Predator control is an important part of any farming operation. No farmer wants to see their precious livestock killed by predators, yet this is a persistent issue people have struggled with for generations. Predator control can impact profit margins and also have an impact on your local ecosystem. To ensure your farm has adequate predator control, it is important to follow some hard and fast rules as well as being familiar with a few extra precautions that can drastically change the predation rate on your farm or ranch.
Consider what animals you will be keeping, what guardian animals you will acquire, what your fencing system will be, what your geography is like, and what your trash disposal system is. Do not overlook predator control on your farm or you may end up losing money down the line.
- Cayote: One of the most common predators, Cayotes tend to hunt solo in the Spring, using stealth to track down their prey, making them particularly dangerous for herds of sheep, goats, or other small ruminants.
- Bear: While a bear likes to forage for more than just prey, they can be dangerous for your livestock, especially leading into the winter months. The thick fur of a bear can also help prevent shock.
- Fox: If you have chickens, geese, newborn lambs/goats, or other very small livestock, the fox is a predator you should be aware of. They can be very cunning and difficult to deter, and require multiple layers of security to be adequately controlled.
- Raccoon: The racoon is a scavenging animal and can be a nuisance especially if trash or compost might lure them to your property. A raccoon won't bother your larger livestock, but will have a go at your smaller animals, particularly of the poultry variety.
- Owl: One of the most frequent predators of chickens, owls can be very difficult to control because of their tendency to hunt at night and their relatively stealthy way of hunting their pray.
- Hawk: The hawk is another one of the most common predators of chickens and other poultry-type livestock. The hawk can pick off a chicken with exceptional speed.
- Eagle: The eagle, like the hawk, can quickly attack your animals from the sky, but can be more difficult to deter than the hawk or owl.
Now that we've overviewed some of the most common predators in North America, let's look at what factors play into a good predator control system on your farm:
Geography is an often under looked element of predator control. Animals in general tend to follow paths of least resistance. This is why it is important to rotate your livestock. If they do not rotate, they will tend to follow the same paths to their water troth, causing erosion. The same principle can be applied to predators. If there is a river, railroad track, interstate, or driveway between your livestock and predators, it can act as an additional layer of security. For roads, the transit of vehicles tends to be the point of resistance. For waterways, the water itself tends to be the point of resistance.
Wherever possible, set up geographic and botanical barriers between predators and your livestock. Even a visual barrier can add to your predator control system. Certain varieties of trees and plants can help to offer such protection, when strategically planted outside your fence row.
Like personal home security, predator control should be thought of as a system of layers. With each layer added, your odds of reduced predation increase considerably. When you are planning to set up your pastures, consider picking pastures that have additional buffers like the ones mentioned above.
Guardian animals are perhaps the most guaranteed way to reduce predator issues on your farm and improve predator control. A good guardian dog, for example, can offer the same if not better protection than an electric fence for a small fraction of the price.
While you will need to consider the cost of veterinary care, dog food, training, grooming, and other factors of dog ownership, the guardian dog can be thought of as an insurance policy you are purchasing for your animals. When purchasing a guardian dog, it is important to either train them from the early days of puppyhood, or purchase an animal that has been professionally trained. A common mistake made purchasing guardian dogs is an individual thinking they can purchase a home-tamed dog and easily transition them into livestock guardianship through merit of their breed alone. These dogs often end up in animal shelters because their owners underestimate the parameters of the dogs duties. Guardian dogs are not the same as domestic pets, and need to be instilled with a sense of duty and domain from a very early age.
Other common guardian animals include donkeys, llamas, alpacas, roosters, geese, and more. These animals can offer additional layers of predator control to your farm without the added expense required for the upkeep of dogs. Donkeys will require a minimal amount of feed, and will run at predators to protect their herd. Llamas will mostly subsist off grass alone, requiring very little feed, and will do the same as a donkey but with less feed expense. A rooster will charge at predator to protect its chickens, and a goose will do the same but without differentiating between what type of animal in its herd it is protecting. While these offer additional security, it is generally accepted that dogs are the superior form of predator control because of their pack mentality and willingness to fight with invading animals vs. intimidation tactics alone.
