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Coexisting on the Range
Works best to: Deter wolves from attacking livestock, especially during vulnerable times, such as birthing or at night. (Please note: Fladry has not been shown to be effective for deterring bears.)
Fladry is red or orange strips of flagging, 20 inches long and 4 inches wide, spaced at 20-inch intervals and suspended so that flags hang about 20 inches off the ground.
Fladry works as a novel scare device. The flapping flags frighten wolves and deter them from the attractant. Fladry alone is most effective as a short-term (30 to 45 day) deterrent. If wolves see the same fladry for too long, they will become habituated to it and will no longer be afraid, rendering it ineffective. It is important to use fladry for short periods of time and reconfigure it every few days when possible to prevent wolves from becoming habituated to it. It should be used for areas of one square mile or less.
Fladry can be installed for long term use as an addition to an existing fence line, or temporarily, with fiberglass posts. Temporary fladry fencing can be installed quickly and by as few as one person. Fladry requires maintenance to ensure that the flags are not coiled around the line or hung up on brush. The flags must remain free to flap in the wind in order to be effective.
Fladry can be further strengthened with the addition of an electrified line; this combination is called turbofladry. Wolves will test fladry by approaching it and occasionally biting it. The added “bite” of turbofladry uses electric shock to enhance the negative experience of wolves that encounter fladry. Turbofladry is more expensive, but estimates show its effectiveness can last three or more times longer than regular fladry.
Fladry and turboflady can be difficult to find on the market. Contact your wildlife or agriculture agencies or local Defenders of Wildlife office for help obtaining and installing fladry.
Works Best to: Secure small pastures or corrals.
Small pastures or corrals on private land can be fenced with temporary or permanent fencing that keeps animals in a designated area for security and ease of vigilant monitoring when needed. These fences can be strengthened with electric fencing, fladry or turbofladry. Temporary night pens can also be designed using electric fencing, fladry or turbofladry to secure livestock for short periods. Under open-range conditions, portable fencing and pens are easier to install and more affordable, but stress to livestock and native plants should be considered, as well as grazing permit restrictions. Fladry has not been shown to be effective in deterring bears. Local wildlife managers can help determine tools that are best suited for your operation, or contact Defenders of Wildlife field offices with questions.
Works best to: Frighten predators and create a negative association with the attractant.
Humans on the range with the livestock can use a scare tactic to frighten predators when they see them, creating a negative association with the livestock. A wide range of devices can be used to frighten wildlife, preventing the depredation immediately and making a lasting negative association with livestock. Scare devices can include automated lights, flashlights, automated noise-makers, air horns, and starter pistols. Scare devices work on the concept of novelty, deterring predators by startling them with an unknown and frightening obstacle. Like other proactive tools, predators can become habituated to these devices, rendering them ineffective, so it is important to use them for short periods of time, and vary them as much as possible.
Nonlethal ammunition such as beanbag shells, paintballs, and rubber bullets can also be used to scare or averse condition predators by creating a negative association with people and attractants. The legality and availability of nonlethal ammunition varies by state and by species; consult wildlife managers before using this tool. Starter pistols and air horns can also be used when predators are in the vicinity of livestock or other attractants to startle and scare them away. Consider the risk of wildfire or check with wildlife managers before using starter pistols.
Predators may remember negative experiences and avoid humans and human presence in the future. However, if the item attracting a predator is a highly valuable food (such as an animal carcass or smelly garbage), negative stimuli may not be enough, and removing the attractant or moving livestock away from the attractant may be the best long term solution.
Works best to: Frighten wolves as they enter a particular area.
Foxlights, effectively strobe lights, flash a varied pattern of flashing lights (LEDs) mimicking human activity. Foxlights flash at night regardless of predators being in the area with an automatic on/off function. Foxlights can be posted around or throughout a sheep bedding ground or concentrated grazing area to deter predators. They can be attached to an existing fence or installed with a post. Foxlights should be used for short periods of 30 days or less, and should be moved and reconfigured to prevent wolves from getting comfortable and losing their fear of them. Like other deterrents, Foxlights and similar devices may work best as a temporary deterrent or in tandem with other deterrents. Evidence also suggests that they may be more effectively used proactively to prevent predation, rather than reactively to deter an ongoing problem.
