Keeping the Ranch Safe From Predators


Photo by Nicolette Hahn Niman

Farms and ranches are home to abundant wildlife. For the most part, these animals are very welcome and their presence adds to the enjoyment of farming. But when you're raising livestock, predators are a constant concern. These days, most ranchers are trying to keep predators away from livestock without killing or injuring the predatory animals.

To accomplish this on our ranch, we have come to rely on guardian animals, whose mere presence offers a significant deterrent to potential predators of our animals. Because of the significant advantages of using guardian animals, they are becoming increasingly common in the United States, according to the Department of Agriculture.

In our part of the country, the main predators are coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, raptors, and domestic dogs. Young calves and birthing mother cows are at risk from packs of coyotes or wandering dogs as well as mountain lions. But these predators rarely attack cattle because in doing so they put themselves at risk. Like the cape buffaloes we've all seen on the TV show Nature, mother cows will aggressively defend their young if attacked.

No amount of training will make a dog good at the task of being a guardian--they must do so instinctively.

Much easier prey are young goats and turkeys, for whom predator protection is absolutely essential. To safeguard them, we've been using guardian dogs. "The guarding dog is not a herding dog but rather a full-time member of the flock," USDA's website explains. It also notes that no amount of training will make a dog good at this task--they must do so instinctively.

Our dogs are both Turkish breeds--Akbash and Anatolian--that were developed specifically for the purpose of protecting livestock. Both have lived their entire lives among flocks or herds of farm animals. Our dogs live amongst the goats and turkeys they are protecting and bark at any potential predators to ward them off. To date, they have been extremely successful and we've lost no turkeys or goats to predators in spite of a healthy population of coyotes, bobcats, and domestic dogs and the occasional mountain lion on our ranch.

Lately, we've begun trying llamas as guardians for the goats. Llamas can be vigilant protectors of livestock herds and flocks. The beauty of llamas is that, like goats, they are browsing animals, eating naturally occurring vegetation. No additional feed needs to be brought in to sustain them.

Rumor has it that llamas are not as effective as dogs as keeping predators at bay. We've also heard that they can be surly beasts and quite unpleasant to deal with, even dangerous, especially for children. So far, our experience has been wholly positive, but only time will tell.