April 1, 2013
The predator issue in the region was addressed last week, so this week we will cover what some producers are doing to combat this ongoing problem. Some methods work for one but not another, depending on the individual's circumstances, but there are some things that are actually doing some good. Of course, none of the methods are the total answer, but if they reduce death loss at all, they are worth considering.
For generations, the Little Ranch near Leiter, WY, has run both cattle and sheep, with the sheep going to the Big Horn Mountains every summer. Predators are a constant issue, especially in the sheep, and they've tried many different deterrents in their operation. From a repellent spray to predator lights, they've experimented with undetermined results. "Most recently, we tried those Solar Predator Lites. They were sure easy to use, we put them on electric fencing stakes that we could just push into the ground. We hung the lights at eye level to a coyote, and about 200 feet apart around the bed grounds," says Phil Little, patriarch of the clan. "A little light flashes and shines and is supposed to mimic another predator's eyes."
They are solar charged, so automatically come on at dusk, making them very low maintenance. "We used them in 2011, but last year, our herder didn't want to use them. I think he's so dedicated to taking care of the sheep that he'd rather guard them himself, so we didn't put them up. I don't know if they did anything anyway, because our herder is out at night and in the morning and carries a rifle. I know the coyotes are afraid of him."
"Our county trapper is amazing. He does an excellent job and he's the reason we're still in the sheep business because he keeps the numbers down," Little said.
In areas where the trappers are spread too thin to be able to make that impact, such as in South Dakota, there are coyotes behind every blade of grass, it would seem. Guardian animals are run with both sheep and cattle as deterrents. Some don't work out quite the way they were meant to, though.
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Paul Erk, Newell, SD, has both guard burros and a Great Pyrenees dog. The burros didn't like sheep, however, so moved in with the cows. Erks haven't lost any calves to coyotes, but hadn't had a lot of trouble with that anyway, so he's not sure if the burros are doing anything other than eating grass. The guard dog is also guarding, but not the sheep. The grandkids and Paul's wife, Beth's chickens seem to be the preferred guard duty, so the sheep are on their own. "I will say, though, that I haven't lost any grandkids or chickens to coyotes, so it's working," Erk joked.
"We lost about 150 lambs last year and can say that at least half of them were predator losses. We lost eight head the week we shipped them," Erk said. "Our best protection is that big, yellow, government plane and a good gunner."
In central North Dakota, ranchers were losing significant numbers of calves to the stray dogs off of the nearby reservation. One rancher started running burros with his cattle and hasn't lost another calf. The burros will actually kill a dog, so it would follow that a coyote wouldn't be hanging around for long either.
Dwight and Gwen Kitzan, Nisland, SD, had heard such good reports about burros that they bought one to put with their sheep. When their farrier came to trim it's feet, however, it was determined that the burro was actually a gelded john mule. Mules are sometimes famous for killing lambs and calves, but this particular mule wasn't aware of that and does a great job as a guardian against coyotes and fox.
Llamas are another guardian animal that is fairly effective. Harry Kerr, Bowman, ND, uses llamas with his sheep and is very satisfied with their performance. "We tried burros, but they just didn't work for me. I can't run guard dogs due to the close neighbors, as they tend to range out too far for where I'm at," says Kerr. "Llamas have worked good. We split the bands into 100-150 head and run a llama with each band." He added, "A llama will either work or they won't. If they won't stay with the sheep, get rid of it and get another llama."
Kerr says that a llama will harass a coyote and chase it away from the band. He uses only castrated males and females, never an intact male. The advantage of the llama, as with the burro, is that they graze right along with the livestock and don't need to be fed. Hoof care on the burros is recommended, but some are not gentle enough to handle.
The majority of guardian animals are dogs. Casey Humble, Faith, SD, uses a three-way cross of Akbash, Maremma, and Great Pyrenees with his sheep. He likes the closer ranging tendency of the Akbash and Maremma blood, as the Pyrenees tend to range out further. "The dogs are outstanding with mountain lions here. The lions have even moved out, I believe, because of the dogs," Humble said. "I couldn't keep running sheep without the dogs. I still lose sheep, but not like I would be."
Dave Niemi, Buffalo, SD, says that the dogs have the same effect on mountain lions in his area too. He said, "We'd seen wolf tracks back before we had the dogs, but I think the dogs keep them moving too." He uses Great Pyrenees and is very pleased with them.
Bernie and Genie Lauing, Blunt, SD, use Great Pyrenees to deter coyotes and the occasional mountain lion. They like how the Pyrenees patrol the pastures, then lead and drive the sheep in to the bed ground in the evening. "In the morning, one of them will go 'scout' before the other ones let the sheep leave the bed ground. If there's a problem, they'll stand guard. If it's foggy or stormy, they'll hold the sheep on bed ground until it clears."
"If the band gets separated, one will stay with each band until they get back together," Genie says. "They also tolerate the Border Collie and the barn cats very well." Being a wide ranging breed, fences mean nothing to a Pyrenees, so Lauing's dogs also patrol the cows and the horses. "The cows pretty much ignore them, as do the mares," Lauing said.
LeRoy and Shirley Wetz, Vale, SD, have both coyotes and mountain lions in their part of the country. The dense cover along the Belle Fourche River is perfect habitat for both, so they run a single, neutered male dog that is a quarter of each of the breeds of Maremma, Pyrenees, Komondor, and Kuvasz. "Ghost stays with the sheep all of the time and is fine around our other dogs, pets and grandkids," Shirley said.
Steve Clements, Philip, SD, runs guard dogs too. He has a pair of Anatolian shepherds with one band and another pair of Akbash-Great Pyrenees-cross dogs with the other.
Guard dogs, unlike burros or llamas, have to be fed and taken care of where they are running with the livestock. Clements uses big doghouses on skids, with a self feeder inside. He can move it close to where the sheep are grazing.
Whether by having herders, trappers/hunters, guard burros, llamas or dogs, livestock producers are working on the predator problem every day in order to remain in business. The struggle against predators isn't going to get easier, but with a trial-and-error approach, some answers are being found.