Dogs have been used to herd livestock for hundreds of years, and now these dogs are doubling down on their owner’s investment. By training these dogs to think they are a part of your livestock’s pack they will instinctually protect their colleagues. These methods are a cost-effective way of reducing any losses of your livestock.
Methods aimed at cutting stock losses from predation often do more harm than good. Lily van Eeden, Adrian Treves and Euan Ritchie spell out what works, and what doesn't.
Farmers have struggled for millennia to protect their livestock from wolves, lions, bears, and other large carnivores. It’s expensive and time-consuming for farmers, governments and related agencies. Many current approaches have led to dramatic reductions or the complete loss of some apex predators from many regions of the globe.
Despite these substantial costs and their long history, we have remarkably little understanding of what methods best reduce livestock attacks.
A recent synthesis study, led by Lily van Eeden, Ann Eklund, Jennie Miller, and Adrian Treves with a total of 21 authors from 10 countries, found that there’s a worldwide dearth of rigorous experimental studies testing the effectiveness of interventions to protect livestock from carnivores.
Where studies do exist, results were mixed. Some management interventions did reduce livestock losses, some made little to no difference, and some resulted in increased livestock losses. This means that for some methods, farmers would be better off doing nothing at all than using them.
The scant evidence is cause for concern. Aside from financial waste, preventable livestock attacks cause economic, emotional, and social costs for farmers. And both livestock and carnivores may be left maimed and suffering by human failures to separate the two sets of animals.
Too often, studies and management programs measure success based on money spent or saved, numbers of community members who contributed, or carnivores killed. None of these factors necessarily mean livestock loss is prevented or reduced.
In fact, livestock owners, policy makers, and scientists should work together to build an evidence base and discover what works best to reduce attacks on livestock under different conditions.
What works and why
Where we found rigorous studies quantifying livestock loss, three methods were consistently effective: livestock guardian dogs, some kinds of fencing, and a deterrent called “fladry” (a Polish word for strips of cloth or plastic flagging hung at regular intervals along a rope or fence line).
Livestock guardian dog breeds, such as Maremma and Komondor, are typically much larger than herding dogs. They are raised with and trained to consider themselves part of a livestock herd and so protect their herd from threats.
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