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Prevention over Reaction

When people ask me what my favorite deterrents are for predators, I usually respond with prevention. However, in my experience most people ask for help after an incident has already occurred to them or near them. This is mostly human nature as we often don't worry about things that may seem distant because "it won't happen to me". I think that perhaps its time to break out of that mold, especially if we want to reduce depredation or even predator presence overall.

When it comes to prevention there are a few things that in my opinion should or can be done. Some overlap with monitoring but I plan to discuss some more practical aspects of preventing depredation. Prevention can happen when rumors of predators start spreading in communities or social media or can be a good practice overall when running a livestock operation. This obviously depends on what kind of operation you are running and how able you are to put these practices into place.

Pens and fences

This is the most common form of prevention but also one of the trickest to do. Fencing and putting animals in pens is often something seen in smaller operations that utilize private land rather than say livestock grazing on public land. As such it may not be a useful form of prevention for all. To those that it is, however, it is a good practice to fence or pen animals if predators are around. Putting that extra barrier between your livestock and a predator may help, especially if that fence is electrified. Some species can jump a really high fence so I always advise at least a five-foot-tall fence, possibly higher. However, just the physical barrier between a predator and livestock creates uncertainty in the predator which is always good to have.

It may not be necessary to pen your livestock all the time. As mentioned in the monitoring post, hopefully, you will have a good idea of the predator activity times and respond accordingly. You can get into the habit of doing it every night if you are able and that will probably reduce depredation risk but most producers usually do it during dispersal period or puppy season.

It is worth reminding that a fence is only good when it's properly done and maintained. Make sure you check your fence line and often keep an eye for tracks. If your fence is set up properly but there is a lot of activity going on just past the fence, it is possible that wildlife is jumping it and different measures should be considered.

Carcass removal

Despite what you may hear or read, predators won't pass up a quick and easy meal and nothing is easier than eating something that is already dead since predators don't have to spend calories chasing it. Keeping carcasses around is bad for a few things:

Firstly, it attracts predators and encourages them to spend time on the ground where your livestock is. Carcasses smell strong which encourages predators to investigate the area and even if they don't eat the carcass, the fact that they are around your livestock is something you want to avoid as their hunting instincts might kick in when encountering prey.

Secondly, it ensures predator return. Unless you have a large predator capable of carrying the carcass away, what will most likely happen is that a predator will eat as much as they can and return another day. This behavior is typical of predators and it feeds into the first point where you are encouraging the predator to stay around your livestock for a long time and also return. It should be noted that there are some theories about keeping predators fed with "sacrificial" animals in order to prevent others from taken. While in theory, it may work, this is something that is hard to scientifically prove and therefore I don't recommend it.

Lastly, depending on the state of the carcass it is possible for a predator to associate livestock with food. This is something that is still debated amongst carnivore biologists but there is a theory that predators don't "know" that livestock are food and won't attack them unless they get a taste of them. This is debated on levels but a part of it is definitely true. If a predator realized that livestock are associated with higher fat and calory intake( the predator doesn't obviously do the math but mammal brains are wired to prefer fatty food) they will prefer livestock over wild prey.

Carcass removal may be something that you do anyway depending on state laws but if you have the ability to do so and don't I suggest you start since it can reduce the risk of predator presence significantly.

Early deterrent application

This one goes side by side with fencing but I feel it should be said. Establishing deterrents and alternating between them at high risk areas or during high risk periods can be an effective way to reduce risk and depredation. I will talk more about thinking like a predator in the future but if you know that predators have frequented this place in the past or if you know it's puppy season etc then applying those measures early on can reduce depredation and ultimately conflict. This is about preventative rather than responding to predator presence or depredation.

You don't have to go all out but some measures, especially in high traffic or vulnerable areas will probably stop any opportunistic depredation for occurring. This is the reason why livestock guardian dogs are popular. They provide enough discouragement and lack of habituation that unless things get very bad most farmers and ranchers won't need any other measures.

This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of proactive measures and I plan to touch on a few of them individually so watch this space.


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