Livestock owners take on a responsibility for the health and security of the domestic animals in their care. Today, all around the world, shepherds still guard flocks. Herds are brought into enclosures at dusk and released to graze when the sun is high. Barns and barnyards are carefully maintained and secured. Guard animals are trained to haze off predators.
It just doesn't happen much here.
In the United States, more predators are killed as a result of preying on domestic livestock than for any other intentional reason. Our history has created a tradition of relying on government to reduce risks related to wildlife. We make a call and taxpayers pay to have offending lions, wolves, and coyotes killed. It's a kneejerk reaction. Unfortunately, this has reduced our reliance on traditional methods for protecting livestock, and has stifled our creativity and innovation in designing new methods and technologies for safeguarding domestic animals as well.
The majority of conflicts between wildlife and livestock on the urban edge occur with domestic livestock animals that are kept as pets, hobby or recreational animals, as 4-H or FFA teaching projects, as tools to keep grass and vegetation down, or as breeding stock. Cattle ranchers experience very few depredations from mountain lions, compared to other sources of danger for their herds. But every livestock owner will tell you that every animal counts.
So don't assume that the loss of a single carnivore is unimportant: not only are mountain lion populations reduced dramatically in many areas that have been cut off by roads and development, but killing an established resident lion may actually make predation problems worse. The future of the species in your area might depend on your decisions.
But even if you don't care about the lion, you are responsible for the livestock in your care. We've assembled some of the common methods for keeping livestock safe from predators, and listed them below. We've also developed a set of plans for small herd enclosures, information about guard animals, and a list of techniques and devices to scare predators away. Clearly every situation has its own challenges, but we hope one or more of these methods may work for you.
Your situation is unique, and so there isn't a single set of rules or best practices for protecting your domestic animals. Not only do needs vary by breed, and constraints differ by locale and nearby wildlife habitat, but wildlife habits may change over time with the climate and season. It makes sense to sit down and create a plan for protection, using the categories below. Take out pen and paper and draw a map of your operation. Notice wildlife attractants, and where you might create deterrants. Set down a daily schedule and a calendar for the year.
Unless you maintain a large herd of livestock, it is best to keep domestic animals such as chickens, ducks, geese, goats, sheep, llamas, alpacas, burros, donkeys, and cows in completely enclosed pens. Build secure enclosures with a roof and floor. They don't have to be expensive. Well-secured chain link will do. See our pen scrapbook for plans and ideas. You can often use an existing outbuilding or barn. Take the time to check all points of entry, and keep access closed up at night. It's important to build a pen first, and only then purchase livestock.
Fences may help to prevent both deer and mountain lions from choosing your backyard or pasture over your neighbor's. Unlike bears, mountain lions will not tear most fences apart, and unlike coyotes, foxes, skunks and dogs, mountain lions won't dig beneath a fence. But a lion's ability to climb and to jump means that a barn or covered pen is always a better choice for protection. Fences designed to deter mountain lions should be very high, deep and well-constructed. Electric fencing can be used, and temporary fencing can help to increase the efficacy of guard animals.
Many livestock owners believe that their animals enjoy freedom to roam. But domestic animals also truly enjoy shelter and a place that is safe from predators. If you must let livestock outside secure enclosures, do so during daylight hours, or while you attend them. Bring them into a secure enclosure from dusk to dawn, when predators are most active. Staking, chaining, or tying out livestock is an invitation to all kinds of predators, and is in fact used by unethical hunters to attract lions to be killed.
Clearing brush and shrubs from a barnyard and establishing a limit line between wild areas and domestic operations can keep wildlife from having a place to hide. Smaller wild animals draw in larger wildlife and carry their own risks, too. Look over your yard for places that raccoons, skunks, oppossums and rodents might take up residence. Whenever deer are visible in the area, take extra precautions, as mountain lions are likely to be present as well. Secure your livestock in enclosures or guard them carefully when deer herds are likely to move through your area.
Seasonal changes disrupt a habits and force lions out of normal patterns of movement in order to seek out prey. Because they are opportunistic hunters, lions will take any animal that looks and smells like food and that does not appear to present an immediate danger. It appears that mountain lions are most likely to be tempted by domestic animals when deer herds are migrating. Unfortunately, this is also the time when many domestic animals are born, and therefore most vulnerable. Heavy snow, orchard windfalls, and mating seasons will also affect wildlife behavior.
