You Think You Have Predator Problems?
Guest Article: © The material on this page is copyright by Oogie McGuire, October 2006.
Oogie's description of the industrial-strength predation threats she deals with in the mountains of Colorado appeared as a sidebar in my article “In the Shadow of the Hawk” (October/November 2006 issue of Backyard Poultry Magazine). It gives the rest of us new perspective on our own predator challenges.
Our area has all major predators except not yet wolves. We have bear, mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, dogs, hawks, eagles, foxes, raccoons, skunks etc. Our primary fencing for the pasture is DOW [Department of Wildlife] provided game fence, 8 ft tall with 2 strands of barbed wire on top, then 2 segments of woven wire hog fence ringed together then a barb wire at ground level. Ours is old, over 25 years and is in poor shape so we’ve reinforced it with 16 ft welded wire panels around the entire bottom section. Internal cross fences are either electric netting from Premier or welded wire fences. Sheep and geese are the ones in the pasture. Chickens have always been totally free range and can go anywhere. That will change now based on problems we have had this year. In spite of that fencing and even though we put the poultry in the barn at night we’ve had losses so to back up the fencing we have guard dogs. Unfortunately we have not been able to get our guardians to also protect the poultry. They either ignore them or keep them away from the sheep.
This year we lost 49 out of 100 chickens to coyotes. These have been daytime attacks and we’ve been unable to get back to the barn in time to kill the offenders. At the time of the most recent big attack we had one dog in with ewes and lambs and our other working dog was at the vets. The coyotes came under the game fence, over 2 hot electric nets and killed 1 adult goose, 2 half grown goslings, injured the adult male goose, attacked one adult ewe and also one lamb. The kills were devoured, the gander is recovering as are the sheep. The dog that was at the vets would have prevented that because she would have caught them digging and repelled them but it’s clear that even with our fences we need the assistance of dogs to keep our stock safe.
We have had bears in the driveway and between our house and sheep pens and the dogs kept them from attacking the sheep. We have also had the bobcat come right up to the sheep pen fences but never went in. In that case we did not have a dog with that group but it was a pen of about 25 adult rams with horns and I think the cat decided not to take them on. We have lost sheep to mountain lions in the past, they can jump the 8 ft fences carrying an adult ram. But that was before we had guard dogs. No attacks from cats since we got the dogs.
Guard dogs take a while to train/grow up and some don’t work but overall they are the best predator repellant we have.
Addendum: January 2007
[Guard dogs figured prominently in Oogie's strategies for warding off predators, so I suggested: “Since you've had such good results with your guard dogs, readers will certainly benefit from knowing what breed(s) you are working with.” Below is her response.]
Breed is irrelevant, individual dogs are [what count]. We've had both good and bad from several breeds.
Currently we have one Pyrenees and one Polish Tatra x Spanish Mastiff Cross. Both these are good working dogs.
We also have one Polish Tatra x Spanish Mastiff x Pyrenean Mastiff cross puppy that is untested; and one Akbash x Pyrenees cross that isn't good.
We've had a Pyrenees who was not great and an Akbash x Pyrenees cross who was excellent.
About one in four guard dogs will not work in your specific situation. You can't always know what a puppy will grow up like. Best bet is a breeder willing to work with you in helping train or willing to swap out a dog if it matures into one that won't work. Most guard dogs will work somewhere. All guard dogs need to be gotten as puppies, especially if your sheep are not the standard docked tailed big white sheep as dogs will learn colors and may attack colored sheep if not raised with them.