Coyote killing lamb
High-tensile, electric fence
Proper wire spacing
Woven (net) wire fencing
Raising sheep in confinement
Livestock guardian dog
Donkeys with sheep
Tall grass provides
cover for predators
Livestock protection collar
Image source: USDA APHIS WS
Coyote killing sheep
Controlling predators on sheep farms
Predation accounts for a significant portion of sheep and lamb
losses in the United States. The severity of the problem varies
by farm and geographic region. For some producers, predator losses
can be so overwhelming that they decide to liquidate their flocks.
Other producers may never experience a loss due to predators.
Regardless of the perceived predator threat, all sheep producers
and owners of sheep should implement steps to prevent predation.
There are various strategies for dealing with predators. Similar
to internal parasite (worm) control, no one strategy will ensure
success. Usually, it is a combination of practices which provides
successful predator control.
Non-lethal predator control
Non-lethal methods of predator control do not harm the predator
and are favored by environmentalists, animal welfare advocates, and many producers.
In most situations, predator control begins with a good fence.
A fence is the first line of defense against intruders. However,
predators can penetrate a fence by digging under, jumping between
the wires, crawling through holes in the mesh, or jumping over
the top of the fence.
Woven wire (or net) fences in good repair will deter many predators
from entering pastures, especially if vertical stays
are no more than 6 in. apart and horizontal wires spaced 2 to 4 inches
apart in the bottom portion of the fence. Although more expensive
to install than high tensile electric fences, woven wire fences
have many advantages and should be considered for perimeter or
High-tensile, electric fencing is another option for predator-proof fencing. Perimeter fences should consist of at least
five strands of high-tensile smooth wire. Increasing the number
of wires will improve the effectiveness of the fence as a deterrent
To be effective, the wires need to be properly spaced. The bottom
wires need to be closer than the top wires. Where there is adequate
soil moisture, all of the wires should be electrified. Otherwise, the fence
should have a mixture of both live and ground wires. Four to eight inches
is a good height for keeping sheep in and predators out.
Absolute predator-proof fencing, although possible, is very
cost prohibitive. One example of such a fence is 13 strands of
alternating electric and ground wires, supported by line posts
feet, with support stays every 11 ft.
Fence lines need to be kept clean from vegetation. Weeds
and grass that touch the fence will reduce voltage and lessen
the effectiveness of the fence. Fencelines can be kept clean with
herbicides or hand-held weed cutters.
Livestock guardians are becoming an increasingly popular method
of controlling predators. According to a USDA NAHMS Study, 45
percent of sheep farms employ a livestock guardian. Livestock
guardians include dogs, llamas, and donkeys.
Go to chapter on livestock guardians
Predators attack mostly at night. Penning sheep at night in
lots near buildings and near humans will deter many predators.
If the yard is well-lit, the risk is further reduced.
Proper disposal of dead stock will prevent scavenging, which will
help to keep coyotes and other predators away. A dead carcass,
left out, can introduce coyotes to sheep predation.
Shed lambing instead of pasture lambing helps protect vulnerable
lambs. Newborn lambs are prime prey for predators. Pastures that
have a history for high predation should not be used for lambing.
Pastures that have rolling terrain and contain creek beds or brush
provide ideal cover for coyotes. Shifting the lambing season to
an earlier or later time may limit predation.
For centuries, livestock producers have used frightening devices
to ward off potential predators. Most predators are initially
fearful of unexpected disturbances and keep their distance. Over
the years, the devices have changed from simple scarecrows and
bells or other noisemakers to more modern devices like the Electronic
The Electronic Guard combines two scare tactics: light and sound.
It has a light-sensing device that activates it at night and turns
if off during daybreak, thus operating the device when predation
is most likely to occur. The number of Electronic Guards needed
to protect sheep will depend on the size of the pasture, the vegetation
in or around it, and the terrain.
The Electronic Guard is a self-contained, 11-pound cylinder that
can operate for approximately 60 days on a 12-volt alkaline battery.
It is available from USDA Wildlife Services.
Translocation is the capture of a predator and the release of
it in another area. It is often done with "protected"
predators such as wolves and bears. However, translocation is
expensive and does not guarantee the predator will not cause damage
in its new location or find its way home. It is becoming a less
popular means of dealing with predation.
Plastic collars were patented in 1998 as a control device for
sheep. The collars cover the animal's cheek and underside of the
neck. The collar prevents predation by predators that attack the
throat (which most do) by denying them access. The collars can
be used on lambs from a few days old to about a year old.
