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This Predator Awareness Training Can Help Protect Cattle

By   /  September 30, 2019  /  2 Comments

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Though OR-7 (top) didn’t stay, his offspring have returned, and in 2015, the first breeding pair of wolves in the state had five puppies. That November, the pack killed and ate a calf before disappearing. Though that pack disappeared, another pack continues to live and raise pups in western Lassen and Plumas counties on the northern end of the state. In 2019 three pups were born to this pack (lower photo). Top: file photo from Oregon Department of fish and Wildlife from remote camera. Bottom: Remote camera California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

In 2011, the first wolf in nearly a century entered the state of California. It was this news that led Siskiyou County rancher Mark Coats to begin working on ways to protect cattle from possible predation. His solution – rather than trying to get rid of wolves, he would teach cattle to group into a defensive herd when predators are near.

Mark’s goal was to eliminate the flight fear response by teaching cattle that gathering together provides comfort and safety. His idea was based on studies that show wolves do not attack groups of livestock and prefer to chase individuals. He found that studies indicated cattle in groups were safer than individuals who ran.

In the video below, Mark describes his predator awareness solution, starting with the three things he wants cattle to learn:

1. The standing solution

When a single animal receives pressure, instead of running or fleeing, it will stand.

2. Herd awareness

Animals know where the herd is and how to return to the group.

3. Predator awareness

This is the defensive posture of the herd against predators.

In this 11:42 video Mark walks us through his training techniques. He starts with a herd of replacement heifers unaccustomed to dogs. Using his dogs as “pseudo predators” he teaches them NOT to chase dogs (a behavior predators use to separate animals for the attack), and how to stay together as a herd. In the 2.5 mile walk to the shipping corrals, you can see how he turns a group of individuals into one herd. Next, he demonstrates how he teaches a herd to stop and to move, so they’re gathered together as a defensive herd group, and how, once trained, they do all the things they’re asked to as a calm group. This answers a question that some folks have, “Will this training make my cattle wild?” Just the opposite, it creates calmer, more manageable animals.

Note that the training, like good stockmanship, is based on pressure and release. As Mark says, “When wolves confront livestock, they (livestock) get fearful for their lives. Once they reach the group, the pressure is relieved. A defensive standing posture will deter wolves. What we’re encouraging is a defensive posture of moving to the herd.”

Does it Work?

With such a small wolf population in the state, most cattle herds have not yet been tested. But, Mark says, “We always saw losses to coyotes, but since we’ve worked with this program we haven’t had any losses to mammals.”

How Can You Use This?

This is an introduction to all of the training techniques Mark Coats uses. As you can see, having good dogs and stockmanship skills are important. We’ll be working with Mark to share more information on this system in future issues of On Pasture.

It’s also important to know that this is only one of the tools in Mark’s toolbox for dealing with predators. We’ll be looking at other techniques he’s found success with.

If you’d like to learn more right away, please visit Mark’s website

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  • Published: 1 month ago on September 30, 2019
  • By:
  • Last Modified: September 30, 2019 @ 1:58 pm
  • Filed Under: Livestock

About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

2 Comments

  1. Tom A Krawiec says:

    What a great article and video Mark. You have demonstrated how easy it is to change the behaviour of a group of animals. I must come clean, though, I feel a bit vindicated after watching your video. I wrote an article earlier this year “Happiness Is Being In the Herd” and I took a fair bit of heat because of the method I described to create a herd. Several people were very concerned that by training animals to stay in a herd it created wild animals. As your video clearly shows, the opposite is true. Your reason for training cattle to ‘herd’ is different than why I started training animals to herd. For me, it was for ease of movement. There just happened to be other benefits that occurred. After listening to your experience, I realize one of the benefits was predator protection. The spring of 2017 we lost eight calves to predators. In 2018, after training the put together cows to herd, we lost zero calves. I attributed that to the two gaurdian dogs. However, maybe the dogs weren’t as amazing as I thought. Maybe the cows learned how to protect themselves. Thank you for sharing your creative approach!

    • Mark Coats says:

      Thank You for comments Tom.

      Before I found this solution I would lose four a year. That has been eight years and I had my first depredation this year. I am pretty sure it was my neglect that set the table for the loss. I was busy applying these methods for others and neglected my own duties. But it is just a reminder of the constant pressure that the predators present. We must be as diligent in our efforts of deterring predators.

      Best

      Mark Coats

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