Animals that prey on livestock and poultry are more creative and intelligent than farmers would like them to be. The species that want to prey on your livestock probably lived on your farmland before you moved in, so telling them they can’t be there isn’t exactly easy.
You have a number of options for livestock and poultry predator control, exclusion and removal on your small-scale farm. The most effective means of preventing predation is to keep the predator from getting to your animals in the first place. Once the predator knows there’s a meal to be had, it can easily establish a pattern of attack, and that’s difficult to break.
Assuming you’re reading this because you have a predator problem, your first task is to determine what predators are causing problems on your farm. Armed with that knowledge, develop a plan to eliminate the issue using these six strategies.
The best way to remove a predator threat is to simply keep the predator out. Fencing is a farmer’s best friend in this case, and there are many types to choose from.
- Tall, woven-wire fencing buried partly in the ground will prevent predators from jumping over and burrowing under. An electric strand at the top will keep raccoons and opossums, which love to climb, from getting over.
- An electrified-net, portable fence can be effective against many critters—raccoons, opossums and foxes for sure—but persistent dogs and coyotes can jump 5 feet or higher, right over the fence.
- High-tensile, electric-wire fencing with strands spaced 6 inches at the bottom graduating to 12 inches at the top so predators cannot squeeze through is another option.
- Fladry—a wire fence with long, red flags hanging at 18-inch intervals—can be effective against wolves, particularly if it’s moved regularly.
While fencing out critters works pretty well for land-based predators, those coming from overhead—the hawks and owls that are after your chickens—are more difficult to keep away. If you keep your poultry in a small, fenced lot, you could potentially put a mesh fence overhead, but if your birds are out on pasture, it’s hard to install overhead fencing on an acre! There are more predator-control options that would likely work better for you below.
2. Guardian Animals
Properly socialized guardian dogs, donkeys and llamas can be effective predator protection. Dogs are useful for land-based and aerial predators, though they could become chummy with other dogs preying on your animals. Donkeys and llamas are especially effective against dogs and coyotes; however, if you live in an area with a large presence of wild dogs or coyote packs, your llama could become prey to them, as well. Each farming situation needs to be considered individually.
3. Distraction and Scare Tactics
In this category, think “fun house.” Around every turn, something is making a noise, flashing or blowing in your face. You don’t want your animals to feel like they’re at the carnival, but well-placed elements of surprise can deter predators.
- Noise devices and flashing lights set to go off at intervals at night are effective against all predators but can also disturb your livestock until they become accustomed to them.
- A radio can keep away predators for a short period.
- Continually lighting a pen at night will allow you to keep an eye on your animals and deter nocturnal predators, but a light might attract a dog searching for prey.
- Predator eyes—those large eyes painted on balloons or signs—can make an aerial predator think it’s being watched by a predator of its own.
- Hang random shiny things. Just like you tie CDs and strips of Mylar around the garden to keep out birds, you can tie them around the perimeter of the pasture to keep out visitors.
- Firing cracker shells when a predator is in sight—not at the predator but in the vicinity of a predator—can send them running.
Don’t employ all of these tactics at once. As predators become used to these sights and sounds, you’ll need to switch up your course of action by moving or alternating their use.
4. Removing Attractants
Predatory animals are attracted to your farm for more than just your livestock and poultry. Keep your property clean so they have one less reason to visit.
- Don’t put meat, eggs and dairy in your compost pile.
- Don’t leave cat and dog food outside.
- If your sheep, cows or horses give birth outside, clean up the area as soon as possible.
- Keep poultry and young animals in a predator-proof area at night.
- If an animal dies on your property, remove or bury the carcass.
Trapping animals requires some research. Certain animals can be trapped in certain states, and what you’re allowed to do with them from that point also varies. Find out rules governing trapping wildlife in your area through your state department of fish and wildlife.
A lot of issues surround trapping, even when doing so humanely with a box trap: Catching the target animal rather than another animal, holding an animal in a trap for a period of time, safety (for you and the animal), moving the trap, and relocating the animal after trapping. These are all issues you need to work out to be in line with your farming philosophy and your wildlife-management agency.
6. Lethal Force
Before taking lethal action against a predator on your farm, consider the legal and ecological implications. Many predators—hawks, owls and wolves included—are protected species and cannot be harmed or killed. Other predators, such as bears, might require a permit for hunting. Even the less endangered animals causing problems on your farm still have a role in the ecosystem. Removing them from an area can invite other predators to move in or promote the growth of another pest species that they also prey on, such as rats and mice.
If lethal force is your choice for predator removal, first be sure you can legally hunt the animal, and get the proper licenses, if required. Know the animal’s movement patterns, find a hunting spot that is safe for you and the people and animals around you, and have a plan for disposal of the predator’s carcass.
Work with your state’s Animal and Plant Health Identification Service wildlife services manager if your predator problem is more than you can handle. He might be able to work with you on a management plan.
Also, read “Predator Control for Sustainable and Organic Livestock Production” from the Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas for more information.
Get more predator help from HobbyFarms.com:
- Infographic: Pick Your Predator Patrol
- Protect Your Flock With Guard Donkeys
- 5 Predators After Your Livestock
- Will Your Dog Attack Livestock?
- Keep Coyotes Away From Pets and Livestock
About the Author: Freelance writer Lisa Munniksma blogs weekly about ag news and opinion for HobbyFarms.com’s “The News Hog” and about farming and traveling around the world at www.freelancefarmerchick.com.