Farmers and homesteaders alike have a need to protect their livestock from predators. Since there are so many variables to consider--from the type of livestock you have, your property, resources, and the local predators--it can be tough figuring out an effective way to keep your animals safe.
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Let Your Livestock Live their Best Lives: Protect Them
The Best Ways to Keep Your Livestock Protected from Predators
Keeping livestock is more than a way to make money.
Livestock is your career, it is your family, it is your life.
So what do you do if your livestock is threatened by outside predators?
Do you start sleeping outside with them to keep the wolves at bay?
Do you transform your second bedroom into a pigsty?
Do you set up guard towers and spotlights and barbed wire fences?
None of that is super necessary, actually.
You can protect your livestock and sleep easy at night without giving up your home, your bed, or your entire life savings.
Can, and should.
Give Someone Else Guard Duty
You're not the only one who will protect your livestock to the best of your ability.
There are plenty of animals out there who are biologically programmed to want to protect your sheep, your pigs, or your cattle. All it will take is a little research and an investment, and you'll have the perfect living protector for your livestock. And who knows, you might even fall in love with this security system.
Dogs are probably the most common guard dog animals, and for good reason. Not only will they chase off would-be intruders, they will also bark, alerting you to the disturbance.
Although Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherds, Akbash, and Maremma dogs are the top breeds for livestock protection, you don't need to break the bank and go to an expensive breeder to get a dog that will effectively protect your livestock.
The best elements of livestock-protecting dogs are clear as soon as you put them to work: they are driven to perform and succeed, but they won't go crazy and damage your livestock when they get too excited. A dog can work in nearly any weather, and may just become your favorite ranch hand.
If you're going to get into the dog as guard game, though, there are some things you should know. First, even if you get an animal shelter rescue dog, it probably won't be cheap. You will want to consider getting your dog trained by a certified trainer so it can do its job well, and you'll also need to provide regular and standard vet care.
A llama is an unusual herd protector animal, but they are actually pretty amazing.
They live for a long time, bond easily with other animals, don't eat much, and may not need any extra attention for all of their hard work as a herd protector. A llama, when threatened by a predator, will kick and spit and charge, ensuring that that your livestock stays safe.
Llamas instinctively stay within the herd, and they eat the same food as sheep and goats do; their care needs are also pretty similar to sheep.
Now don't'cha wanna llama?
Stubborn? Check. Smart? Check. Great hearing? Check.
Donkeys are super low-maintenance but will do a great job protecting your livestock and alerting you to any predator issues. You wouldn't be able to ignore their braying even if you wanted to. Donkeys don't need extra training to be guard donkeys as they are naturally territorial, and they don't need lots of fancy food and treatment. You might even be able to get one for free!
Fence ’em in, Fence ’em out
A fence is probably your first barrier between your livestock and predators. But have you considered that it might be your most important?
If you're sticking with the tried and true fence of your ancestors and are tired of dealing with predator intrusions, consider updating your fence game.
If predators keep slipping through notches or breaks in your fencing, consider replacing your fence with larger fence panels. You can get your panels in a variety of sizes, styles, and shapes, but the larger your overall panels the fewer large gaps between panels you'll have to deal with.
Living fences are amazing. Not only will they keep your livestock in and predators out, they provide so many other benefits to your home and to the world.
A living fence is exactly what it sounds like: a fence made out of living material. Often living fences are made of plants, not chickens.
These fences -- the plants that create them -- are tight enough that no predatory can break through. However, they provide food and shelter for other species that might otherwise bother your livestock or garden, like snakes or insects.
Depending on your livestock and the type of living fence you plant, your livestock may even be able to eat your fence to supplement their diet! Make sure they won't go too crazy, though, or you'll have free-range livestock before you know it.
While they can initially be labor-intensive, living fences also provide windbreaks, prevent soil erosion, and give the dirt needed nutrients. They're awesome.
Electric fencing is a pretty popular choice when it comes to containing livestock, and for good reason. It will keep your livestock well away from the fence and the dangers beyond while effectively warning any predators to stay away.
If you're going to go with electric fences for your livestock home, though, do your research. Just like with any type of fence, some animals do better with different types of fencing options. Your fence isn't going to do any good if it hurts your livestock even if it does keep the predators away.
Manage the Change
If your livestock is under constant or frequent threat of predators, it might be time to change the way they're managed. This could be their schedule, their location, or the type of oversight they have while they're living their day to day lives.
Livestock management isn't an easy job -- if it were, everyone would have a flock or two of chickens and a couple head of cattle. But if it is your vocation and your calling, you might want to revisit it if your livestock is having some predator issues.
Consider moving your livestock to a different location, changing their schedule, or updating your livestock technology.
No, not their cell phones.
But you might want to install alarm systems, traps, or trip wires to prevent repeat predatory customers.
Consider Doin' Some Learnin'
Even if you're using top-notch husbandry practices to manage your livestock, if you're facing serious predator issues, it might not hurt to learn a thing or two.
Talk to other livestock raisers in the area and see what they have to say. A little knowledge goes a long way.
Take Control of the Skies
If your chickens are getting picked off one by one by an assailant from up above, it might be time to consider adding another layer to your coop.
Fishing line can be the perfect answer to your disappearing chicken problem. Set up a pattern of fishing line above your coop or in your chicken's outdoor area and watch those birds get foiled.
Not your chickens. The predator birds.
Though it might confuse your chickens, too.
Check it out -- it's easier to set up than you'd think.
Two in One
Pigs are delicious and funny and sometimes adorable.
What they are less well known for, however, is their ability to protect other livestock species from predators. Not only are pigs notably smelly, their relation to the wild boar inspires fear in many a would-be predator.
If you have the space and the time and the dedication, a border of pigs might be just what your livestock needs. Plus, think of all that extra bacon.
Let Them Do what they Do
Cattle aren't necessarily the smartest livestock option out there, but even they don't want to get mauled by predators.
If you let them, cattle will follow their “bunching” instinct and group up. This will make it much harder for a predator to attack a single cow, and even the boldest of predators probably isn't going to try and take down an entire herd in one go.
To get your cattle to bunch up effectively and safely, you can stimulate the behavior of a predator yourself. Start walking in a slow, predatory circle around the cattle (as if you're looking for small or weak animals). Try not to use any jerky motions or big hand gestures. They will start to notice you and may get a little restless.
After they begin feeling the natural anxiety that comes with your predatory behaviors, they will start to loosely bunch themselves up. This is natural, hard-wired, and should come about with any additional prodding from you. You're not scaring them straight out, you're prompting this biological fear to help protect them.
When you've worked with your cattle a lot and they are familiar with you and your behaviors, such slow and extensive predatory movement won't be necessary anymore. All they should need is a sign from you and they will be ready to bunch.
This technique is also super effective if you need to move your cattle, though it works best in an area where the cattle have a lot of room to roam.
They Were There the Whole Time
Some helper animals are pretty sneaky.
Did you realize that you can use a rooster as an alarm animal in case of nearby predators?
While a rooster won't attack or maim the offending predator, he will certainly let you know if there is one hanging around your coop. As a general rule of thumb, keep one rooster for every 10-12 hens. Not only will the rooster let you know what's up, he'll hopefully let the hens know what's going on so they can cluck their way to safety.
Wait, the house thing is real?
No, not really.
It's not necessary (or even encouraged) for you to bring your livestock into your home. That would be smelly, busy, dirty, and probably unhealthy for everyone.
But what you should do is make sure your livestock have a safe and cozy place to spend the night. Many predators are nocturnal, so if your livestock are locked up in a coop or super secure fenced in area overnight, they'll have less opportunity to attack.
Bring ‘em on Home
Time to call it a day.
Whatever changes you decide to make you your livestock situation, you're going to feel so much better knowing that your animals are protected and safe no matter the time of day or season.
Picture it: happy cattle, protective llama, relaxing evening, delicious steak.
It sounds like a dream, but with the right livestock protection, it doesn't have to be.