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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Livestock and Predators No Easy Answers

Livestock and Predators: No Easy Answers

by Dan Macon of Auburn, CA

Since we’ve raised sheep commercially (and even when our sheep enterprise was a hobby), we’ve been committed to trying to live with the predators in our environment. Over the years, we’ve lost just a handful of sheep — several to coyotes, at least one each to mountain lions and rattlesnakes, and four in one night to a neighbor’s dog. Mostly, though, our commitment to nonlethal predator protection tools has worked. A combination of electric fencing, livestock guardian dogs, sheep selection and grazing management has allowed us to co-exist with the predators in our environment. However, as I talk with other sheep producers in California and elsewhere in the West (and even overseas via Facebook and Twitter), I realize that our approach won’t work for everyone. As we face the prospect of wolves returning to our part of the Sierra foothills in my lifetime, I’m even more convinced that there are no easy answers to the question of livestock-predator co-existence.

My first experience with coyote predation happened shortly after we moved to Auburn in 2001. One morning, we noticed that we were missing a feeder lamb. The rest of the sheep were bunched in a far corner of the pasture and kept looking to the other side of the field where an irrigation canal ran through our property. I checked the ditch, and found the dead lamb halfway under water. Its throat was torn out, and a portion of it had been eaten. We called the county trapper, who confirmed that it was a coyote.

Looking back on this incident, I realize several things — about predators and my attitudes toward them. First, we lost the value of the lamb that died — a direct economic loss. More than that, however, I suspect that the stress experienced by the other lambs caused a number of indirect economic costs (like a temporary drop in weight gain, for example). I also learned something about myself — I learned that had I observed the coyote in the act of killing or feeding on my lamb, I would have taken lethal action to stop it (that is, I would have shot it). I also learned that I couldn’t have brought myself to kill just any coyote — I would need proof that a specific, individual coyote was the culprit. In other words, I learned that I would take action to directly intervene in the death of my sheep, but I wasn’t comfortable taking random or preemptive action to prevent other coyotes from hunting my sheep. Later, when we lost the four ewes to a dog, I also realized that as much as I like dogs, I would shoot a dog in the act of killing my sheep (I didn’t take such action in this case, but the dog was impounded by Animal Control and the owner was required to make restitution).

Livestock and Predators No Easy Answers

Wolves, when they arrive, will be a different issue altogether. Personally, my commitment to coexistence will mean that I’ll work to find nonlethal protection techniques that are effective. Even without this commitment, however, state and federal laws give me no choice — it would be a criminal act for me to harm a wolf. The hunting behaviors and abilities of wolves are unlike those of any predators I’ve experienced. More — and bigger — livestock guardian dogs will probably be my primary tool, but this has its costs, too. Raising sheep is a business for me, and I’ll have to weigh the extra costs carefully.

Like all of the ranchers I know, I view the loss of any of the animals in my care as a personal failure. There are many reasons that sheep can die, and not all of them are preventable; however, every death affects me emotionally and economically. While I appreciate the efforts of agencies and nonprofit groups to reimburse ranchers for direct losses to wolves (and other predators in some regions), I feel like these direct costs are just part of the true impact of predators. Indirect impacts include reductions in reproductive success, weight loss, additional labor, and other additional costs (like feeding and caring for extra guard dogs, and increased liability insurance costs associated with these bigger dogs). Finally, a dead ewe or ram represents the loss of genetic potential. My sheep, like most herds and flocks, have been bred specifically for my environment and operation. I can’t simply go out and replace a ewe that has been killed with something from the sales yard and expect similar productivity. This has multi-year ramifications. Any investment in new genetics takes several years to provide a return, and there are also lifetime productivity losses. In my flock, a ewe might have 12-15 lambs during her productive life. If she’s been killed, I lose that as well. As part of my work with UC Rangelands and as part of my graduate studies at Colorado State, I’m helping develop a rancher survey to begin looking at these indirect impacts. I think the results of this long-term project will be important and insightful.

Several weeks ago, a friend and fellow northern California rancher told me, “The hard part about the wolf/livestock issue may not be the animals, but the people. Ever since 1492 in North America, and before, man has dealt with predators in one way or another. That’s 524 years. Now, only since 1995 when wolves were re-introduced, our elite, progressive society has demanded that we change our thoughts and attitudes. That is only 21 years. That is a lot to ask of people!” I think she has a point — and it reflects part of the greater divide between urban and rural people the world over. Perspectives on predators depend, at least in part, on their proximity to your home and livelihood.

Perhaps it’s a sign that I’m getting older, but these issues seem much more complicated to me than when I was a younger man. So much of the success (or failure) of nonlethal predator protection tools depends on the frame of reference of the person using (or not using) them. I’ve come to understand that these tools are like any other approach to raising livestock. If you believe they’ll work, you’ll find a way to make them work. If you don’t believe they’ll work, they’ll seem like a lot of extra effort and expense — and ultimately they won’t work for you. Like all complex socio-ecological issues, there isn’t any one-size-fits-all answer to co-existing with predators.

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

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Our farm, here in the center of New York State, consists of 101 acres, about 90 in grass, the rest some woods and swamp. It is inhabited by forty-six jersey cows, twelve breeding ace heifers, one bull, and because it is calving season — an increasing number of calves. Also, four Belgian mares and a couple of buggy horses. Last, and possibly least — the farmer, farmer’s wife, and five grown children.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 2

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 2

It is always fascinating and at times a little disconcerting to watch how seamlessly the macro-economics of trying to make a living as a farmer in such an out-of-balance society can morph us into shapes we never would have dreamed of when we were getting started. This year we will be putting in a refrigerated walk-in cooler which will allow us to put up more storage-share vegetables.