Sight, Light, & Noise
Some farmers will put posts or scarecrows at various intervals in their fencing system, and will hang old cd's, pie plates, or other flashy things from those posts. This can buffer your predator control and make it that much more likely that your property is protecting your livestock.
While unsightly to some, this can offer additional predator control because of animal sensitivity to light, sound, and human sized silhouettes. When the wind blows, the items will clank against each other, enough to scare a deer or a wary predator. When the sun or moon reflects against these items, it can offer further deterrent through the eye-like reflection that occurs. There are also other motion sensitive light/sound generating products available on the market which claim to offer similar deterrence, and those can also be explored if your budget allows.
This is especially helpful if you have a seasonal garden and want a little extra predator/scavenger control, because you can take them down at the end of the season without too much disturbance to the aesthetic of your property.
The most tried, true, and long term sustainable/affordable solution for predator control is a good fence. A good fence can save time and money not only on livestock containment, but just as importantly on keeping dangerous animals from killing your valuable livestock.
A standard wooden fence will do very little to deter predators, as they will simply go under, over, or in between the posts in order to reach their pray. A chain link fence offers slightly more protection, but can be easily climbed. A woven wire fence offers slightly better protection, but can also be easily climbed or jumped over. A barbed wire fence can offer better protection, but is quite cumbersome to install and maintain. This is why we highly recommend an electric fence system.
With an electric fence, a predator does not even need to touch the fence to be deterred. Even from some distance the predator will sense the electricity, and will stay away from the fence. If the predator is shocked, you are effectively training them to stay away from your farm. Predators, especially cayotes, can remember an area for many years, and will negatively associate the area if they have experienced an electric fence shock. For this reason, even a single strand of electric wire can prove superior to a wooden, chain link, or non-electrified woven wire fence. Some farmers, especially those with existing wooden fences, choose to run a few electric hi-tensile wires on the outside of their wooden fence, to offer this additional layer of predator control to their already existing system.
By far the most effective predator control you can achieve with an electric fence is to set up electric woven wire. The braid/gaps ensure that any animal trying to get into your pasture will be shocked, even if they are agile and good climbers. You are not taking the risk of a predator simply slipping through without touching the wire, because the woven grid pattern ensures that the animal must touch the wire at some point. With a bit more expense on wire, you can achieve a much more secure system, especially with stubborn animals like the bear or fox. It is also worth noting that a woven fence is much more sturdy and able to hold up to tree falls than other fence types, reducing your risk of predator entry from a tree fall or other gap. There really is no fencing system superior to our electric woven wire.
Portable wire can also be used for predator control, but should not be considered a permanent solution to your predator problems. A bear, for example, could get through electric netting or polybraid because of their thick fur/paws preventing shock. With a temporary system, it will take the bear touching the fence with its nose/face to really feel a shock in a meaningful way. While the nose is often a way a bear explores new things, this is still a gamble you are taking with temporary systems. This is why farmers will often manage small temporary paddocks within the confines of a permanent system. Or if they do need to do temporary fencing outside a permanent fence, they will often include guardian animals in their rotation plan. You can learn more about temporary and permanent fence solutions in our other blog post here, or on our how-to page here.
If you compost, make sure to keep it well contained, with well secured electric fencing and/or other fencing containing it. Keep your compost operation a good distance from your home/livestock, as the smell of compost will attract all sorts of wildlife.
If you are disposing of trash, make sure to have a secure trash house that will adequately contain the smell of your trash. A good shed with a lock can prevent you from having trash scattered across your yard by wildlife, while simultaneously improving the odds of deterring predators from your property.
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We hope this post has at least been marginally helpful in your predator control research. Feel free to check out our other how-to content on predator control located here.