Sheep and cattle producers are being called to share their experiences with predation.
The Livestock Predation Prevention Project, launched earlier this year, will be releasing a producer survey in the hopes of gathering producer data on predation.
Why it matters: Producers are being asked to give their insights on predation as the Livestock Predation Prevention Project gets underway.
Ray Bittner, the project’s lead, said producers can expect to see that survey in early December. Manitoba Sheep will direct mail the survey to its members, he said, while cattle producers will see the survey in the December issue of Cattle Country magazine.
“We’re going to try and survey as many beef producers as will answer and we’re going to try and survey as many sheep producers as will answer,” Bittner said during a Nov. 17 presentation to Manitoba Sheep. “It’s a basic survey asking: What predators are bothering you? How many predations have occurred on your farm? The size of your farm, and some landscape characteristics like, are you up against a bush? Are you up against a wildlife management area?”
The Livestock Predation Prevention Project program was announced earlier this year, to be run by Manitoba’s Livestock and Predation Working Group. The February announcement came with $300,000 in provincial funds to help launch the pilot.
The project had been a longtime ask of Manitoba Sheep and the Manitoba Beef Producers, in light of continued herd loss reports from producers.
In Manitoba’s worst municipalities, the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC) has reported up to 400 head of livestock taken by coyotes alone in the last five years.
“I would say that most municipalities are somewhere in the 100 range… it’s not the most serious for the entire municipality, but it can be devastating to individual producers,” Bittner said.
The same MASC numbers reported up to 30 head taken by bears and up to 200 head taken by wolves in the same time frame in some municipalities.
The project will run from 2020-23.
Bittner says the project will look at both livestock management to reduce run-ins with predators and predator mitigation strategies.
For example, he said, the program will look at whether improving herd health might also reduce predation and how proper deadstock management might avoid predator interactions.
“Theme two is predator management, so instead of managing the livestock, we’re going to manage the predators,” he said, citing practices like more robust fencing during vulnerable periods in the production cycle, such as birthing or weaning.
Guardian animals would also fit under this heading, he noted.
The program will also be looking at predator removal. Summer trapping is more realistic for coyotes than wolves, he noted, “and then we’re going to do a little bit of work on seeing if winter trapping or fall bear hunting can reduce predation.”
Other concepts include alternate or rotating pastures according to the predator threat, grouping herds more tightly and scare tactics.
The survey will be among the initial steps of the program, along with data mining information gathered by MASC to hone in on the hot zones of the issue.
The program will then look for producers in those hot zones to work with on mitigation.
Bittner says he will also consult with trappers and MASC adjusters as part of his fact-finding efforts, as well as conservation officers
“We’re going to get all this data together and we’re going to try and build a model of what the problems are in Manitoba and maybe we can start solving them once we fully understand them,” he said.
Other prongs of the project will push education resources for producers, as well as further work on actual risk mitigation.
“That’s where we actually purchase something that we put in place on your farm to try and reduce predator interactions and predator problems,” Bittner said.
The current list of possibilities ranges from veterinary evaluations to scare items, predator-proof deadstock composting corrals, different fencing types, trail cameras, taste aversion and even electronically tracking livestock movements and heart rates.
That list is not final, and suggestions are welcome, Bittner stressed. Cattle and sheep producers are being asked to share any strategies they may have developed on their farms.
Morgan Moore, Manitoba Sheep chair, said he was pleased to see the program in place, something also echoed by Manitoba Beef Producers executive director Carson Callum.
“I think it’s safe to say that predation has been a long-standing issue for sheep producers,” Moore said. “Out of necessity, we’ve already developed some pretty good skills in terms of minimizing the impacts of predation. We have a lot of strong experiences with the use of livestock guardian dogs and a number of the other guardian species… but I think we’re always looking for new innovation and research that can help us minimize it further.”
Addressing the issue will not be “one size fits all,” Callum also noted.
The Manitoba Beef Producers and other working group members are still ironing out details of the program before moving into implementation, he said.
That work includes, “working to determine the risk management practices offered to co-operators and then narrowing down which co-operators and the number of co-operators we’ll use to test those particular management practices or tools on farm,” he said.
“A lot of this stuff is still kind of in development and still being worked on, but we’re happy with what’s being moved forward with so far,” Callum added.
Producers are asked to have surveys submitted by Dec. 21.