The collars can be fitted and removed in less than a minute per
sheep. Adjusting the collars for growth is equally quick and needs
to be done every third week in young lambs and perhaps every 3
months in weaned lambs. The collar won several environmental awards
for its South African inventors.
Lethal predator control
Lethal methods of predator control result in the death of the
predator and are necessary when non-lethal methods fail to control
While it is usually legal to kill coyotes, foxes, and mountain
lions, it's important to realize that it is not legal to kill
many other predators because they are protected by federal or
state laws. For example, vultures are protected by the Migratory
Bird Treaty Act. Bald Eages and Golden Eagles and their nests
and nest sites are protected by the Bald Eagle Protection Act.
Wolves and bears are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Hunting can be an effective way to reducing the local coyote population.
The rationale behind hunting is that as the coyote population is
reduced, there is less pressure on the natural food supply, so
wildlife numbers rebound, in turn providing more natural food
for the coyote population. Shooting is legal in most places. Coyotes
can be shot from helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.
Trapping is one of the most effective methods for controlling
troublesome coyotes. Trapping is an effective way to remove coyotes.
Leghold or snare traps can be used to kill troublesome coyotes.
Snares are more selective. Unfortunately, trapping will also routinely
injure or kill non-target species.
Leghold traps are banned in many states. A steel leghold trap
restrains the foot of a captured animal. After the animal is
captured, it should be humanely destroyed. An experienced professional
trapper should be used to remove predators. There are "padded"
leghold traps which minimize the pain felt by the animal.
A foothold trap is a jawed usually steel trap that is used
to hold a wild mammal and operates by springing closed and clamping
onto the leg of the animal that steps on it A snare consists
of a wire loop with a locking device that tightens around the
animal's body as it passes through the loop. Snares are most
commonly set where coyotes are crawling under a fence. Snares
are an alternative to steel traps.
Snaring is the technique of setting a steel-cable loop in an animal's
movement path to capture the animal by the neck or leg. Snares
present several advantages over steel leghold traps. In a south
Texas study, snares were 10 times more selective for target species
(coyotes and bobcats) than steel leghold traps. However, snares
can be a greater hazard to livestock and some non-target species
may be killed.
Public sentiment against the use of foothold traps
to capture animals has increased in recent years. Eighty-eight countries
have banned the use of leghold traps.
Livestock protection collar
Coyotes that attack lambs wearing a Livestock Protection Collar
will receive a lethal dose of 1080 and die 2 to 7 hours later.
The collar capitalizes on the killing behavior of coyotes. Coyotes
typically attack sheep-sized animals by biting them under the
neck and crushing the trachea, causing suffocation.
The Livestock Protection Collar consists of two rubber bands which
contain 15 ml of a 1% solution of sodium fluoroacetate (compound
1080). A larger collar containing twice as compound 1080 is not
registered for use in the U.S. A pink or yellow dye is contained
in the solution as a contamination indicator. The collar is held
in place by velcro strips beneath the throat and behind the jaw
of the animal.
LPCs are most effective in areas with a high frequency of attacks
and where other control measures have failed. They can only be
used in cooperation with USDA Wildlife Services staff. They are
authorized for use in 10 states (TX, SD, MT, NM, VA, WV, UT, OH,
WY, and PA). Compound 1080 is under constant scrutiny.
M-44 Cyanide Injector
The M-44 works by injecting cyanide powder into the mouth of the
predator. The ejector is triggered when the animal pulls back
on the baited M-44 unit. The sodium cyanide powder reacts with
the moisture in the animal's mouth, releasing hydrogen cyanide
Death occurs from 10 seconds to 2 minutes after the device is
triggered. The risk of secondary poisoning of predators feeding
on the carcass of an animal killed with an M-44 is nonexistent.
The M-44 can only be used in cooperation with USDA Wildlife Services
USDA Wildlife Services
Wildlife Services (WS) is a program within USDA's Animal and Plant
Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Its primary mission is to resolve
conflicts between wildlife and the public and create a balance
that allows wildlife and people to peacefuly coexist. In recent
years, WS's mission has expanded beyond agricultural damage to
include minimizing wildlife threats to public health and safety.
One of WS's responsibilities is to work with farmers and ranchers
to reduce wildlife damage to livestock and crops. Before beginning
any type of damage management program, WS checks to see if producers
have properly utilized non-lethal management practices.
In FY 2004, 75% of WS's research dollars were spent on non-lethal
damage management tools and techniques. When non-lethal methods
do not effectively reduce predation, WS provides the knowledge
and skill to track, capture, and remove predators from locations
where they are causing serious damage. In 1998, WS saved producers
$3 to $6.75 for each dollar they spent.
Go to In Support of
Wildlife Services =>
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