Wild boars are stealing headlines, but what else is out there and what can producers do?
by Kristen Lutz
Producers are always plagued by predators. Along with current methods, there are newer ways to reduce the negative effects caused by bears, foxes, coyote and other damage-inducing wildlife.
Many producers are well aware of the distresses that predators bring to a farm. Reducing yield, killing livestock and damaging crops are just the beginning.
Meanwhile, new technologies could provide some help.
“Predation causes financial loss through the death loss of predated livestock, cost of providing veterinary care to injured animals, loss of valuable breeding stock, if killed, and the loss of future animal performance,” says James Byrne, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) beef cattle specialist.
Camping out and watching over your herd throughout the night isn’t the most ideal solution, but what else can be done? Better Farming asked several experts for their advice.
Most common predators
With each predator targeting a different sector of livestock and agriculture production, there is an extensive list of various wildlife species that cause issues.
The most troublesome predator in Canada is the coyote.
“Coyotes are, by a significant margin, the most common predator encountered by producers,” says Byrne. “Coyotes are the most common canine predator in North America and their range has increased significantly since the arrival of European settlers.”
There are also on-farm challenges with other predator species such as the “wolf, which is more lethal and targeting than the coyote,” says Ray Bittner, livestock predation lead at Manitoba Beef Producers (MBP). This is followed by bears and ravens.
“Members of the weasel family (mink, weasel and fisher), are significant predators of poultry,” says Byrne.
Although predator species may vary by region, Canadian farmers all share the familiar, disheartening feeling of losing members of their herd.
Negative effects caused by predators
Animal attacks don’t always lead to death. Farmers can experience other negative effects associated with predation events. Attacks can often result in injury to an animal, which can lead to costly veterinary bills.
“Predation causes financial loss … through the death of predated livestock, cost of providing veterinary care to injured animals, loss of valuable breeding stock, if killed, and the loss of future animal performance,” explains Byrne.
Issues can also linger within the remaining herd. “Increased vigilance after there’s been a predation event, meaning livestock tend to not feed as well or gain as well and they may avoid certain parts of the pasture,” says Melanie Dubois, senior riparian and biodiversity biologist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
“Negative effects can also spill onto the livestock producer. They have to increase wellness checks, implement management practices that increase labour costs.
“Also, we’re talking about the producers that care about their livestock, so there’s added stress about livestock being attacked or mutilated and eaten, and there’s a real breadth of impacts that predators can cause on the operation,” she continues.
In some cases, wildlife can potentially spread diseases to livestock and vice versa.
Hog farmers are well aware of airborne diseases that can easily spread between barns, as well as wildlife. “This could be very detrimental as swine or wild hogs are not on any list for predators and they aren’t hurting us, but it may come to that if we can’t get them under control,” says Larry Davis, Ontario Federation of Agriculture livestock evaluator and director for Zone 3 – Brant, Haldimand and Norfolk.
“The coyotes, foxes and skunks can carry rabies and any other disease.”
Byrne concurs: “Predators can spread a number of diseases injurious to livestock, including rabies, but the greatest threat comes from bacterial infections that are a result of the (occurrence).”
“Predator bites/scratches are always a bad thing and can lead to infection. Generally, a very healthy young animal will be able to withstand a simple cut or slash but animals under nutritional, or disease stress are always more susceptible to infections,” explains Bittner.
Compensation for deadstock
Insurance or compensation can be provided to farmers who have experienced a predation event. “Upon discovery of an injured animal, producers must seek veterinary care or other treatment to prevent further injury,” says Byrne. However, not all occurrences are mild. The common predators in Canada often aim to kill their prey, which in this case is livestock.
In Ontario specifically, compensation is provided to farmers after the death of a certain livestock species killed by a certain predator. Common predators are listed to ensure fair compensation for all producers. To determine the species which caused a predation event, the producer would have to call a livestock evaluator like Davis.
“I assess the situation and send my results to the government or OMAFRA and then they assess it,” he says.
“The Ontario Wildlife Damage Compensation Program, (OWDCP), provides financial assistance to producers whose livestock, poultry and honeybees have been damaged by wildlife. The program is part of the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal, provincial and territorial initiative,” explains Byrne.
“Over the years I’ve been able to put a price on the loss, and unless the producer can provide a higher value through proof of receipts, I (determine) whether it’s a purebred animal and if it’s registered or not,” Davis says. “Lately, the government has been putting a price on animals based on a daily auction yard price. They determine this as the base price and that’s what the farmer (receives).”
