Eugene Fytche

There may be, somewhere, producers of sheep, goats and even cattle, who are not having troubles with predating wild animals or domestic dogs. But most of us have occasional and sometimes frequent attacks on our livestock by coyotes, wolves, black bears and cougars. The most common of the predators is the coyote, which may be the prairie coyote, or its much larger cousin, the Eastern coyote, that outweighs its cousin by a factor of two. Protection against the coyote will usually be effective against domestic dogs, but may not be effective against the larger predators.

It is vital to understand that a protective measure may not be 100 % effective, and just because a neighbour or club member has been successful in applying the technology, that doesn't guarantee that his success will be your success. It is what works for you that is important, and that is why a producer should have a full understanding of the several options, and how his own personality will bear on getting the best results from the option that he chooses. There is an enormous amount of written material available, some good, and some bad, and few of us have the time to research the field to read the pros and cons of all the options.
Very generally, the options can be separated into the following:

1. 	Management methodology
2.	Enclosure
3.	Mobile protectors
4.	External control
5.	A combination of two or more of the options.

1. Management methodology is largely a matter of common sense. For example, if you are not having any trouble with coyotes, common sense says that you should not spent a lot of money to provide a protection for your livestock that you don't need. And if the losses are few, because there is a good supply of alternative food for the coyotes, you may be prepared to accept a few losses as a cost of doing business. But some of the effective measures are easy: you may want to bring the animals into the barnyard at night, and let them out after the sun is up, because the favourite hunting time is between dusk and dawn. You may want a lighted barnyard, both to make handling easier, and because coyotes may be less likely to attack in the light. You may have lambing or kidding in the barn, so the new borns have a chance to gain strength before they go out to pasture. I know one cattle producer who reduced his losses by changing his calving from a remote pasture to one beside the farmhouse. Some producers feel that sound helps, others that hanging aluminum plates on wires acts as a deterrent. If by managing your livestock a little better enables you to avoid investment, so much the better.

2. Enclosure means restricting where your herd or flock may pasture. I know one lady with three sheep, who doesn't let them out to graze unless she sits with them. This is carrying enclosure to the ridiculous extreme, because sheep and goats are grazing animals, and the economics require that they take advantage of pasture when it is available. Page wire and log fences may keep the flock in, but won't keep the coyotes out. In New Zealand, many years ago, they developed the technology of the high tensile electric fence, made predator proof by multiple stranding, and using high voltage impulses, to separate the livestock from the predators. I have used this myself for twenty years, with good results, but its success depends on meticulous initial installation, and good maintenance. Its main advantage is that it is on duty 24 hours per day; it is costly to install, though less costly than page wire if you are starting with no fences. Some people with existing page wire enclosures provide some predator protection by installing a live wire outside the mesh for economy. There is some small mesh fencing being installed. The coyote can jump and dig, and your design must evolve in recognizing that the predator is adaptable, and is also trying to beat the protective system 24 hours per day!

3. The mobile protectors: guard donkeys, guard llamas and guard dogs: are in vogue at the present time. The first thing to remember is that they are natural products, and like humans, vary in their character, particularly when used as guard animals. Some will be failures, and the wise producer gets a money back guarantee when he purchases one. You should also deal with a reliable breeder, who has shown proven performance of his guard animals. Donkeys and guard dogs have to be bonded to the flock when very young - this is hard with the young pups, because they are so cute that there is a tendency to want to pet them or offer them house hospitality, instead of raising them with the lambs. They can easily be spoiled as guard dogs .

Donkeys and llamas hate canines, and this is the strength of the protection they offer. This may interfere with the use of herding dogs, so you have to deal with this on a case by case basis. They are line of sight guardians, and if they don't keep close to the flock, may be at a disadvantage in a rough or wooded pasture. They tend to chase the predator from the pasture, but have been known to kill coyotes. There are limits to the size of the flock or herd that they are asked to guard.

Donkeys live long, eat hay and shouldn't have horse or donkey buddies, as they will neglect their protective duties to enjoy social contacts. Some tend to be rough with the sheep or goats, over protective during lambing, and greedy at the feeders, all of which must be watched. Jennies and castrated males, standard size only, are best. All make a terrible noise, and if they are doing their job, may wake you from a sound sleep with their bray!

Less is known about the llama, but they are pretty, less noisy, and eat an economical diet. You probably can't afford a female, but castrated males aren't much more expensive than a donkey, and the available literature, mostly anecdotal, confirms their effectiveness. Uncastrated males may feel compelled to breed ewes, so one must watch that!

Guard dogs are big, strong dogs, and only producers who can handle a dog like that should consider them. It is essential that they stay on the farm, and you must introduce them to their territory, and tell the neighbours when you buy one. More die by straying onto the road than of old age. There are many breeds to choose from, and the essential thing is to get good breeding. They guard by instinct, so must not be over trained or disciplined, only enough that they can be handled for health purposes. Properly trained, they can guard boundaries, and are more effective in rugged and treed pastures than either donkeys or llamas. They can work with other guard dogs, but their relation to herding dogs must be watched. They must live with the flock. But because of their size and power, they must be handled with care. No one wants a lawsuit with a neighbour.

If properly bonded, all three mobile protectors provide 24 hour service, but remember that they are natural products, and therefore variable.

4. External control is fundamentally different from what we have discussed above. There, you are concentrating on protecting your own livestock, which means you are driving the coyotes to search for food elsewhere, perhaps in your neighbour's flock. Hunting, trapping and den destruction reduce the total population of predators, for everyone's benefit. Hunting is non-selective, and may kill non-problem coyotes, thus opening a range for a predating family. Sheep and goats may coexist with coyotes if alternative food is plentiful, but once a coyote becomes a problem, the technology is passed to the offspring. There is no doubt that there is satisfaction in shooting a predator that has taken out a lamb or kid, but like teenagers, you can't watch them all the time.

Trapping is selective, but requires the skills that can only be acquired by experience. Snaring has much to recommend it. Pet lovers protest, but pets are accustomed to being restrained, and if caught in a snare tend to wait patiently to be released. In one pilot study, a border collie was caught three times in the same setup. It doesn't say much for his intelligence, but he survived!

Den destruction is little used, but nips the problem in the bud. One must remember that persecution of the coyote is thought to increase the size of litters. Disney's image of the coyote hasn't done a favour to the livestock industry.

5. When the coyote penetrates your first line of defence, then you must consider adding another, and you must go through the decision process again to choose a measure that will best supplement what you already have.

The above description is by no means the whole story, but tries to alert you to some of the things you should consider in your plan to protect your livestock. In my opinion, the essentials are summarized thus:

  1. Don't install protective measures until the cost of doing business gets too high.
  2. Get an overview of the whole field before deciding what your choice will be.
  3. Examine the literature covering that choice - available on the Internet, and from your extension department, not your neighbour
  4. Watch the effectiveness carefully, and be prepared to add or change if necessary
  5. Remember, it's what works for you that counts!

Eugene Fytche, P.Eng
Almonte, Ontario
April 8, 2001

Biographical note:

Eugene Fytche is a retired engineer who has worked in power systems in Canada, England and Brazil, as well as a public servant in the Government of Canada. He has owned a commercial sheep flock near Ottawa, Canada for twenty years, and has done extensive research into the coyote predation problem in Ontario. His book "...May Safely Graze. Protecting livestock against predators" summarizes his conclusions.