Avoid Wild Attack to your Herd this Fall
Updated: Sep 19
Autumn brings scavengers, protect your herd. It’s not just humans gathering the fall harvest for a long winter, it’s animals as well. Different regions, crops and livestock are susceptible to wild animals preparing for hibernation or looking to sustain their calorie intake. Here are the four most common wildlife attacks and how to avoid them on your land.
Geography: Black bears (although they can be blonde, brown or even cinnamon in color) are found in nearly every state in America! Note, most black bears in states with snow on the ground will hibernate in winter.
Habitat: Black bears can live in a variety of habitats and climates including forests, mountains, tundra, deserts and grassy areas.
Threat: Once the summer bear season has ceased, it’s time for the mammals to bulk up. Bears can spend to 18 hours a day scavenging for food before hibernation. Typically, a black bear will consume 5,000 calories per day, but come autumn, they can consume up to 20,000 calories per day. There is a term called “hyperphagia” which describes the bears’ incessant hunger and need for food. This means livestock is at the greatest risk in fall months.
Black bears typically kill livestock by biting the neck of the victim, and then will tear, maul and even mutilate carcasses. This is the easiest identifier of bear attacks. Signs around the animal can include scat and a bedding-down area.
Protection: Bearsmart.com is one of the best resources for sustainable solutions between bears and livestock. Their first recommendation is to clean up the area, don’t leave items that will attract or even confuse the bear. “Secure bear attractants or locate them — especially crops, calving areas, boneyards and feed storage areas — away from forest edges and bear travel routes. Creating open “buffer” zones (100 m is recommended) between potential attractants and the places bears are most likely to frequent decreases the likelihood that bears will approach your chickens and pigs.”
Next, they recommend bringing livestock, especially smaller animals, inside at night. For larger areas such as fields and farms, they suggest a variety of deterrents, “Including noise-making pyrotechnics, strobe lights, electronic sirens, or scarecrows to temporarily repel bears. (Keep in mind that long-term and repetitious use of these devices may render them ineffective, and dominant older bears may not be repelled by these devices at all.)”
Electric fencing can be an affordable investment towards livestock safety. Bearsmart.com notes that, “A well-maintained and well-grounded electric fence can keep bears out of crops, bee hives, feed storage areas, and lambing and calving grounds. Calves, goats, geese and especially sheep, pigs and chickens are all vulnerable.”
A popular option is a guard dog or animal. Most ranchers and farmers opt for dogs, but donkey and llamas can also help prevent bear attacks. “For protection of livestock against black bears in particular, well-trained guard dogs such as Great Pyrenees or Black Mounted Curs appear to be most effective.”
Grizzly Bear (Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington)
Same information as black bear; however, beware, grizzly bears are not nearly as shy of humans as black bears. Be prepared and safe.
Mountain Lion (Puma, Cougar, Catamount)
Geography: Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, North Dakota, Texas, and Florida.
Habitat: Their usual habitat is steep, rocky canyons or mountainous terrain; however, they are adaptable, and young males, typically scouting new territory can wander thousands of miles. The large feline can be found in deserts, coastal forests, and from sea level to 10,000-foot elevations; they are adaptable and are even spotted in suburban and urban areas.
Threat: Mountain lions will pray and eat on almost anything! The list includes sheep, goats, cattle, horses, house cats, dogs, pigs, and poultry. According to Wildlife Damage Management, “Damage is often random and unpredictable, but when it occurs, it can consist of large numbers of livestock killed in short periods of time.” They also note that, “Mountain lions cause about 20% of the total livestock predation losses in western states annually. Sheep, goats, calves, and deer are typically killed by a bite to the top of the neck or head. Broken necks are common. Occasionally, mountain lions will bite the throat and leave marks similar to those of coyotes.”
Protection: The Wildlife Damage Management recommends the following methods to deter mountain lions.
Exclusion: Install heavy woven-wire or electric fences to protect poultry and domestic animals of high value.
Cultural Methods: Remove brush and timber near farm or ranch buildings.
Frightening: Night lighting, blaring music, or barking dogs may repel lions.
Trapping: Each State has different laws.
Other Methods: The use of hounds trained to trail and tree lions is very effective.
