Big Predators No Problem for These Guys….. :D

BrendaMNgri

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So….
Reading the stories and comments on here of injured dogs, dead livestock, big predators.
:pop:pop:pop:pop:pop

Well, here's the other side of the coin: A success story. If you want to see the photos of all the predators and the country they ranch in and their dogs, you'll have to (gasp!) go to my blog. ;)

Read on to see how my customer in California does it.


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Bears, Lions and Goats: Oh My!
California Goat Operation Bucks the Odds in Large Predator Country


© 2017 Brenda M. Negri



What’s the daily grind like for a commercial goat grazier or weed control operation sitting thick in the middle of extreme-predator load country, where each day is a test of mettle, endurance and smarts of man, goats, and Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs)?


Friends and LGD customers Roberta and JR Shields who live and ranch in the historic Gold Rush country in Columbia, California, are achieving what some would say is impossible: zero losses of stock to predators – in a heavier than usual predator load arena - with the use of LGDs and other non-lethal predator control.


The Shields goatherd consists of 200 head of a mix of purebred registered and commercial Boer and Boer and Nubian cross goats who live full time in the middle of a predator load that reads like a multi-course menu of potential death and destruction: black bear, mountain lion, coyote, feral and domestic dog packs, bobcats, foxes, rattlesnakes and birds of prey (Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles and ravens.)


Tough Country Not for Faint of Heart


Former cattle ranchers for 20 years; 10 years owning goats; for the past twelve months the Shields have had a contract grazing goats on 1200 acres of brush on a mine operation in the steep, rough Stanislaus River canyon. “Of the 1200 acres, probably only 20% of it is flat and/or clear,” Roberta says. Chock full of Manzanita, oaks, and the invasive Himalayan blackberry, this rough, daunting landscape is not for the faint of heart rancher. It’s not just the terrain and predators that’s a killer, either: the area is loaded with poisonous plants such as nightshade, hemlock, buckeyes and oleanders. The goats provide fuel reduction for the mine in an area that’s suffered many huge, devastating fires. Blue Mountain Minerals produces limestone and dolomite for the agriculture industry on 300 acres of the property and recognize the value of grazing the goats on their property in terms of safety. Less brush is less fuel for fires.


The Shields sell their wethers to a commercial facility in the central valley for meat. They kid out their breeding does in March. “We source our goats from local (Northern California) breeders,” Roberta says. “We have three large sales in close proximity to us that sell very well bred, nice breeding stock.”


Packing Up With LGDs


The Shields first came to my Nevada ranch several years ago to buy LGD pups to add to their existing LGD pack. They took home two sibling pups and returned for several more sets of sibling pairs and adult dogs over the years. The breeds they have run and/or run currently include purebred Kuvasz, Maremma, and Anatolians; two purebred Spanish Mastiffs, four Spanish Mastiff x Maremma x Anatolian crosses, a purebred Pyrenean Mastiff, and two Border Collie herding dogs. They appreciate the variety of breeds and what each breed or cross brings to the table in terms of guarding style, unique individual temperaments and travelling ability. They also know the sensibility of running enough LGDs to do the job right.


“The lighter breeds and crosses we run can cover more ground in this very steep country, and typically work the perimeters and patrol farther out,” Roberta says, “while the heavier mastiff breeds stick closer to the herd, bedding down with them. I like this because it means the goats are covered both from afar and up close. If a predator breaks through the first line of defense, they then have to contend with some even bigger dogs waiting for them with the goats.”


In addition to guarding goats, the Shields LGDs also guard 300 beehives that winter over from Gillette Wyoming, before going into the valley to be placed in almond groves. The mine property sits above fog line, and is much warmer than the Wyoming winters. The dogs keep the hives – which are big money, Roberta says – safe from marauding bears.


By running a large and diverse pack, the Shields claim it’s allowed them to suffer zero goat losses. In a country rife with large predators now moving in closer because of several years of bad fires, this feat is indeed rare, but not impossible. It takes planning and a lot of work, but can be done.


