Ranchers stockpile hay to feed their livestock, not roving wild ruminants.
Freeloading deer and elk can cart off large amounts of feed in their bellies, and leave behind bovine tuberculosis-infected snot, saliva and feces on the fodder. Tall fences keep them out of bale yards, but are expensive and won’t help with bale-grazing sites – which is why some ranchers are borrowing a solution from their shepherding cousins: A big white dog or two that bonds with the herd and keeps wild critters away.
John and Kelsey Beasley, a ranching couple who recently moved to Alberta from Manitoba’s Duck Mountain area, swear by the value of well-trained border collies for reducing the legwork in cattle handling and herding.
To keep herds of elk away from their bale-grazing sites, they added Maremma and Great Pyrenees dogs to the mix.
“We used livestock-guarding dogs in Manitoba to mitigate feedstock depredation by elk,” Kelsey said in a presentation on a range of ranching tips at Ag Days.
Situated between a federal and a provincial park, they found the dogs invaluable for keeping elk as well as wolves and coyotes away from their herd.
Their experience with a pair of guardian dogs showed that, once properly bonded with the herd, the extremely territorial canines are heroically brave in the face of predators in one case fighting to the death to fend off wolves.
“We had a pack of wolves come in and kill the female and really brutally wounded the male,” said Kelsey. “But he lived.”
In 2009, the Beasleys participated in a MAFRI-funded study that placed GPS collars on their two dogs for 10 weeks to track their movements around a 2,500-bale, quarter section wintering site, a portion of which was set aside for bale grazing.
Data points were logged every 20 minutes indicating the location of each dog, and to help understand their range of movements, all of them were superimposed onto an aerial photo of the site.
Prior to the study, use of the dogs was controversial, with some Manitoba Conservation officials opposed to their widespread adoption for fear that they would chase and harass wildlife, said John.
The study put those fears to rest.
“We had no elk depredation of any of those bales and there was a large herd of about 60 elk within two to three miles,” said Kelsey.
The dots showed the dogs’ movements into their yard for food, as well as a few trips they made along with the cattle to the watering site, but no data points were found indicating that the animals had wandered away from the herd during the course of the study.
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– Kelsey Beasley