Geography: Everywhere! Every State in America has coyotes.
Habitat: You’ve probably heard a coyote howl at night before, even in urban settings. They live in family units and sleep in dens. They can live in open plains and prairies, deserts, forests, woodlands, coastlines, suburbia, and cities.
Threat: Wildlife Damage Management notes that, “Coyotes normally kill livestock with a bite in the throat, but they infrequently pull the animal down by attacking the side, hindquarters, and udder. On small lambs, the upper canine teeth may penetrate the top of the neck or the skull. Calf predation by coyotes is most common when calves are young.”
Protection: According to Project Coyote, your best line of defense is a fence. “But predators can penetrate a fence by digging under, jumping between wires, crawling through holes, or jumping over,” explains the organization. “Absolute predator-proof fencing, although possible, is generally cost prohibitive; however, woven wire fencing in good repair will deter many predators from entering pastures, especially if vertical stays are no more than six inches apart and horizontal wires are spaced two to four inches apart at the bottom. Although more expensive than high-tensile electric fences, woven wire has many advantages and should be considered for perimeter fences.”
Another tactic is fladry which is a line of rope mounted along a fence line with hanging strips of red nylon flags, according the Coyote Project. “The flags frighten predators, making them unwilling to cross the line. Fladry lines were traditionally carried by wolf hunters in Eastern Europe to drive wolves to areas where they could then be killed. Studies show that fladry can deter wolves for several months.”
And, of course, dogs, donkeys and llamas offer good herd protection from coyotes.
Geography: The American Badger’s typical range is throughout the Great Plains and the Western United States, and true to the University of Wisconsin college moniker, Wisconsin does indeed have the greatest number of badgers.
Habitat: The small mammal prefers open, dry grasslands (crops!), but can be very adaptable and found in woods, seaside cliffs and even quarries.
Threat: Their biggest threat is to small lambs and poultry. Badgers’ main diet is primarily pocket gophers, ground squirrels, prairie dogs and mice. However, given the opportunity, they will prey on vulnerable populations. They can also be very destructive and dig holes one to two feet wide and up to nine feet deep. Watch where you step!
Protection: The most efficient means to stop badger invasion is to construct a wire mesh fence. This might not always be feasible due to land size. Other deterrents include purchase and installation of solar lights that can flash on (some even with eyes) that will spook the critter. Badgers are territorial and don’t like others in their space. Motion sensor lights and changing their direction every now and then are helpful tools. Garden scarecrows or other “scare” tactics posted around the fields are said to be quite helpful, and need rotation as well.
An unconventional method, spray human, male urine. Dilute the liquid with water in a 1:4 ratio to help tame the smell, and use a watering can or sprayer to maintain discretion. The “old wives’ tale” barrier fades away in five to seven days, meaning you will have to repeat once a week and immediately after it rains.
Geography: Raccoons are native to North America and found throughout Canada, Mexico and the United States.
Habitat: They like to live in wooded areas but are very adaptable and can live in most environments. They are nocturnal and live in dens, trees, and other hollow places close to food and water.
Threat: As a smaller predator they pose an extra threat to poultry as they can reach through chicken wire, pull apart fencing, dig under or move logs or rocks.
Protection: One of the most effective ways to keep them out of the coop is to use live/electric chicken netting fencing. You can also secure the inner coop with small metal mesh. You can also choose to make the chicken entry small so that they can not fit into the coop. You might also choose to add lighting with a motion detector. That might not keep them out but it will be a deterrent.
Geography: Fox are found worldwide from deserts, grasslands, forests and even the cold Arctic.
Habitat: Since they lives in such varied places its safe to say that they are very adaptable. They can adapt to live in many types of landscapes. Of course food and water are key to where they look to find a home. They are very territorial and will dig to make burrows called dens which can be generational.
Threat: Young pigs, lambs and poultry are killed by fox. They can jump up to 3 ft but are dexterous and can also climb as well.
Protection: Protecting livestock from fox attack is where height of fencing matters. Fox are great jumpers. Shutting livestock in at night and or adding the tallest fence you can will help.
Author: Julie Bielenberg, a writer and farmer on the western slope of Colorado.