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What’s the Best Way to Protect Your Livestock from Predators?

If you’re worried about predators and wondering what you should do to protect your stock, a good place to start is this table from the Livestock-Predator Hub of UC Rangelands at the University of California, Davis. It’s based on research and field-based experience showing how effective different tools are against a specific predator.

There may be one or more possibilities you’d like to try from the list, so here’s some additional information as you consider your options. If there is a topic here that you’d like to see addressed in great detail, drop me a line and let me know, or share your thoughts in the comments section. Adding specific questions or information about your operation will help me target my search.

Livestock Guardian Animals

Livestock guardian dog breeds were developed through selective breeding in Europe and Asia to protect livestock from bears and wolves. Common breeds in North America include Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherd and Akbash, Komondor, and Maremma. Due to increased predation from gray wolves and grizzly bears in the Northern Rocky Mountains, USDA Wildlife Services is currently investigating additional breeds—including Kangal, Karakachan, and Cao de Gado Transmontano—for protective capabilities and docility towards humans. Photo by Dan Macon.

Of the guardian animals, dogs seem to be most effective at providing protection from a wide range of predators across all operation sizes. When properly raised, they can reduce or eliminate predation, and even help with weight gain as stock is less stressed and more comfortable grazing. But not all puppies grow up to be guardian dogs, and improperly reared dogs cannot be retrained to become successful guardian dogs. Some are aggressive towards people, they can harass wildlife, and may roam beyond ranch boundaries, causing problems with neighbors.

If you’re considering a guardian dog, keep in mind that dogs that come from working (as opposed to pet) lines generally make better guardians. Choose a breed to match the type of predator in your area too. The Livestock Predator Hub suggests that, “more athletic and aggressive dogs may be more appropriate where the predators are similarly athletic and aggressive.”

Llamas and donkeys are longer lived and easier to maintain than dogs since they eat what your livestock eat, but they are prey animals themselves, and so not as effective protecting stock from mountain lions, bears or wolves. Donkeys are not a good choice for large pastures or rangeland settings and are most effective in open pastures less than 600 acres in size with fewer than 400 sheep. If you’re considering a donkey, start young. Donkeys need to bond with the herd for 4 to 6 weeks, and they seem to do this best when they’re 3 to 6 months of age. Choose a single jenny (female) or a gelded jack (male). Experts recommend removing donkeys from the herd during breeding and lambing/kidding/calving time. They can be aggressive to newborns, and can disrupt maternal bonding, so experts recommend removing from the herd at those times.

Like donkeys, llamas will walk or run towards foxes, coyotes and dogs, chasing, kicking and pawing at the predator. They work best in pastures of 250 – 300 acres. While donkeys need to be bonded to livestock for 4 to 6 weeks before heading to pasture, llamas do not require any training to stay with sheep. Both gelded males and females, at least 2 years old, make effective guards, although not all llamas make good guard animals. They usually require no training after introduction to their herd or flock – just an adjustment period of a few days. If you’re considering a llama, keep in mind that large, alert animals make the best guardians.


Coyotes can be a significant concern for sheep producers

Adult coyotes can squeeze through a 4-by-6 inch opening in woven wire, and can climb or jump fences that are less than 66 inches in height. This means that making a predator proof fence is difficult. Some ranchers have found success by adding electrified top and trip wires. Others have increased the number of wires in their fence and electrified them. For example, research found that a 12-wire fence with alternating ground and hot wires with an offset electrified trip wire on the outside was “coyote proof.” But dry soil conditions and grounding by vegetation can cause the fence to fail, so even this fence can disappoint you.

The best fence for keeping predators out seems to be electrified netting. Though it has a shorter life than wire fences, the cost is lower as well and it can reduce coyote predation from 47% to 6%.

One final fencing alternative is Fladry. This is an electrified wire with flags attached. As Matt Barnes noted in our earlier article on this predator control tool, “it works best on small areas and for short time periods – like a calving pasture, and/or in combination with strategic grazing management.” You can read more about it and download a manual on how to set up and use Fladry, here.

Husbandry and Management Changes

You can adopt practices that reduce livestock exposure to predators. For example, moving dead animals as far from your pastures as you can reduces the chances that a scavenging predator will be drawn to your herd. You can also change the time of year you calve, kid or lamb. Not only is the weather more pleasant in April and May, it’s also the time of year when wildlife are giving birth. The more opportunities there are for a predator to feed itself with something other than livestock, the better it is for you.

Keep the conversation going! Use the comments section below to share your stories about managing predator problems with your On Pasture community.

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