Welcome to the blog everyone. The first thing I want to talk about today is monitoring for predators. Monitoring and surveying for predators is key to establishing the right deterrents, shifting livestock practises and knowing what to expect. You can get a sense of the activity of your local predators, where they might frequent and at what numbers all without ever seeing them in person. So let's break it down:
A useful skill to have if you are in the outdoors a lot, tracking can relay some basic information about animals such as the species, preferred areas and if you are lucky activity. There are various resources online and in books about how to track and what to look out for but I will share my favorites at the end.
When it comes to predators, you want to look out for prints, scat, and scenting areas. Depending on the species, scent areas will vary so I suggest investigating that further. Prints are usually the easiest way to at least determine the species present in the area and where they might be found. When tracking it is best to keep an eye out on the ground, especially in open areas where tracks are likely to be more visible.
It's best to carry something with you for reference that could help you get an estimate of how large the prints are, especially when you are in predator areas where species with similar tracks might overlap such as wolves and coyotes or bobcats and cougars. It is also worth noting that weather can play a role in the state of tracks so don't be tricked into thinking that tracks are larger or smaller than they appear or that there are no predators in the area.
Whether you are leaving livestock to graze or just have the animals in designated pens, it is always worth taking note of the surrounding habitat. There are several habitat features that are attractive to wildlife and therefore predators.
Water sources are definitely something to note, especially in areas where water may be a commodity such as here in California. They should be visited as much as possible for tracking or trail cameras. If you have access to maps in the area try and make note of all the water sources and notice their proximity to the ones near your livestock. If you have a lot of water in the area, the likelihood that wildlife visits yours decreases but if you are the only one in miles, it is safe to assume that some wildlife will visit it.
Den habitats are also something to note. Most large mammal predators in the USA will den either under or next to rocks, large trees or caves. Familiarize yourself with the den habits of your local predators and if any of your surrounding habitats seems like good den sites, it is a good idea to scout and keep track of them. Especially since predators with babies have a lot more pressure to provide for their families.
In terms of monitoring, trail cameras should be on the top of your arsenal. They provide valuable information such as species active, their numbers, and the time they are active. The data can be used to best inform you or anyone else of when and how to act in regards to predators. If you have cameras out and you notice that a pack of coyotes frequently does the rounds around 1 am and you know they always visit a particular spot then you can set deterrents around or on that spot to keep them away.
There are a lot of different trail camera models out there and it can be pretty overwhelming in terms of choice. It's a subject that requires a bit of researching but I would say that even though costs may seem daunting it's a worthy investment. Even at a budget level, being able to have five cameras running in hotspots or areas of concern can give you an idea of what's out there and how frequently it is there.
Get into the practice of checking your cameras frequently and moving them around your property/pasture. Make sure you keep a record of the predators present and their activity around the areas you are interested in. Combine that knowledge with placing deterrents which we will talk about next time and you can keep livestock and predators safe.
These are just some simple starting steps in ensuring that livestock remains safe and that predators can use the landscape without much worry. I will be covering more in the next few weeks so stay tuned.