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How Babba Louie Taught Me To Think Creatively About Predators

In the late ’90s, as part of my research project on the logistics and effectiveness of using goats to graze firebreaks, I got a guard donkey. Babba Louie was a stallion from the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro program. We gelded him, gentled him, and then penned him with my 50 wethers for the winter.

In the Spring, I moved wethers, does, kids, and Babba Louie to temporary pasture where they waited for the oakbrush to leaf out at our project site. I stopped by morning and evening to toss a little hay and check on the herd. One day, I found one of the does bleeding from bite marks in her neck. I called the vet and one of my colleagues called the trapper. There had been a fox in that pasture before, and we were determined to catch it and kill it. The next morning, we had another doe with a big bite. The trapper redoubled his efforts, but we caught nothing. After a week, with no sign of a fox or coyote, the trapper told me, “I think it’s your burro.”

“It couldn’t be!” I told him. Everyone agreed that the bites looked like a canine had sunk its teeth into my goats. And besides, Babba Louie had lived in a pen with goats for months without incident. I was adamant, and maybe even a little rude.

But the trapper was right and I was wrong, as one of my colleagues discovered when she arrived early one morning to see Babba Louie chasing the does around the pen. Apparently, he thought horned wethers were his friends and hornless does were enemies. He was grabbing them by their necks and trying to kill them, something that is actually a problem with guard donkeys.

That motivated me to learn more about predators and deterrents. Utah State University had a research program on coyotes and their results supported the idea that we shared last August indicating that killing coyotes doesn’t necessarily make your livestock safer. Research even led Benton County, Oregon to set up a program providing support to farmers and ranchers trying non-lethal predator control. Those who have participated have tried some very creative solutions, and have had excellent results, as their summary report for 2017 – 2019 indicates.What I think is important about both the research and the efforts of farmers and ranchers in Benton County is that they’re using data to think creatively about deterrents that will do the best job possible of protecting their livestock. I’m sharing one of those options this week. I think it gives us something to think about as we work to be the best managers we can be.

Thanks for reading!


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