SFJ

Facebook  YouTube

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

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: Crops & Soil

Carrots and Beets The Roots of Our Garden

Carrots & Beets – The Roots of Our Garden

by:
from issue:

Carrots and beets are some of the vegetables that are easy to kill with kindness. They’re little gluttons for space and nutrients, and must be handled with an iron fist to make them grow straight and strong. Give the buggers no slack at all! Your motto should be – “If in doubt, yank it out!” I pinch out a finger full (maybe 3/4” wide) and skip a finger width. Pinch and skip, pinch and skip, working with existing gaps and rooting out particularly thick clumps.

Beating the Beetles – War & Peace in a Houston Garden

Blooming that is, unless the cucumber beetles arrive first.
And arrive they have … “At first I thought they looked like big, yellow lady bugs.” Paul said, “Then I looked…

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

by:
from issue:

The old way of selecting seed from open-pollinated corn involved selecting the best ears from the poorest ground. I have tried to select perfect ears based on the open-pollinated seed corn standards of the past. I learned these standards from old agricultural texts. The chosen ears of Reid’s average from 9 to 10.5 inches long and have smooth, well-formed grains in straight rows. I try to select ears with grains that extend to the end of the cob.

Walki Biodegradable Mulching Paper

New Biodegradable Mulching Paper

Views of any and all modern farming stir questions for me. The most common wonder for me has been ‘how come we haven’t come up with a something to replace plastic?’ It’s used for cold frames, hotbeds, greenhouses, silage and haylage bagging and it is used for mulch. That’s why when I read of this new Swedish innovation in specialized paper mulching I got the itch to scratch and learn more. What follows is what we know. We’d like to know more. LRM

Cane Grinding

Cane Grinding: An Age-Old Georgia Tradition

by:
from issue:

Most sugar cane is processed in refineries to give us molasses, brown sugar, and various kinds of white sugar. However, some South Georgia farms that raise sugar cane still process it the old way to produce the special tasting sweetener for their own food. One such farm is the Rocking R Ranch in Kibbee, Georgia. It is owned by Charles and Patricia Roberts and their sons. The process they use has not changed in the past 100 years. This is how it is done.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 1

Our mild climate makes it too easy to overwinter cover crops. Then the typically wet springs (and, on our farm, wet soils) let the cover put on loads of topgrowth before getting on the soil. Buckwheat is the only crop that I can be certain will winterkill. Field peas, oats, annual rye and crimson clover have all overwintered here. Any suggestions?

Prairie Grass A Jewel Among Kernels

Prairie Grass: A Jewel Among Kernels

by:
from issue:

Years ago, my brother advised against plowing the patch of prairie on the back forty of our Hubbard, Iowa farm. “Some day,” he predicted, “that prairie will be as valuable as the rest of the 40 acres. We know how to grow corn; but that prairie was seeded by the last glacier.” Left untilled by generations of my family, the troublesome treasure has now become a jewel among a cluster of conventional crops on the farm.

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

by:
from issue:

Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Concerning the Bioextensive Market Garden

One of our goals when we first started farming here was to develop the farm as a self-contained nutrient system. Unlike the almost complete recycling of nutrients which can take place on a livestock operation, we are always amazed – even a little disturbed – to see how many tons of fertility and organic matter leave the market garden each year with so little returned to the good earth.

Of Peace and Quiet

LittleField Notes: Of Peace and Quiet

by:
from issue:

Walk with me for a moment to the edge of the Waterfall Field. We can lean on the gate and let our gaze soak up the mid-summer scene: a perfect blue sky and not a breath of wind. Movement catches your eye, and in the distance you see a threesome hard at work in the hayfield. Two Suffolk horses, heads bobbing, making good time followed by a man comfortably seated on a mowing machine. The waist high grass and clover falls steadily in neat swaths behind the mower. What you can’t help but notice is the quiet.

Starting Seeds

From Dusty Shelves: A WWII era article from Farming For Security

Cultivating Questions: Alternative Tillage & Inter-Seeding Techniques

Our intention is not to advocate the oddball living mulches we use with this single row inter-seeding system, but just to show how it is possible to utilize the between-row areas to improve insect habitat, reduce erosion, conserve moisture, fix some nitrogen, and grow a good bit of extra organic matter. If nothing else, experimenting with these alternative practices continues to keep farming exciting as we begin our twentieth season of bio-extensive market gardening.

Apple Cider Autumns Nectar

Apple Cider, Autumn’s Nectar

by:
from issue:

While autumn’s beauty is food for our souls, autumn’s harvest provides food for our tables. Along with the many hours and days of canning and freezing our garden produce, harvest time also means apple cider making for our family. We have been making apple cider, or sweet cider as it is commonly called, for six years. Beginning slowly, the demand for our juice has resulted in a production of over six hundred gallons this year.

Marketable Cover Crops

Marketable Cover Crops

by:
from issue:

Our cover crops have to provide the benefits of smothering weeds, improving soil structure, and replenishing organic matter. They also have to produce some income. For these purposes, we use turnips, mustard and lettuce within our plant successions. I broadcast these seeds thickly on areas where cover crops are necessary and let them do their work.

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

Cultivating Questions: Ridge-Till Revisited

Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.

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.

Asparagus in Holland

Asparagus in Holland

by:
from issue:

The asparagus culture in Holland is for the majority white asparagus, grown in ridges. This piece of land used to be the headland of the field. The soil was therefore compact, and a big tractor came with a spader, loosening the soil. After that I used the horse for the lighter harrowing and scuffle work to prevent soil compaction. This land lies high for Dutch standards and has a low ground water level, that is why asparagus can grow there, which can root 3 foot deep over the years.

Rice as a New Staple Crop for Very Cold Climates

Rice as a New Staple Crop for Very Cold Climates

by: ,
from issue:

If you were visiting Earth from some other planet and had to describe its inhabitants upon your return, you might say that the average person eats rice, and grows it as well, usually on a small scale. You’d be accurately describing the habits of over a quarter of the world’s population. Rice has a special story with an exciting chapter now unfolding in the northeast USA among a small but growing group of farmers and growers.

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