as its research species, demonstrated that animals with previous experience receiving a reward from an unsecured container investigated future secured containers 11 times faster. After their initial investigation, wolves with experience started biting, tugging and chewing to get the reward from a secured container four times faster than those with no previous experience.
With the concept of preventive action in mind, here’s a rundown of some handy tools and practices that can be used to mitigate conflict based on a farm’s scale, type of livestock and predator du jour.
Before diving into the nitty-gritty, a good first step is to capitalize on management practices that might already be part of the modern farmer’s daily routine. Intensive rotational grazing, shed lambing, putting free-range chickens up for the night and running your livestock in “flerds” all fit this bill. Overall, the more intensively livestock is managed, the smaller area that livestock occupies. Also, the more secure night-time enclosures are, the easier it is to protect charges with the help of a variety of tools to further dissuade predators.
A simple way to protect small spaces, such as chicken coops and rabbit hutches, is to use motion-sensor floodlights. Solar-powered lights can be useful year-round to check on animals and are a great initial short-term deterrent. If you want to step up your floodlight game, Foxlights are specifically designed to scare off predators using a variety of different light colors that flash in random patterns and have longer-lasting effects.
ELECTRIC NET FENCING
While it may be pricey for large pastures and a bit cumbersome to move around, electric net fencing is worth the time and money for small enclosures that protect free-range chickens or small bands of goats. The taller the fence, the better because it will discourage predators like coyotes and foxes from jumping over.
Developed for use with wolves, fladry consists of a single strand of electric fencing wire with red flagging attached at 11-inch (coyotes) to 18-inch (wolves) intervals and strung around the perimeter of a pasture. The flags are spooky because they flap in the wind, and the electric fence wire provides a reinforcing shock. This tool can be used for 30 to 60 days to protect livestock from wolves and coyotes during vulnerable times, such as lambing, calving and kidding season.
LIVESTOCK GUARD ANIMALS
One of the best methods of predator management is livestock guard animals. These include a range of animals that protect livestock out of orneriness or affinity. Llamas and donkeys fall in the ornery category and will actively discourage predators through charges, kicks and vocalizations. Specially trained livestock guard dogs, on the other hand, bond with livestock and protect out of affinity for their “livestock pack.” As a result, dogs are the most effective livestock guard animal and great for larger operations. Dogs live with the livestock herd and keep their eyes and ears on animals 24-7. Some of the best breeds include Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherds and Akbash.
AIR HORNS AND PELLET GUNS
Air horns, pellet guns, sticks, stones and shouting can be great tools if you catch a predator in the act or if you see an animal looking a little too curious. Any sort of tool that can be used to haze animals without causing serious harm is useful to set appropriate boundaries.
Bears can be one of the trickier animals to deter, but a great start is to secure your trash to avoid access to any reward. While it may be challenging for larger operations, it’s important to keep trash and compost as secure and sanitary as possible: in a bear-resistant container or locked barn, close to the house for easy hazing or in a yard where pet dogs can keep bears at bay.
You may need to be creative (check out this episode of Radiolab for a genius use of podcasts to deter bears) and rotate tools to prevent learning. But alongside careful management, many of these tools can be added as an inexpensive and effective way to curb predation.
While no tool is a panacea, the strategic use of tools, in conjunction with management practices that keep animals in contained, easy-to-manage areas, can dissuade resident predators from preying on livestock. Try these tools to keep your animals safe and avoid suffering emotional and economic loss.