Since not all species that prey on livestock are registered as predators, identification is necessary for compensation. Each species has a hunting method that can help in the identification process.
“This is challenging; there are some really good manuals out there that are available online that can help livestock producers do a necropsy. It can be challenging to identify the predator depending on how long it’s been since the animal was killed,” says Dubois.
“Some general things we see are the patterns on how canines attack versus how felines (cougars) or bears attack.
“Bears tend to attack over top and wolves and coyotes tend to go for the throat and the rear end of the animal and they hunt in packs,” she continues.
“I climbed up on top of a manure pile,” Davis says while explaining a recent investigation. “And typically, a coyote will get on a high point and overlook a situation.
“If they’ve been eating recently, they’ll leave stool on a high point. Sure enough, there was stool on top of the manure pile.”
“Bears generally leave the skeleton intact, preferring to skin the animal instead. The discovery of the hide as an inverted tube is a telltale sign of bear predation.
“Ravens typically attack by pecking at the eyes, head and neck of young animals.
“Attacks on poultry by members of the weasel family can be identified by the large number of birds (killed) and a classic puncture wound on the neck without any other significant damage to the carcass,” explains Byrne.
Davis agrees. “Mink will bite them on the neck and just leave them. And it’s much the same with a weasel.
“I look diligently for footprints and normally the killing will be in an area with loose soil because quite often when the event occurs there is a spot where the soil gets turned up and it becomes muddy,” he continues.
Revealing signs that can point to the species that caused the incident can also include methods of kill or tracks left behind from the animal. However, the only definitive answers would come from a DNA test conducted on fur samples collected from the kill site, or an eyewitness of the attack.
There are a number of traditional solutions that farmers have tried to prevent predators on-farm. Although installing motion sensor lights and having a secure fence may reduce the presence of predators, ultimately the problems will exist as long as the predators themselves do.
Sheep farmers, who seem to be the target of many predators, have adopted guardian dogs to protect their flocks. These dogs are raised to live with the flock and act as the sheep’s companion but remain enemies to coyotes or other predators which may put their flock in danger. Other guard animals include donkeys or llamas, which work similarly.
“Producers should use predator-deterrent fencing such as modified net wire fencing, galvanized 12.5 gauge high-tensile mesh wire with 15 cm by 15 cm spacing, adding electric strands to the top of the fence to make the overall height 1.70 metres. This will limit the capacity of coyotes to ‘jump’ over the fence,” suggests Byrne. “(They) should regularly check their fences for any breaks or holes that appear and repair as necessary.”
MBP is currently testing a suite of new technologies to mitigate the risk of attacks on livestock. One of these technologies includes fladry wire. It’s a “simple electric fence with hanging streamers that has been scientifically proven to hold wolf and coyote back from herds for temporary risk periods,” explains Bittner. More studies will likely be required, as it may not be suitable in all environments or for all types of livestock.
GPS collar or activity monitoring devices are also new ways to prevent predatorial incidents. Both work in a similar manner. The GPS collar would “allow you to know where your leader/follower/bulls/rams are at any time, day or night. You can even receive notification of escapes or unusual behaviour,” Bittner explains.
“Knowing your livestock’s location can assist your ability to find the herd in extensive pastures.”
As for activity monitoring devices, they’re able to track not only the movement of animals but also internal measurements such as heart rate. “They are like a Fitbit for cows,” says Dubois. They can “monitor heart rate, temperature and all sorts of things. When their heart rate spikes, you would get an alert on an app on your phone. Generally, during an attack incident, you would get a notification and you could check on your livestock,” she explains, referring to the spike in heart rate animals experience when attacked.
Foxlights are another, inexpensive, solution. Although named after one specific predator, Foxlights can be used against many species to protect any herd. “Foxlights are small solar-powered lights which flash erratic light shows at night, intended to catch the attention of foxes, coyotes, or wolf. We have several sets out on test and we will ask for results in this coming year,” explains Bittner.
For less permanent solutions, it may be feasible to adjust their farm management tactics.
“You can put rotational grazing patterns into place that keep your younger livestock away from wolf or coyote habitats and use those farther pastures when the (animals) are older,” suggests Dubois.
Predator attacks may seem endless, but thankfully research continues to develop solutions.
Dubois advises farmers not to feel like predatory attacks are everywhere and that it’s inevitable. “You want to have some understanding. Say, ‘If I continue XYZ about my management practices, then I can reduce my risk’,” says Dubois. BF