“Neighbors near us who do not run LGDs suffer regular, sometimes catastrophic losses of sheep, cattle and goats,” Roberta states. “You can’t bring pups into a situation where you are already losing livestock – it’s too late for that. You need grown, broke dogs. Too many people make that mistake.”


Indeed, a recurring theme I see in the LGD scene lately are people who are losing livestock and, in a panic, buy usually one, solo pup thinking somehow it’ll perform miracles. It won’t, and will most likely end up an easy meal for a large predator. The time to buy LGDs is before you need them, not when you are suffering losses. It is a long-term commitment that pays off later – not right away. Dogs, being by nature pack animals, should be run together in pairs, trios or more, especially in situations such as the Shields live in and face.


Roberta further states: “Predators are unique to each place we graze. Most numbers are cyclic. Bear numbers have been increasing since hunting them with dogs became illegal and they have not had a disease outbreak to decrease the population.” When bigger predators increase, it also means the smaller predators decrease, as they are pressured out by the competition for food. “The drought California experienced in the last couple of years caused the bears not to hibernate which put increased pressure on food sources,” Shields adds.


Opening Cars Like Tin Cans


Lately bears have been breaking into Gold Country homes, crashing through sliding glass doors and ripping out metal garage doors to get to food. Bears often associate cars with food, and “open them like tin cans,” Roberta muses. “A lot of people feed deer around here. They buy grain with molasses and voila, there’s your bear magnet.” Meanwhile, when they feed “Bambi,” this in turn attracts the lions. Roberta further states, “At some point, the deer stop migrating and stay with the food source – the grain – and so do the lions. People then wonder why the big cats come in to their yard. They don’t get that they’ve actually created their own problem.”


Lions now regularly venture into foothill towns and kill pet dogs and cats, and have even been caught stalking people as they jogged or walked on roads. It’s not just lions and bears, either that threaten the Shield’s goatherd. A huge rattlesnake recently showed up in their kidding pen, and had it not been the frantic alert barking of her LGDs, could have struck and bitten newborn kids and would have probably killed them. “Those good dogs got extra juicy bones that night!” Roberta chuckles.


“California banned Mountain Lion hunting in 1990,” Roberta says. “No longer do we have wild herds of Elk or Antelope, and with a declining deer population, food sources can become extremely scarce for large predators, whose population is on the increase. There is only so much native habitat, and it’s decreasing with more and more development. This in turn pushes big predators closer to humans living in rural small acreage hobby farms and in foothill towns.”


When that happens, livestock losses skyrocket. Long time Tuolumne County Wildlife Specialist Ron Anderson has seen an explosion in livestock deaths as people move out in the rough and steep country to “get back to the farm,” yet don’t prepare, or worse, are seemingly clueless about the predator situation and don’t set their places up to protect their herds and flocks. Ron regularly offers exclusion methods to farmers on how to protect goats against large predators. That includes the use of guardian dogs and electric fence, but they don’t always listen, or when they finally do, sometimes it’s already too late.


When Guardian Dogs Fail


In the lower elevations where the bigger predators are not as populous, coyotes are the main problem. Anderson has literally sat in a field and watched packs of coyotes bait guardian dogs. “They get some coyote pups to start yelping off behind some brush. The LGDs run to the sound of that,” he says, “while the rest of the coyote pack circles around, kills the sheep or goat, and drags it off even before the guardian dogs can come back and see what has happened. Yes, they are that smart.” This is why it is so important to run enough LGDs to do the job, not just the minimum – and stagger them in ages so mature dogs are there to show adolescents and pups the ropes and back them up. Puppies cannot do the job of an adult dog – so don’t expect them to, or prepare to lose some goats.


