Final Report for GNC06-065

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2006: $7,504.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Grant Recipient: Central Michigan University
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Thomas Gehring
Central Michigan University
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Project Information

Summary:

As wolf populations recover, the chance for wolf-human conflicts also increase. We tested livestock guarding dogs as a non-lethal management tool for preventing wolf depredations on cattle while including farmers as important stakeholders in managing depredations. Six cattle farms in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula were each given 2 Great Pyrenees pups. Following our guidelines, farmers were responsible for their dogs’ care and training. Nine cattle farms (6 treatment, 3 control) were monitored for predator activity during summer 2005 and 2006 using sand tracking swaths. Wolf visitations on treatment farms decreased significantly (p<0.05) while visitations on control farms did not change (p>0.05).

Introduction:

As wolf populations continue to recover, the chance for wolf-human conflicts also increases. In Michigan, individual farmers report annual losses of $3,000 to $30,000 from coyote and wolf depredations (i.e., predators preying on livestock as a food source; Gehring et al. 2003). Such losses on small and medium-sized farms that are prevalent in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan can endanger the sustainability of these operations. Livestock depredations not only cause economic loss to individual farmers but can generate animosity towards wolves and the agencies that manage them (Fritts 1982).

As wolf populations have recovered in the northern Great Lakes Region, farmers have not been involved in managing livestock depredations and have been given a passive role in reducing livestock losses. Response to a problem predator often occurs after a depredation has taken place. Lethal control of a problem animal by a state or federal agency is a primary management tool utilized to control depredations. However, although necessary in some cases, lethal control methods alone are often only temporary and may not effectively reduce livestock predation (Bjorge and Gunsen 1985, Fritts et al 1992). In Minnesota, farms which had wolves removed had greater livestock losses that same year than did farms in which no wolves were removed (Fritts et al. 1992).

Remaining members of a pack which have lost individuals to lethal control can even become more dependent on livestock as a food source (Bjorge and Gunsen 1985). The loss of an entire pack to lethal control or emigration of surviving pack members to another territory can leave the original territory vacant. Immigration of lone wolves or new packs to this now vacant territory can occur quickly (Bjorge and Gunsen 1985) and newly established wolves could continue depredating in that area where wolves were just removed (Gehring et al. 2003).

An integrated approach of management incorporating both lethal and non-lethal tools to control depredations is needed (Fritts et al 1992, Mech 1995). Additionally, it is important that farmers are involved as an important stakeholder group, giving them an active role in protecting their livestock. Therefore, it is important to develop management tools that farmers can incorporate into their normal farming practices. The use of livestock guarding dogs may be one such tool.

The purpose of this research was to determine the effectiveness of livestock guarding dogs (LGDs) for deterring wolf use on cattle farms, thus preventing wolf-caused depredations. LGDs have been shown as an effective method for reducing livestock losses (Coppinger et al 1983, Andelt 1992, Andelt and Hopper 2000). However, most studies have been conducted in the western U.S. and focus on coyote-sheep depredations. Few studies exist on the effectiveness of LGDs for preventing wolf depredations on cattle. This research will provide guidelines for integrating non-lethal control tools into normal farm practices while including farmers as an important stakeholder group. Success of this project was determined by the ability of LGDs to alter wolf use away from livestock areas. This research will provide baseline data for a non-lethal management tool that could reduce the conflict between wolves and agriculture while benefiting both.

Project Objectives:

The purpose of this research was to determine the effectiveness of LGDs for deterring wolf use of livestock areas, thus preventing wolf-caused depredations. Few studies exist on wolf populations in semi-agricultural areas (Fritts et al 1992). This research will provide baseline data on wolf ecology in semi-agricultural areas and will provide guidelines for integrating non-lethal control tools into normal farm practices. Furthermore, this study will include farmers as an important stakeholder group. Success of this project will be determined by the ability of LGDs to alter wolf use away from livestock areas and by the farmer’s perception of the effectiveness of the dogs. Therefore, my research objectives are:

1) To implement LGDs on cattle farms;

2) To test LGDs as a non-lethal control tool for reducing predator use of a livestock area, thus preventing depredations; and

3) To involve farmers as an important stakeholder group in managing depredations.

This project will provide farmers with a management tool (LGDs) that can be integrated into normal farming practices to reduce livestock losses from predators. Unlike most management tools currently utilized, LGDs allow farmers to take a proactive role in protecting their livestock. By effectively preventing livestock predation, farmers can improve profitability by avoiding the economic losses incurred by depredations. Furthermore, decreased livestock depredations and involving farmers as an important stakeholder group in managing depredations could lead to an increased social tolerance for wolves and reduce animosity towards wolves and the agencies that manage them

Participants of this research were able to keep the LGDs provided to them in this study and will continue to benefit from the dogs’ protection. Furthermore, this research will provide guidelines for implementing LGDs on farms where wolves are recovering or established. Currently, no detailed guidelines exist on incorporating LGDs into normal husbandry practices. These guidelines will expose farmers to a proactive method of predator management that they can implement on their own. Farmers can then successfully utilize LGDs as a management tool for reducing depredation. Because LGDs can be used effectively with different types of livestock and in various environments, these guidelines will be applicable anywhere a predator conflict may arise.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Thomas Gehring

Research

Materials and methods:

In March 2005, 6 working cattle farms in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan were each given 2 Great Pyrenees pups. Pups were between the ages of 7-9 weeks and came from a line of working dogs. Each pup was later spayed or neutered when 6 months old. Each treatment farm was located within a different wolf home-range. Wolf territories were determined from home-range polygons provided by the Michigan DNR. Pups were provided free to the farmer and all vet and food costs were covered by Central Michigan University throughout the duration of this study. At the conclusion of the study, farmers were able to keep their dogs.

Following guidelines we had provided them and with our supervision, farmers were responsible for the care and training of the pups. Proper training was best accomplished by raising the dogs with the livestock it will be guarding in order to establish a bond between dog and livestock (Green and Woodruff 1990; Lorenz and Coppinger 1996; Dawydiak and Sims 2004). Pups were raised in pens with calves and, under farmer supervision, any negative behavior, such as playing too rough with calves, was corrected. To foster the bond between the pups and cattle, they remained continuously together in the shared pen. In order to avoid injury to the pups and to avoid creating a negative association of cattle to the pups, the pups had minimal contact with adult cattle and only interacted with adults under human supervision.

At 7 months, pups began integration into the adult cattle herd. Farmers (with our assistance) daily walked their pups on leashes along the inside of the pasture to establish the fence as a boundary and to acclimate the adult cattle to the pups. While under supervision, the pups were encouraged to interact with the adult cattle and the cattle were allowed to examine the pups. Permitting the cattle to inspect the pups was an integral part of the pups’ integration into the adult cattle herd. Additionally, the pups and calves were moved from their pen in the barn to a pen in the pasture with the adult cattle. This allowed the pups to adjust to living in a new area while furthering the bond between the pups and the adult cattle.

Prior to releasing the pups into the pasture with the adult cattle herd, additional lines of electric fencing were added to the existing fence at each farm to discourage roaming. Electrified lines were added 8”-10” off the ground on all farms and then anywhere the fence had a gap greater than 0.75 m. On 3 farms pups habitually went outside the pasture fence and an invisible fence system incorporating shock collars was implemented at those farms. Pups were integrated with the adult cattle herd starting in August of 2005 and now remain permanently with the cattle.

Sand tracking swaths and radio-telemetry data loggers were used to monitor predator activity on 9 farms (6 treatment, 3 control). Each control farm was matched to a treatment farm and was located within the same wolf home range. Sand tracking swaths consisted of sand placed in 1.5 x 5-m swaths every 200 m on the edge of the pasture fence. Sand tracking swath monitoring began in June and lasted through August in both 2005 and 2006. Sand on each farm was checked daily during 3 sampling periods each lasting 5 consecutive days. Any tracks crossing the fence and entering the pasture constituted a visitation. The number of visits by radio-collared wolves was recorded using a radio-telemetry data logger. Data loggers are specialized receivers that continuously scan for programmed VHF collar frequencies within a defined area. When the data logger perceives a programmed frequency it records that collar frequency, percent signal strength of the collar, and time and date.

All predator monitoring in 2005 was completed before the livestock guarding dogs were released into the pasture providing a before and after comparison. A Wilcoxon sign rank test (α=0.05) was used to compare predator visitations in 2005 to visitations in 2006 when the LGDs were actively guarding the cattle. Predator visitations on control farms in 2005 are compared to predator visitations on control farms in 2006 and visitations on treatment farms in 2005 are compared to visitation on treatment farms in 2006.

The information on the integration of LGDs and their effectiveness will be drafted into a set of guidelines. These guidelines and LGD educational information will be made available to the public through newsletters, workshops and outreach events.

Research results and discussion:

The LGDs became well socialized with the cattle and developed a strong bond with the cattle. On all farms the dogs remained near the cattle and were often seen positively interacting with the cattle. Dogs would approach the cattle submissively, licking the cattle’s noses as well as touching noses with them. Many times dogs were observed sleeping in round bale feeders while the cattle ate around them or were seen sleeping back to back with the cattle. The dogs allowed the cattle to suck on their ears and around their collars. The cattle accepted the dogs as part of the herd even allowing the dogs to be near during calving. On one farm the dogs were observed multiple times waiting closely by a calving cow and were allowed to come in to eat the afterbirth after the cow had started cleaning her calf.

Not only were the dogs closely bonded to the cattle, but they were vigilant in patrolling the pasture for predators. On all farms dogs were observed walking the pasture perimeter. One farmer commented that the dogs were “little soldiers” and patrolled so often that paths had formed along the fence line. When any foreign animal was detected about the pasture the dogs would move toward that area while barking aggressively. Not only did dogs prevent predators such as wolves, coyotes, and bears from entering the pasture, but they would chase any intruder, including deer and large birds, from the pasture.

Predator visitation data was gathered only from the sand tracking swaths because no collared wolves were detected by the data loggers on any of the farms. Wolf visitation significantly decreased on treatment farms (p<0.05) while no significant difference occurred on control farms (p>0.05). Although coyote visitation did decrease at the treatment farms, there was no significant difference for coyote visitation on either treatment (p>0.05) or control farms(p>0.05).

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Anna Cellar is currently in the process of writing her M.S. thesis. Once completed, it will be submitted for publication. A set of guidelines for implementing LGDs is being drafted. Once completed it will be made available and workshops and outreach events as well as being published in a Michigan State University extension publication. This research was presented at multiple conferences. Below is list of presentations with published abstracts.

Cellar, A. C., T. M. Gehring. 2007. Integrating and evaluating livestock guarding dogs for reducing wolf-human conflicts on Michigan farms. Wolf Stewards Meeting. Cable, WI

Cellar, A. C., T. M. Gehring. 2006. Integrating and evaluating livestock guarding dogs for reducing wolf-human conflicts on Michigan farms. 67th Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference. Omaha, Nebraska

Cellar, A. C., T. M. Gehring. 2006. Integrating and evaluating livestock guarding dogs for reducing wolf-human conflicts on Michigan farms. Defenders of Wildlife Carnivores Conference 2006. St. Petersburg, Florida

Cellar, A. C., T. M. Gehring. 2006. Integrating and evaluating livestock guarding dogs for reducing wolf-human conflicts on Michigan farms. 13th Annual Conference of The Wildlife Society. Anchorage, Alaska

Cellar, A. C., T. M. Gehring. 2006. Integrating and evaluating livestock guarding dogs for reducing wolf-human conflicts on Michigan farms. Great Lakes Regional Conference-Native American Fish and Wildlife Society. Manistee, Michigan

Cellar, A. C., T. M. Gehring. 2006. Livestock Guard Dogs. 18th Annual North American Wolf Conference. Pray, Montana

Cellar, A. C., T. M. Gehring. 2005. Integrating and evaluating livestock guarding dogs for reducing wolf-human conflicts on Michigan farms. Timber Wolf Alliance Workshop. Drummond, WI

Cellar, A. C., T. M. Gehring. 2005. Integrating and evaluating livestock guarding dogs for reducing wolf-human conflicts on Michigan farms. 66th Annual Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference. Grand Rapids, MI

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Livestock guarding dogs can prevent wolf visitations on farms thus preventing wolf depredations on cattle. Wolf visitation on farms with LGDs decreased significantly. Although coyote visitations did not decrease significantly, it is important to recognize that this does not mean that LGDs are not effective at preventing coyote visitation. Prior research focused on coyote depredation and has shown that LGDs are an effective tool for preventing coyote depredations. In this study, any tracks crossing the sand swaths were counted as a visitation. However, a visitation does not necessarily constitute a failure of the dogs’ vigilance. On several occasions dogs were seen chasing coyotes out of a pasture after the coyotes had crossed into it. Dogs were often found where the cattle were. If a predator breaches the fence line at some distance from the cattle, the dogs may not be able to react until the fence is crossed. However, if the dogs stop coyotes from coming near the cattle and chase the coyotes from the pasture, the dogs have been successful in preventing a possible depredation. This success, though, would only be seen as a visitation based solely on sand tracking swaths. Interactions between the dogs and wolves were also observed. On 2 occasions on 1 farm, the dogs were seen chasing a wolf from the pasture. Additionally, on another farm, dogs were heard aggressively barking throughout the night while wolves howled back as they passed through the area. No indications that the wolves had crossed into that pasture were found.

Although depredations are relatively rare, they can lead to substantial economic loss to an individual producer. Depredated cattle can translate to a loss of several hundred to several thousand dollars. Additionally, predators may cause problems for livestock producers that are harder to quantify. Wolves are vectors for the disease Neosporosis that pass to livestock and can cause abortions. Stress from harassment by predators can possibly result in weight loss, reduction in value of meat or milk production, and cattle that are harder to handle. All of these factors can contribute to economic loss. LGDs decrease the interaction that cattle have with predators thus decreasing the chance for depredations as well as decreasing the stress that accompanies predator interactions. One farmer mentioned that since the dogs were placed with the cattle, the cattle had been calmer, especially when a person was in the field with them. The farmer felt that the cattle cued from the dogs and if the dogs were unconcerned with a human visitor in the pasture so were the cattle.

Additionally, LGDs may be effective at preventing deer from entering pasture areas. Problems with deer browsing in field or consuming or destroying hay stocks could be minimized. Furthermore, the risk of disease transmission from deer to the cattle could be reduced. This could be of particular importance when trying to reduce the threat and spread of bovine TB.

Perhaps most importantly is the participating farmers’ satisfaction with the dogs. All participating farmers believed that the LGDs were effective at preventing predator visitation on the farms. At the conclusion of the study, the farmers had the option to keep their dogs and begin funding the cost associated with the LGDs themselves or relinquish the dogs to CMU so the dogs could be placed on another working farm. Four of the 6 farmers chose to keep their dogs. The 2 farmers which were unable to keep their dogs both felt that the dogs were effective at preventing predator visitation. However, they were both selling their livestock and thus felt that the dogs would be better at a farm where they could work.

Economic Analysis

LGDs can prevent predator visitation to a farm thus preventing livestock depredation. Economic loss due to livestock depredation can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. In Michigan, individual farmers report annual losses of $3,000 to $30,000 from coyote and wolf depredations (Gehring et al. 2003). LDGs can also be effective at reducing the stress livestock undergoes with predator interaction. Although harder to quantify, stress can possibly cause economic loss through lower weight gain in livestock, reduction in milk production, and increased difficulty in handling stock. LGDs can also reduce the stress and time taken by farmers to patrol their fields for predators.

The cost incurred from LGDs is greatest during the first year. The cost to purchase a LGD from a reputable breeder can range from $300 and up. In order to insure the health and quality of a dog, it is important to work with a good breeder. Supplies for fencing varied on the size and needs of each farm were anywhere from $200 to $700 per farm. Initial vet costs the first year for vaccinations and spaying/neutering were approximately $250 per dog. Veterinary care costs in subsequent years were an estimated $100 per dog per year. Food costs are estimated at $500 per year per dog.

Farmer Adoption

Nine farms (6 treatment, 3 control) participated in this research with 4 farms keeping their LGDs. These farms will continue to benefit from the dogs’ protection. The dogs from the 2 farms which relinquished their dogs were placed on other working farms. The dogs have adjusted well to their new homes and have continued to provide protection to livestock.

Initial training of the LGD is the most critical step in having an effective LGD. Bonding the dogs to the livestock it will be guarding is paramount. Additionally, it is important to make sure that anything the dog will not be allowed to do as an adult is not allowed as a pup. For example, if dogs will not be permitted to crawl under gates or through fencing as adults, they should never be allowed to crawl through gates or fencing as pups. If dogs will not be allowed to roam outside of the pasture as adults, they should not be allowed to roam outside the pasture as pups. The biggest problem encountered with this study was keeping the dogs contained within the pasture. Dogs that were allowed to roam as pups wanted to roam as adults. Because they were bonded with the cattle, the dogs would not go far and would always return to the pasture. However, farms in the UP are often bordered by busy roads, neighbors, or other farms. The number one cause of premature death in LGDs is not interactions with predators, but situations, such as getting shot or hit by a car, that arise because of roaming. Dogs whose first interaction with the fence was negative did not have a problem roaming. It is much easier to prevent habits from forming during the first months of the pup’s life than to try to break those habits as adults.

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

This study, under new graduate student Megan Provost, is being continued. Farms will continue to be monitored for predator visitation in order to examine the long term effectiveness of the dogs. Additionally, the study will focus on the dogs’ effectiveness at preventing deer from entering the pastures. Preventing deer-cattle interaction may help to prevent the spread of diseases such as bovine TB. Furthermore, the dogs’ ability to prevent raccoons, skunks, or other animals that prey on bird eggs in the pasture may be examined. If dogs are effective against nest predators, they may be effective at maintaining ground nesting bird populations.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.