Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Predator defense mechanisms

As a livestock producer, I have an everyday relationship with predators that seem to like lamb for dinner as much as my family does. Our back fenceline borders the Mesa big game winter range, which serves as a coyote refuge with human presence prohibited during the winter months.

What to do? We have no interest in trying to kill every predator in the neighborhood, but we need our sheep herds to be protected. My family is a group of active shooters (although not especially effective target-hitters I might add) and we allow sport hunters access to go after coyotes. We herd the sheep, see them everyday, and I camp on the lambing ground during lambing season.

But for 24-hour protection, we use livestock guardian dogs, including these two Akbash females pictured below, as well as guardian burros adopted off the range in Nevada. Once we convinced the burros not to kill the guard dogs, they all get along great, and usually erupt into play at least once an evening.

These are very effective predator defense tactics for our sheep. Another defense mechanism with use with both our sheep and cow herds is entirely natural - horns. Our Hereford cows are horned and they don't like canids. Our Rambouillet rams know exactly where their horn tips are and will slash at anything they deem a threat. Besides, these bad boys look gorgeous out on the range.


Matt Mullenix said...

What do the burros do when they see coyotes?

NorCal Cazadora said...

A friend of ours has a game ranch on the Central Coast, and he was having a problem with mountain lions. A neighbor advised him to get a buffalo with calf, because nothing is meaner. It worked.

I like the animal solutions. If I had a ranch, I'm sure I would not hesitate to take out a coyote that threatened my livestock. And I don't begrudge predator hunters at all.

But personally, I think I'd find it very hard to kill something I didn't plan to eat. Of course, knowing my household, we might just eat coyote. But I don't think it would go over well at parties.

Heather Houlahan said...

How did you persuade the range burros not to stomp the guard dogs flat?

Semavi Lady said...

Beautiful pics!

Burros can be individualists with their tolerance of flock guardians. I've had a horse or two that would back up, running, in order to send a flying kick at any dog. Many equines learn to recognize the slower moving, lowered head & tail carriage, and calm presence of the flock guard as non-threatening. Others may have a personal comfort zone a lot wider which the LGDs can learn to respect. Animals do not know the human definition of a peaceable kingdom so sometimes management is the best solution.

Cat Urbigkit said...

The burros go at the coyote at a run, striking with their front hooves, braying to beat the band. They hardly ever bray, so when they do, something major is happening.

I laughed when I read the buffalo with calf - now that is nothing to mess with!

All these critters treat me like I'm their mother, so I introduced the first dog to the burros and camped with them all, physically getting between the burros and the dog when they would start after her. The dog is smart and kept her eye on the burros, and stayed in the middle of the sheep. It was a struggle, but when a coyote came into the north end of the pasture, the burros and the dog all went after it, and they finally figured out they were all on the same team. They all learned how to work together on their own.

Semavi Lady:
The burros are very kind to my adult female Akbash, but they also know that the yearling female is a brat, so they chase her and play with her. When they decide "it's no more nonsense" around the sheep, they mean it, and they make her behave. They show different tolerance levels for different animals. They have NO tolerance for the herding dog - we have to keep him at my side to herd the sheep, or they'll take him out, no doubt.

Andrew Campbell said...

Cat: welcome to Querencia! It was so great to see your recent pics from Mongolia. As Steve can testify, we've all been lucky to visit some of the same places.

Great story about using natural relationships to control predator behavior. And those are some awesome burros + dogs!


Peter said...

How do you keep the guard dogs from attacking the sheep? Do they have to be specifically trained not to do so?

Cat Urbigkit said...

The breeds of livestock guard dogs we use have been bred for thousands of years just for that purpose, so it's their very nature at this point. We bed the puppies in fleece, so they love the smell and feel of wool before their eyes ever open. They grow up licking sheep noses and bedding down with the sheep, so their bond with the sheep is really, really strong.