Predation losses are mounting, and producer frustration is growing.
The issue of livestock kills is once again high on the agenda of beef producers as they gather at district meetings this fall.
Wolves and other predators repeatedly take out animals, and aggravation is mounting that solutions to a problem as pressing as this gain so little traction year after year.
Why it matters: Manitoba livestock producers have been suffering from rising predation losses for a number of years, but say they can’t get any action on their concerns.
“I’m not going to say I’m as frustrated as producers are because I’d probably get run out of town, but we are certainly frustrated as well,” Brian Lemon, Manitoba Beef Producers general manager, said at District 9’s meeting October 23, attended by Interlake producers who are being especially hard hit from repeat wolf kills and feel a real threat to livelihoods.
Some have reported losses as high as 10 per cent of herds, plus there are other production losses such as from cows aborting pregnancies due to predation stresses.
One faint hope now lies with the Livestock Predator Protection Working Group (LPPWG)’s efforts, however. It is now in the very earliest stages of putting together a pilot program that will demonstrate the kind of supports producers need.
MBP has just received funding approval through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) to help this group, which also includes sheep and goat producers, to start designing a pilot project.
Lemon says the group is still in its infancy and the design work lays ahead, but generally there are three main components to such a program.
There will be a way to remove problem predators. There will be a reasonable compensation program for producer losses. And there will be a program of on-farm risk assessments to help producers do what they can to minimize losses. That would include herd management practices such as more regular pasture checks, timely disposal of deadstock so it doesn’t attract predators, and so on, Lemon said.
“One piece of the puzzle is always going to be making sure that producers do the proper risk assessments,” Lemon said.
The term ‘problem predators’ will be key in helping the public understand what livestock producers’ concerns are, and what they’re specifically asking for, Lemon said.
“We’re not trying to remove all predators,” he said. “We’re trying to remove the ones that have developed a taste for beef and threaten our livelihoods.”
These right now predominantly include wolves worrying Interlake producers, but coyotes, bears and even cougars kill cattle, too.
Lemon said the real work ahead lies with convincing the rank and file within the Department of Sustainable Development, whose focus is largely on the protection of wildlife, that even as beef producers ask for protection from these problem predators, they also play a key conservation role on the landscape — and that they value wildlife, too.
“Increasingly, we as beef producers recognize that there is this intersection between the environment and beef production, and what that means is increasingly there’s an intersection between (the) Agriculture and Sustainable Development (ministries),” he said.
What’s needed is a better understanding of that because “that gives us a chance to tell our story differently,” he told the District 9 producers’ meeting.
“It’s a long, slow process, but we’re kind of pulling the Titanic around an iceberg here.”
Manitoba’s beef producers are by no means alone in their predicament. The Manitoba Sheep Association (MSA), representing over 400 sheep and lamb producers in Manitoba is also at the table of the LPPWG.
Its members continuously lose animals to predation, said Kate Basford, MSA executive director of the MSA and a Winnipegosis-area sheep producer.
“It’s definitely something that we talk about all the time,” she said. “As you can well imagine, if cattle are being predated sheep are that much more vulnerable to be taken down by any number of animals. At one time it was just coyotes. There’s an area not far from me that has a bad wolf problem. It seems to come in cycles.”
Basford added that sheep producers do often deploy guard dogs because their flocks are so vulnerable to predation and many have found them an effective deterrent.
“The value of a few dogs goes a long way,” she said.
Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC) statistics show in 2017 there were 1,878 predation claims covering all types of livestock, including beef, sheep and goats. More than $1.8 million was paid out in compensation to producers for their losses.
So far, halfway through the reporting period for 2018, there have been 1,387 total claims for predation kills across the province. That number also includes 326 wolf claims in 2018 specifically.
But, producers also insist the MASC numbers don’t tell the whole story, due to the fact its Wildlife Damage Compensation Program only compensates those who can provide sufficient evidence of a predator kill. Aside from being unable to provide an accurate account of the situation, that also means lost revenues amounting to tens of thousands of dollars among hardest-hit producers.
Lemon said MBP is continuing its voluntary cattle loss survey asking producers to help their organization better define the scope of the problem.
“We continue to collect the surveys,” he said. “Anecdotally, talking to producers I’ve heard from a couple losing as much as 10 per cent of their herd. Those would be the extremes probably. It’s something we’ll add up when we’re done with our district meetings and we should have numbers towards the middle of November.”