If you have radio-collared wolves nearby, you may benefit from a radio-activated guard box (RAG box), which produces a variety of sounds when it receives a signal from a collared wolf. RAG boxes can be powered with a solar panel or car battery. RAG boxes must be programmed for specific collar frequencies, and can be expensive to obtain. Contact state wildlife managers for more information about obtaining and using this tool.
Both Foxlights and RAG boxes can be posted around a pasture or grazing area to deter predators. These tools have not been evaluated for bears.
Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs)
Works best to: Alert humans to the presence of predators, and frighten predators with barking.
Livestock producers around the globe have long relied on dogs to protect livestock from carnivores such as wolves, bears and lions. In some instances, the mere presence of dogs helps keep wolves away from livestock. In other cases, dogs play a more active role by alerting herders to wolves and other predators in the area. LGDs defend livestock from wolves by alerting people to the presence of wolves, not by fighting the wolves off. Once they sound a warning alert, LGDs may need human support, such as a herder, to use other methods to scare predators away.
Regardless of breed, selecting your pups from good working stock from similar livestock operations is important. Pups learn from their mothers, so make sure she has the characteristics of a good LGD. Base your selection on a dog’s working potential, rather than breed registration and physical standards. Ultimately, the best LGDs are attentive and protective of livestock, and always alert to potential risks to their charges. Open range operations with large flocks or herds of livestock usually require more dogs than a small operation. To the extent possible, the LGDs should stay with the livestock rather than chasing down or fighting with predators. Depending on the breed composition of LGDs, some dogs may stay with livestock while others give chase. Work with a breeder specializing in LGDs to find the right mix that works for your operation.
Wolves are more aggressive and defensive towards other canids, including LGDs, when they have pups to protect, posing a higher risk to LGDs. When wolf packs have new pups, generally from April through June, keep LGDs and other dogs away from known wolf den sites whenever possible, and use other means (such as fladry, grazing location alternatives or devices that scare wolves away) to avoid conflicts with wolves.
Some LGD breeds are more aggressive than others toward people. This may be an important consideration if you ranch in a populated area, or on a public lands allotment where recreation is common. If you intend to use LGDs in or adjacent to federal lands, such as a national forest or recreation area, there may be safety issues concerning hikers, cyclists, horseback riders and their pets to consider. LGDs that are too aggressive may pose a risk to the public and pet dogs. Some producers post signs to alert the public that LGDs are in use in the area as a nonlethal method to reduce conflicts with native predators, and may bark aggressively if livestock are approached too closely.
Training Tips: If you are going to use LGDs in a fenced or pasture operation (as is usually the case in the mid-western and eastern United States), introduce and restrict them to the location where they will be working at an early age to discourage roaming outside pastures. If you decide to raise your own LGDs from pups, it is crucial to make sure they are well socialized with the type of livestock they will be expected to protect. It is especially helpful if they can learn from an experienced older LGD. Experts recommend raising pups right in the corrals with livestock, starting when they are four to five weeks old. Discourage pups from straying from the corral and return them to the livestock if they do stray. Minimize the handling and stroking of pups; do not treat them like pets. A good LGD will come when it is called and allow the owner to handle it (for vaccinations and other health-related needs), but should not seek attention from people over dedication to its livestock. Provide the pups with nutritious dog food, and do not keep them in dugouts or doghouses except in extreme and threatening weather conditions. Instead, encourage pups to dig their own dirt beds and sleep among the livestock. This will help bond the pups and the livestock. When the pups are old enough, allow them to accompany livestock to the rangeland. Discourage unacceptable behavior such as biting or chasing the livestock and pulling wool. Immediately remove any dogs that persist in chasing, biting, injuring or killing livestock.
Contact LGD breeders or trainers for more information about obtaining and/or training LGDs. To determine if LGDs are an appropriate choice to help protect your livestock from conflicts with predators, carefully evaluate your particular operation with the help of professionals experienced with the use of these dogs. If you are already using LGDs but not seeing results, contact a predator management specialist in your state to help you re-evaluate.
Works best to: Monitor livestock for signs of stress, keep livestock in closer herds, and monitor predator activity in order to move livestock if necessary.