But how to explain livestock losses when LGDs are there on guard duty? Ron recently went to a small hobby ranch that lost several goats to a Mountain Lion. They were running a couple of LGDs, yet still lost several goats. The area was not prone to lion attacks, and Ron thinks that the lack of regular predator presence, i.e., threat pressure, may have contributed to the dog’s inability or refusal to effectively stop the lion. “They weren’t up to practice, or lacked confidence they needed to stop the lion,” he muses. “Maybe it’s because they don’t engage with enough threats; maybe they lose their boldness or become confused or afraid, I don’t know. But I often see this out here, LGDs who don’t cut the grade, and you wonder if it’s not due to a combination of bad management, inexperienced owners, poor breeding and a lack of practice or exposure to threats.”


I’m willing to take it even further than that: I think Roberta’s LGD use has been to date, 100% effective, while others there have failed, for a reason that transcends predator pressure and even the use of the right number of proven working LGDs out of good bloodlines. Each dog she purchased from me was raised in a huge pack of LGDs that has numbered from eleven to twenty-five dogs on my ranch. My LGDs that she owns learned to work as a team and a fluid, cooperative pack from puppyhood; they were immersed in pack life since birth. That in turn made them able to effectively and confidently work side by side with other dogs, and back each other up; in doing so, they are more willing to go the extra mile to guard stock and confront predators. It gives them the added self-confidence they need. I’ve long argued that pack raised LGDs are more self assured and savvy than those who are not reared up in a pack, and the Shields’ dogs may be my star proof of that theory.


And in big predator country, forget using donkeys or llamas to keep livestock safe because they are just another meal for a big bruin, a pack of wolves or ravenous cat. “Ron said just two farms down from where the goats were killed by the lion, two guardian llamas were killed. The sheep they were guarding weren’t touched, but the llamas paid the ultimate price,” Roberta adds.


Words of Wisdom


I asked Roberta if she could share some tips with Goat Journal readers running goats in large predator country.


LGDs: “Even if you buy two LGD puppies, with big predators its not going to work,” Roberta adds. “You have to start before you have predators because it takes time for the goats and pups to bond, and for the pups to mature.”


“But LGDs are not for everyone,” Roberta says, and truly, they are not. Some people are not “dog people” or lack the time, patience and resources to raise, train, feed and keep healthy an adequate number of guardian dogs to do the job right, and should consider other means to keep their goats safe. If the goat operator does use LGDs, “Invest time in getting a working relationship with the dogs and get them bonded to your goats well. In the long run it will be a huge savings of time and money if your dogs work,” she says.


Fencing: “Too many people try to put goats in places that are fenced with old cattle wood or metal “T” posts and barbed wire type fences. It’s bad for both goats and LGDs. Dogs will push through and run amok and so will the goats. You must have good fences to contain goats and dogs both or it’s a waste of time.” She is a big fan of electric net fencing as it keeps predators out and goats in. “For our night pen, we double net in bad locations for Mountain Lions. We use tall horse net, then goat net, three feet part. A double barrier – and it works.”


Good Shepherding: Roberta goes on to say “People must be vigilant and pay attention to what is happening. Being successful here is not easy and we often literally sleep out with the goats in tents when we have to. We are always here, watching, checking, aware of where our goats and our LGDs are. I see way too many people blaming goats escaping on their LGDs when it is in fact, their own poor or total lack of shepherding, and/or incomplete or bad fences that are the cause of the problem.”


“Use everything you can to mitigate for livestock losses. It is something that is preventable. Electric fence, flagging or fladry, LGDs, full time herders, patrols, game cameras – before and during the introduction of goats; use night pens that are ‘bullet proof.’”


Goats Are Like Potato Chips: Roberta recommends, “Do not let your goatherd become a food source because, just like potato chips, a predator won’t stop at just one. Once they have a taste of tame game they’ll be there for good. They will return time and again to dine on your goats while ignoring wild game like deer. Keep those predators wild and depending on wild food sources, not your goats. Don’t put sweet grain out for deer or other small wildlife and invite them to stay because the predators seeking them as a food source, will be right behind them.”


The Shield’s commitment to using a variety of predator deterrents, good fencing, dedicated shepherding and an investment in good LGDs over a period of several years, is now paying off in spades. All their efforts are keeping them casualty-free in a predator heavy area rife with livestock loss. If you’re running goats in big predator country, with hard work, good shepherding and a solid predator deterrent plan in place such as the Shields’, their success story could be yours, too.






Resources & References:


Adding New Dogs into an Existing Livestock Guardian Dog Pack by Brenda M. Negri, Sheep! Magazine, Nov/Dec, Vol. 38, No. 6. https://countrysidenetwork.com/topics/livestock-topics/sheep-livestock-topics/adding-new-dogs/

Farm Show Magazine, Pack Raised Guardian Dogs Work Harder, (2012, Vol. 36, No. 4), by Brenda M. Negri https://www.farmshow.com/a_article.php?aid=25763

People and Carnivores, www.peopleandcarnivores.org. This Bozeman, Montana based group works with ranchers, hunters, rural residents and scientists to keep large carnivores in the wild, and away from livestock and out of trouble.

Wolves on the Landscape: A Hands-on Resource Guide to Reduce Depredations. Excellent tips for stockmen in large predator country.

http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/management/wolf/
 

Southern by choice

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I think it is very important to know and understand the predators and load and adjust accordingly.
If we do end up moving to the mountains EVERYTHING will change. We will not be able to run the herd and dogs in the way we do here.
Being a BYH forum, most people are not facing the issues that the ranchers you refer to are having. Yet even so with small back yard homestead most that just have coyotes are still inadequately fenced and usually under dogged.
For the BYHer fences are probably the key to most issues. I cannot understand why people will spend thousands on livestock, feed, etc but won't put up adequate fencing and they boo hoo and cry when something goes wrong.
 

babsbag

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I lived right where these goats are living for the first 28 years of my life and it is some rough country. That river canyon is wicked, hiked it many a time. I can't even imagine running goats in there, but I sure bet they are some happy goats, the browse is endless.

The #1 thing I liked to read in that article is telling the owners to pay attention to your livestock and to your dogs. And #2 is that LGDs aren't for everyone.
 

Baymule

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Good article, well written. We don't even begin to have these problems. There are cougars here, but seldom pose a threat and are almost never seen. No bears either and that is just fine with me. We do have coyotes, lots of them and stray dogs. We are well fenced and have 2 GP's to guard our poultry and sheep.
 

BrendaMNgri

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@Southern by choice I go as far at times to even tell people well…if you are complaining you can't afford to fence in your stock, maybe…you need to sell some stock. Cut it in half - heck sell all of it till you get fenced then start over again. What ever it takes to get to be able to build a barn, adequate fencing, etc. But do it, or suffer the consequences.

And there is the real clincher: people want to get into farming without paying the dues, or suffer the consequences for their wrong actions. It does not work like that.

@babsbag I'm a Cali native by birth and heritage, I never lived directly in that country (did live in surrounding areas), but as a child my mom took me up to the gold camps every summer and yes it is gnarly ugly place to try to ranch or farm.

What I learned from talking to these folks was how much farmers around there were to blame for many of their own problems (not dogging up soon enough, buying inferior LGDs, bad fencing, feeding the deer, etc.) She told me how some neighbors were expecting LGDs and goats to stay put with four wire barbed fence held up by ancient wooden posts and T posts you could push over. Unrealistic. Of course, they got out. All the time.

Again, self introspection is always difficult for anyone but must be done to really get to the bottom of a problem.
 

BrendaMNgri

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I've got to add, it becomes very difficult for me to feel sorry for anyone who does not take advice, or flips out or gets hung up on the drama of loss and won't take steps they need to prevent disasters from happening again.

Like Robert bluntly says in the article: "Use everything you can to mitigate for livestock losses. It is something that is preventable." And it is.
 
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