Integrating and Evaluating Livestock Guarding Dogs for Reducing Wolf-Human Conflict on Michigan Farms

Project Overview

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

Commodities

  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: dairy

Practices

  • Animal Production: animal protection and health
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: wildlife

    Abstract:

    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.

    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.