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

Amidst all of the possibility that is out there, all of the options and uncertainties, it helps to remember that there is also a strong community in the draft-farming world. There are a great many like-minded yet still diverse people working with draft horses and ready to share their experiences. What will serve us well within this great variety of farms and farmers is to keep in touch, to learn from one another’s good ideas and mistakes and to keep on farming with draft power.

Littlefield Notes Fall 2012

Littlefield Notes: Fall 2012

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Why horses? We are knee deep in threshing oats and rye when I find after lunch that the tractor won’t start. Press the ignition switch — nothing; not even a click. I cancel the day’s threshing and drive thirty miles to the tractor store and pick up a genuine-after-market IH part. Come home, put in the new ignition switch and still nothing. When we need the horses they start right up, without complaint — every time.

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions: Going Single

Going single did not occur to us until we began receiving questions from prospective teamsters who felt it would be more manageable and economical to get started with a single horse than a team. After 29 years of market gardening with two or more horses, our impetus to try out one-horse farming was not a question of management or economy, but due to the radically diverging horse temperaments on our farm.

Barnyard Manure

Barnyard Manure

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The amount of manure produced must be considered in planning a cropping system for a farm. If one wishes to manure one-fifth of the land every year with 10 tons per acre, there would have to be provided two tons per year for each acre of the farm. This would require about one cow or horse, or equivalent, for each six acres of land.

Farm Manure

Farm Manure

Naturally there is great variation in manure according to the animals it is made by, the feeding and bedding material, and the manner in which it is kept. Different analyses naturally shows different results and the tables here given serve only as a guide or index to the various kinds. The manure heap, by the way, is no place for old tin cans, bottles, glass, and other similar waste material.

The Woodfired Bottom-heated Greenhouse Bench

Cultivating Questions: The Woodfired Bottom-heated Greenhouse Bench

It took several incarnations to come up with a satisfactory design for the bottom heated greenhouse bench. In the final version we used two 55 gallon drums welded end-to-end for the firebox and a salvaged piece of 12” stainless steel chimney for the horizontal flue. We learned the hard way that a large firebox and flue are necessary to dissipate the intense heat into the surrounding air chamber and to minimize heat stress on these components.

Planting Calendar and Other Diagrams

From Dusty Shelves: A 1943 calendar for seeding your vegetable garden.

Chicken Guano: Top-Notch Fertilizer

Whoever thought I’d be singing the praises of chicken poop? I am, and I’m not the only one. Chickens are walking nitrogen-rich manure bins.

A Year of Contract Grazing

A Year of Contract Grazing

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Contract grazing involves the use of livestock to control specific undesirable plants, primarily for ecological restoration and wildfire prevention purposes. The landowners we worked for saw grazing as an ecologically friendly alternative to mowing, mechanical brush removal, and herbicide application.

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

The Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

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In the winter of 2011, Daniel mentioned a fourteen-year-old student of his who had spent a whole month eating only foods gathered from the wild. “Could we go for two days on the hand-harvested food we have here?’ he asked. “Let’s give it a try!” I responded with my usual enthusiasm. We assembled the ingredients on the table. Everything on that table had passed through our hands. We knew all the costs and calories associated with it. No hidden injustice, no questionable pesticides. We felt joy at living in such an edible world.

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

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One weekend I attended a Biodynamic meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm in Dorena, Oregon, in the Row River Valley, just east of Cottage Grove. I always enjoy seeing other food growing operations, as this is such an infinitely broad subject, there is always much to learn from others’ experiences. At this farm, draft horses are used for much of the work.

LittleField Notes Prodigal Sun & Food Ethics

LittleField Notes: Prodigal Sun & Food Ethics

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To my great delight a sizable portion of the general eating public has over the past few years decided to begin to care a great deal about where their food comes from. This is good for small farmers. It bodes well for the future of the planet and leaves me hopeful. People seem to be taking Wendell Berry’s words to heart that “eating is an agricultural act;” that with every forkful we are participating in the act of farming.

Back to the Land

Back to the Land

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Tired of living in a crowded urban environment with its deafening noise and bumper-to-bumper traffic and eager to escape what they saw as an economy bent on destroying the planet, Matt and Tasha left their home in the Washington, DC metropolitan area in March 2014. In doing so, they became modern-day pioneers, part of a wave of Americans who have chosen to go back to the land over the past decade, seeking to reclaim and rebuild their lives and to forge a deeper connection to the earth, the animals that inhabit it, and to each other.

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley A Farmrun Production by Andrew Plotsky

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Forestry

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After 70 plus years of industrial logging, the world’s forests are as degraded and diminished as its farmlands, or by some estimates even more so. And this is a big problem for all of us, because the forests of the world do much more than supply lumber, Brazil nuts, and maple syrup. Farmlands produce food, a basic need to be sure, but forests are responsible for protecting and purifying the air, water and soil which are even more basic.

Congo Farm Project

Congo Farm Project

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I was at day one, standing outside an old burnt-out Belgian plantation house, donated to us by the progressive young chief of the village of Luvungi. My Congolese friend and I had told him that we would need to hire some workers to help clear the land around the compound, and to put a new roof on the building. I thought we should be able to attract at least 20 workers. Then, I looked out to see a crowd of about 800 eager villagers, each one with their own hoe.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT