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On The Hunt | Spring 2008 Out Here Magazine

Keep your livestock safe from predators

By Lynn Allen

Predators are expensive.

Sheep growers alone lose $20 million a year to predators, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cattle and horse producers budget anywhere from 2-10 percent of their livestock to predators, depending on the region they're located.

Small-acreage owners find that coyotes and foxes are a threat to their poultry, lambs, and goats.

Indeed, coyotes remain the worst livestock killer, says Peter Orwick, executive director of the American Sheep Industry Association in Centennial, CO. Within the last 20 years, marauding dogs have maimed and mauled their way into the No. 2 position.

"People move to the country and the first thing they do is turn their dogs loose," Orwick says. "I don't know what they're thinking — they think … that their animals won't (prey on other animals)? It's a big problem."

Keeping livestock safe is a challenge. Shepherding is the best solution, but few small producers have the time to shepherd or the finances to hire a herder.

"The National Wildlife Center recommends a combination of tools: fencing, guard animals, trapping, shooting, deterrents," Orwick says. "Fencing alone won't do it. Fencing is limited by terrain, and too many predators can dig under, climb over, or smash through."

Double or even triple fencing, however, will create an obstacle course for climbing coyotes and burrowing dogs. A combination of permanent and electric fencing is best, Orwick says.

Another tool for predator control is using guardian animals. Livestock guardian dogs have proven to increase livestock survival rates, according to research by William Andelt, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist.

Guardian dogs protect sheep by patrolling, aggressively barking, and pursuing a predator when the sheep are threatened.

The breeds that most effectively guard against predators, says Andelt's study, are the Akbash, Great Pyrenees, Komondor, and Anatolian shepherd.

Some farmers and ranchers use llamas, who are naturally aggressive toward dogs and coyotes. They protect livestock by chasing, kicking, or pawing a predator; sounding the alert; and positioning themselves between the livestock and predator.

An Iowa State University study revealed that western sheep producers lost an average of 21 percent of their ewes and lambs annually before acquiring a llama, and 7 percent afterward.

Donkeys also have a natural aversion to dogs and similar animals — coyotes, wolves, foxes .- and will bray, bare their teeth, chase, and bite and kick at a potential threat.

Lethal predator control methods include shooting, trapping, snaring, and poisoning. However, local regulations dictate which methods are legal. Check with the USDA Service Center or Wildlife Services office in your area for guidelines.

Lynn Allen is a Colorado-based writer.