Losing your livestock to predators is expensive, frustrating, and flat out heartbreaking — and protecting them isn’t always the easiest of tasks. While you may be tempted to break out your shotgun, there are numerous non-lethal steps you can take to keep your animals safe. Join us for this guest post!
Protect Your Livestock from Predators
Guardian animals are one of the oldest forms of livestock protection. While dogs tend to be the most common guardian animals, llamas and donkeys are also popular choices.
Guardian dogs are raised from puppyhood with the animals they are meant to protect. Certain breeds are commonly used, such as the Akbash or Great Pyrenees — however, not all dogs within those breeds are suitable.
If coyotes and domestic dogs are your problem predators, one or two guardian dogs should be enough to protect your livestock. If wolves or other large predators are a concern, dogs may become victims to attack themselves.
Homestead Lady butts in: We just go our first guard dog, a Pyr named Isaac. He’s claustrophobic which means he won’t sleep in his room in the barn but he spends all night on patrol. He power naps in the morning and then patrols again. The size of this dog is amazing – he’s like a small horse! His bark alone is terrifying for other animals but he is so sweet and gentle with us, even and especially the toddler. Each dog is different and it’s important to get to know them beforehand but we love our Pyr!
Llamas are a fantastic guardian animal and can offer longer-term predator control than dogs. They require no training as they’re naturally aggressive towards dogs and coyotes. They don’t even need to be raised with their guardian flock to be effective.
Females or geldings (castrated males) are recommended as guardians. They should always work solo as a pair are likely to bond with each other and fail to protect the flock. For more information, you can visit Mother Earth News here.
Homestead Lady butts in: FYI, alpacas are not llamas and will NOT serve as a livestock guardian substitute. We toured an alapaca farm (further feeding my alpaca addiction) and I asked the farmer if alpacas would work as guard animals. She laughed and said the cool thing about alpacas’ personalities is that they’re much sweeter and more mild than llamas. She said that, in a pinch, they’d defend their babies but alpacas just aren’t aggressive or big enough to do much damage to a determined predator.
Given the opportunity, most donkeys will bond with sheep and protect them from predators. If their loud bray and hot pursuit don’t scare away predators (and alert you), they are likely to to rise up on their hind legs and strike with both front feet.
When choosing a guardian donkey, a jenny and foal will provide the best protection. However, jennies also work well solo, as do geldings. Unfortunately, not all donkeys make good guardians. Some are too aggressive with the animals they are meant to protect.
Whatever species of guardian you choose, remember that they will need to bond with the animals they’re protecting — and that can take time. To learn more about donkeys as livestock guardian animals, visit Hobby Farms here.
A good fence is a surefire way to protect against predators. High-tensile, electric fencing is one of the best choices for exclusion. Perimeter fences should consist of at least seven wires, equally spaced six to eight inches apart, and built to a height of 42 – 54 inches.
Wolves and coyotes will dig to reach their prey, so it’s important that you place the bottom wire no more than six inches from the ground.
Woven wire fencing is another option to keep predators from infiltrating your pastures. They can be far more expensive to install than high tensile electric fences, but have many advantages and are ideal for perimeter or boundary fences.
Since fences designed to keep predators out are more expensive than those meant keep livestock in, they are rarely practical for large areas. A cost-effective solution is night-penning, which works especially well for small and medium-sized ranches.
Homestead Lady butts in: The options when it comes to livestock fencing are enough to make your head swim. An easy way to see what might work in your area is to drive around and look at other pastures/farm lots. If a lot of farmers use a certain type, that might mean it works well and/or is affordable in your area.
If you’re an urban homesteader, you may want to look into chain link panels to create livestock pens. We used these a lot when we lived on an urban homestead for creating movable livestock areas. They’re a bit pricey to invest in, but once you have them, they last forever and they’re portable. For predator protection, especially for poultry, add a width of hardware cloth along the base of the panels to close up the holes of the chain link. Raccoons and possums get grabby and reach right through chain link but the hardware cloth is super strong.
When predators choose to kill livestock or pets, they do so opportunistically. They seek out the young, old, or weak animals first, as that’s the easiest way to meet their needs. A simple way to prevent loss of your stock is by keeping them healthy and fit.
Young animals are often the most vulnerable, so it’s a good idea to keep mothers and babies near the house to reduce predation. Keep small animals, like chickens and rabbits, in well protected buildings to protect them from raccoons, opossums, and other, larger predators.
Unfortunately, there’s no foolproof way to protect your animals 100 percent of the time. In general, the best plan of attack to protect your livestock is by making predators think that eating your animals will be far more work than snagging field mice or wild rabbits.
Liz Greene is a dog loving, beard envying, pop culture geek from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch up with her latest misadventures on Instant Lo or follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene.