Effectiveness of Livestock Guarding Animals for Reducing Predation on Livestock. (Predation Management)
Andelt, William F., Endangered Species Update
Predation is a major problem faced by domestic sheep (Ovis aries) and goat (Capra hircus) producers in the western United States. Producers have been incorporating livestock guarding dogs (Canis familiaris), llamas (Lama glama), and donkeys (Equus asinus), which appear to be effective in reducing these mortalities. The increased use of guarding animals to mitigate predation on livestock may reduce animosity toward predators and result in more positive attitudes toward the conservation of carnivores.
Predation by coyotes (Canis latrans), domestic dogs (Canis familiaris), mountain lions (Felis concolor), black bears (Ursus americanus), foxes (primarily Vulpes vulpes), eagles (primarily Aquila chrysaetos) and bobcats (Felis rufus) has been a major problem faced by domestic sheep producers, especially in the western United States (National Agricultural Statistics Service 2000). Pearson (1986) reported that coyotes, the primary predator of sheep, killed an average of one to 2.5% of adult ewes and four to 9% of lambs annually in the 17 western states. Several methods, including the use of livestock guarding dogs, llamas, and donkeys, have been used to reduce these mortalities (Andelt 1996). This paper reviews several studies of the effectiveness of livestock guarding animals and speculates on the implications for conservation of carnivores.
Livestock guarding dogs
Livestock guarding dogs have been used in the United States since the early 1970s to protect sheep (Ovis aries) and goats (Capra hircus) from predators. Most guarding dogs are members of breeds that have been developed selectively in Europe and Asia to protect livestock from bears (Ursus spp.) and wolves (Canis lupus). The most common breeds used for guarding livestock in the United States are Great Pyrenees, Akbash, and Komondor, whereas Anatolian, Kuvasz, Maremma, and Shar Planinetz are less common (Green and Woodruff 1988; Andelt and Hopper 2000). Most guarding dogs weigh 34 to 45 kg and are at least 64 cm at the shoulders. Successful guarding dogs are trustworthy (will not harm sheep), attentive to sheep, and aggressive toward predators (Coppinger et al. 1983). These traits are "instinctive"; they develop in most dogs with proper handling and minor training (Andelt 1995).
Andelt (1985) reported that guarding dog pups cost an average of $240 in Kansas and Green et al. (1984) reported pups cost an average of $331 and $458 (depending on breed) in the western United States. Annual maintenance fees (food, veterinary care, and miscellaneous costs) averaged $235 to $250 (Green et al. 1984; Andelt 1985).
The National Agricultural Statistics Service (2000) reported that 28% of sheep producers in the United States and 23% of producers in Colorado used guarding dogs to protect sheep during 1999. Andelt and Hopper (2000) reported that the percentage of sheep with guarding dogs in fenced pastures and on open range in Colorado increased from 7% in 1986 to 65% in 1993. They also indicated that producers primarily with large numbers of sheep have incorporated guarding dogs.
Sheep producers in Colorado who did not use livestock guarding dogs lost 5.9 and 2.1 times greater proportions of lambs to predators than producers who had dogs in 1986 and 1993, respectively (Andelt and Hopper 2000). Mortality of ewes to predators and lamb mortality on open range decreased more from 1986 to 1993 for producers who obtained dogs between these years compared to producers who did not have dogs. Thirty-six producers in North Dakota reported guarding dogs reduced predation on sheep by 93% (Pfeifer and Goos 1982). Producers in Colorado indicated that guarding dogs greater than nine months of age saved more time in sheep management than the amount of time spent feeding and working with each dog (Andelt 1992). Overall, guarding dogs are a cost-effective means of reducing predation (Green et al. 1984; Andelt and Hopper 2000). …