Adjusting the period when lambing, kidding or calving is scheduled can be an effective way of limiting predation. Livestock losses are typically highest from late spring through summer as coyote packs provide food to young pups. Mountain lions may give birth at any time of year, but do so more often in the spring. They too, will struggle to feed their kittens. If livestock producers change to an autumn calving or lambing program, the opportunity for wild animals to prey on young livestock can be significantly reduced.
The practice of lambing, calving, and kidding in sheds protects young domestic animals. Ewes and lambs are typically confined to corrals next to the lambing shed for two weeks after birth. Owners can obtain veterinary help for birthing problems, treat sick lambs, and care for orphans. By moving pregnant ewes or goats to barns or other enclosures where they can be monitored, predation can be virtually eliminated. Shed birthing also reduces the blood which might attract predators to a larger ranging herd.
Lions are attracted by the smell of blood. Keep injured animals, or livestock nearing and following birth, in fully enclosed structures. Immediately remove and destroy afterbirth, carcasses, and other animal by-products from areas near livestock enclosures or homes. Keep feed secured, even from smaller wildlife, particularly at night. Fence in vegetable and fruit gardens that might attract deer and other wildlife. Remove windfalls. Even livestock droppings may attract wildlife, which consider the rich feces as a source of food. Predators may follow.
Mountain lions depend on surprise to catch their prey, and, like most wild animals, avoid dangers that they don't understand. Installing motion or timer-activated devices around your animal enclosures may help keep predators away. Remember that it is as important to scare away the lion's potential wildlife prey as it is to scare away the lion. Alternating simple devices using water, sound, light can provide non-lethal methods for habituating wildlife to stay far from your yard or farm.
Guard dogs bred to protect livestock from predators have been used for thousands of years in Europe. Studies show that properly trained livestock guard dogs reduce predation by as much as 93%. Guard dogs are not pets, and must be specially raised and trained in order to be effective. They may also pose a risk to people, and are best suited to large herds in remote locations. Other guard animals — such as llamas and donkeys — are more effective against coyotes than lions. Horned cattle are also being used in some ranching operations as a deterrent to predators.
Raising sheep and cattle together - called "interspecific pasturing" or "flerds" - has proven to be an effective way to deter predation. When carnivores approach, cattle encircle the more vulnerable sheep, which discourages predators from attacking. If the risk of getting injured is high (as from being kicked by a full-grown cow or gored by horns), most predators will reconsider. Flerds also make better use of pasture forage, and internal sheep fencing is not so often required, as the sheep tend to stay with the cattle.
Certain breeds of livestock have specific needs or weaknesses that must be considered in relation to habitat, terrain, and grazing conditions. Before obtaining new livestock, ranchers should evaluate their grazing habitat and select breeds that are appropriate for that habitat and resident carnivore species. Some ranchers experiencing chronic mountain lion predation have shifted from sheep to cattle production, and in areas with high predation some have changed from cow-calf to steer operations.
Cutting edge research is demonstrating what we have suspected all along: that killing an established adult lion often makes predation problems worse. (See the article "Troubled Teens"). When we lose a domestic animal to a wild predator, we feel angry. We may worry that our own security — and that of our family, neighbors, and other animals — is threatened, too. But experience, and now science, indicates that the first reaction, to kill the predator, may actually increase the remaining risk. So, take time to think before calling in a government agency. Governments are bound by law and tied by tradition to act lethally and immediately in many cases, and they have few tools other than guns at their disposal. Your best defense may be to accept the initial predation as a lesson of life and a cost of raising livestock, and to review and revise your own animal husbandry methods based on what you have learned from the experience.
Florida panthers have apparently maxed out their current habitat. With only a small amount of land available, the cats have no where to go and many are being killed by adult panthers. The cats that survive their first two years, make it through the territories of established males, and dodge speeding cars often wind up in neighborhood backyards.
Many residents don't understand why panthers are turning up and they are angry when a free range goat goes missing. Despite increased education about wildlife and inexpensive ways to keep domestic animals safe, many are still unwilling to protect their property and coexist with panthers.
Nobody likes to see the violent death of beloved pets or other domestic animals. In fact, for the past eight years the Mountain Lion Foundation's Living with Lions program has done its best to protect domestic animals and reduce the potential for human/mountain lion conflicts with fairly successful results.
But on Monday, April 5th, 2011, Governor Dave Heineman signed into law Legislative Bill 836, and Nebraska — where mountain lions probably number less than 20 — proudly took its place among several western states that believe that acceptable livestock management practices include having the government kill offending wildlife at the taxpayer's expense.