Wolves attacking cattle in south-central Manitoba

“You can’t just run out and kill every wolf you see.”

– Martin Unrau, MCPA

Bill Guenther is missing a quarter of his calves and he’s pretty sure he knows why.

About six weeks ago, Guenther surprised a large wolf – “a big grey bugger” – eating on a freshly killed 600-pound heifer calf on his farm north of Austin, Manitoba.

By the time he got out his .22 rifle, the wolf was gone and didn’t return, even after Guenther waited under cover for him.

So far this year, Guenther is short 17 of his 69 spring calves, most likely to wolves. The problem is proving it.

Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation will compensate farmers for beef cattle killed by predators, up to 80 per cent of the market value. But you have to prove a predator actually killed your animals to qualify for the money. So far, out of his 17 missing calves, Guenther has only two confirmed kills, plus one probable kill. As for the rest… well, there must be a carcass to file a claim. Guenther has found bones but no smoking gun.

Guenther isn’t alone. Three of his neighbours have also lost calves this year to suspected wolf kills – about a dozen calves each for two of them and six for another. Altogether, that’s roughly 50 calves missing within a 10-mile radius along Highway 34 near Spruce Woods Provincial Park in south-central Manitoba.

There’s no doubt wolves are in the area; Guenther and other producers have seen them roaming in packs of up to 12 each. They say it’s the first time they’ve seen wolves in such large numbers so far south. Usually, wolves are more active in the Interlake and further north.

Producers are allowed to shoot problem predators to defend livestock. The problem is catching them in the act. Hunters say wolves are highly intelligent animals and know when they are being hunted. Guenther has sometimes felt certain a wolf is watching him. But when he turns around, there’s nothing there.

Martin Unrau, Manitoba Cattle Producers Association president, said he recognizes “you can’t just run out and kill every wolf you see.” He wants the province and the Manitoba Trappers Association to step up their occasional program of trapping problem predators. MCPA is also asking MASC to increase its compensation levels for wildlife depredation.

Curiously, official statistics don’t bear out producers’ claims of increased wolf activity on cattle in the region. MASC in 2008 reports a total of 263 confirmed and probable cases in Manitoba as of October 31, down from 365 for the same period in 2007. That includes 34 in an area from the Saskatchewan border east to Portage la Prairie and south of Riding Mountain National Park, down from 41 in 2007.

Unrau, who raises cattle near MacGregor, said the reason the numbers are down isn’t because of fewer wolves. It’s because MASC’s conditions for compensation are so rigid that producers often don’t bother to file claims.

“A lot of guys have just given up reporting them.”

As for Guenther, he’s at the end of his rope. BSE, COOL and high feed grain prices have already taken a severe toll. Now, with cattle prices as low as they are, losing a quarter of his calf crop wipes out any profit Guenther might have had this year. He’s looking for off-farm work.

“The wolves have tipped the scales,” he said sadly.

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