Predator loss is a reality all classes of livestock are susceptible to. Many with cattle do not have as big of a worry as those with sheep, goats, and poultry, but this pasture season was bad all over. Conversations with livestock producers across Canada showed us there is also a new threat around.
Red foxes have never been something we concerned ourselves about when it came to the livestock. For poultry, foxes are a known threat, but not for lambs. This spring there were many sheep producers reporting red fox issues on public forums. These were confirmed through game cams/wildlife insurance adjusters so we heeded the warning and kept our lambing flock in the close pens. Our guardian dog takes exception to the red foxes so we felt secure. Then there were reports of problems being caused by gray foxes and some were sighted within close proximity of our farm.
Know your enemy
As with most predators it is best to know your enemy. It is also important to help your guardian dogs protect their stock. To be honest, the creepiest trait of this predator is that they can be in trees. The producer we spoke with had several lambs bitten in the face but not killed. The bite pattern was two puncture wounds on the top of the head as the predator launched the attack while the ewe was lambing. Research showed that this is consistent bite pattern to the gray fox. One morning in the predawn the fox showed itself running from the lambing area. So, the producer is confident in his identification.
Red foxes have a cry that sounds like a woman screaming. These gray foxes chatter and trill. They sound very similar to a raccoon, which is what this producer thought they were looking for. This YouTube video proved very helpful because it reveals not only the voice of the animal but good shots of what it looks like.
The animal that was seen in the predawn looked exactly like this gray fox. When the dogs heard the sounds they got very agitated. Gray foxes average 3.6 to 7 kg (7.9 to 15.4 lbs.) and have a telltale black stripe down the centre of the back. This helps to distinguish it from a coyote. They are also known as tree foxes because of their amazing climbing ability using hooked claws. This makes them very elusive. The gray fox manages to escape predators such as domestic dogs and coyote. It is able to climb vertically 18 metres high in the trees.
To protect their flocks and help their dogs producers need to clean up all debris from the area. These animals will take over abandoned dens and are not much bigger than a cat. They can hide anywhere as well as climb trees. They are also listed as endangered so livestock producers are encouraged to make their operations as unattractive as possible so they just move along.
The other predator that definitely caused a lot of damage was wolves. This time, cattle producers were plagued with many farms losing animals in the double digits to attacks. Thankfully our electric fence helped keep wolves at bay because our one guardian dog would be no match to the larger predators.
Many years ago our sheep flock, at the time about 20 ewes and lambs, were not coming home from their bush pasture and my husband and our border collie went to look. They stumbled through the bush to find our guardian dog holding them in a firm circle while several wolves circled them just waiting for one to break away.
The smashing and crashing of my husband and our border collie caught enough of the wolves’ attention as to allow the sheep to run with the guardian dog close behind and got them straight to our yard. It was then we realized that these dogs are beyond courageous and loyal. It is also when we started listening to our dogs. If they say no to taking the flock into the bush then we don’t push.
It is also recommended by trappers that taking our dogs for walks around the property lines and encouraging urination will help to deter wolves and other predators from coming onto the land. This is a job our herding dogs are very happy to help with.
Our job this fall is to get rid of deadfall and old machinery to minimize the hiding areas. This will help our dog to keep our livestock safe. It is also safer for the humans that are out in the night checking the stock. No one wants to walk into one of these surprises.