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.
Start Here: Husbandry and Management Changes
This is the first and best thing you can do: adopt practices that reduce livestock exposure to predators.
Move dead animals far from your pastures reduces the chances that a scavenging predator will be drawn to your herd.
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.
If you know there are predators in a certain area, avoid them. Or only put animals there that can survive threats. A 1200 pound animal in a herd has a lower risk than a calf or smaller animal.
Speaking of herds – animals spread across a large area are more at risk of being picked off than animals in a tighter herd setting.
These are just a few ideas. I’m sure you’ll think of many more. Beyond these adaptations, there may be one or more possibilities you’d like to try from the Predator Hub list above. Here’s some additional information as you consider your options.
Livestock Guardian Animals
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.
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.