Mitigating livestock losses from predators can be more difficult when the producer is unaware of how predators might be using the area close to their livestock. Having a better understanding of how and when bears and wolves are using an area can help producers and wildlife managers develop strategies for best protecting livestock. Increasing human presence on the range with riders for cattle operations and more herders for sheep allows you to monitor your livestock and predator activity, and may be one of the best ways to deter predators. Riders and herders can monitor livestock closely, providing other advantages such as finding dead livestock and identifying cause of death, and providing early detection of injury, illness or stress in the herd. Riders can also assist with preventing livestock from overgrazing sensitive meadows and streambeds, reducing the chances of livestock theft, and detecting the presence of plants toxic to livestock. Agencies, conservation organizations and other ranchers can work together to pool resources to establish range-rider or herder programs.
A range rider, for example, can patrol your ranch or allotment at dawn and dusk when wolves are most active. The rider checks for signs of unusual agitation in the cattle, behavior that can indicate wolves or other predators are in the area. The rider also listens for howling and looks for other signs that predators are present, such as tracks, scat, and hair snagged in fences. Cattle on public grazing allotments—and in some circumstances on private lands—are often spread across a wide area, which may include open prairie, rugged, or partially or heavily forested land. Cattle may be gathered or scattered depending on the operation. As such, range riders may have to cover as much ground as possible while checking on livestock, and may not always be in exactly the right location at exactly the right time to respond to wolves. Even so, the chances of preventing a loss are better than in places where human presence is less frequent. Those chances can be improved if cattle are in a managed herd rather than scattered across the landscape.
Regular or frequent human presence can minimize livestock loss to predators that prefer to avoid contact with humans, or intervene when livestock depredation is occurring. In the best scenarios, riders who are able to respond quickly to predators approaching or chasing livestock can prevent losses from occurring simply by their presence, or by frightening the wolf with scare devices such as air horns. Herders and riders can also boost their effectiveness by working with livestock guardian dogs that can alert them to the presence predators. Check with local authorities about hazing and aversive conditioning techniques that may be applicable to your area. Rules vary by state and species.
Works best to: Reduce the risk of predators being drawn into livestock-occupied areas to scavenge on dead animals, afterbirth, or even livestock feed.
Remove diseased or dying livestock from areas where they can attract wolves and other animals. Haul away carcasses, including afterbirth when necessary, or dispose of them in properly constructed and maintained pits. Carcass pick-up and composting services are increasingly available; check with local wildlife or agriculture agencies for more information. Carcass pits should be located away from homes, other livestock, and birthing or bedding areas. Carcass pits should be as deep as possible, at least 6 to 8 feet, and covered to discourage scavengers from digging up carcasses. Carcasses should be routinely burned or buried in the pit, and adding lime can help expedite decay and reduce odor. Install electric fencing around your carcass pit to further reduce the chances of wildlife using it to feed on carcasses.
The birthing process is also attractive to scavengers and predators, and when possible, birthing should be consolidated, supervised and conducted in protected pens or sheds.
Also remember to secure livestock feed that may attract scavengers such as bears. Feed may be secured in bear resistant containers, within secure buildings, or with an electric fence.
Herding & Strategic Management
Works best to: Increase human presence and encourage natural defensive herd instincts.
Livestock are most vulnerable to predation when scattered over large areas. To make them less vulnerable, some cattle producers use stockmanship, the skillful handling of livestock in the “low-stress manner” pioneered and taught by renowned stockman Bud Williams. Low-stress livestock handling relies on pressure and release rather than force or fear, and is fundamentally different from conventional handling. Practitioners use the low-stress approach in moving, herding and even placing cattle, often at higher stocking densities. This type of management allows cattle to feel more comfortable staying in closer groups, which mimic natural herds, and may promote defensive behavior in cattle such as standing their ground against predators and defending their calves when threatened. These defensive behaviors have been observed in bison, and can be ‘rekindled’ in cattle. For more information on how to use low-stress stockmanship consult a practitioner or school (some are listed in the directory).
Using low-stress stockmanship also increases human presence, which has other benefits such as quickly finding diseased, injured or dead livestock and treating or determining cause of death, removing carcasses to minimize attracting predators, protecting sensitive grazing areas, preventing livestock theft, and early detecting of disease and plants toxic to livestock.
Strategic grazing and rotation of livestock may also be beneficial to the quality of the forage and grazing areas. Consider keeping livestock in tighter herds and moving them more often to balance the needs of the range, with the added benefit of rekindling defensive herd instincts in your cattle.