Safe cattle thanks to livestock guard dogs and electric fences
Location: Aken – Germany,
Story by: Swen Keller
After a wolf attack on his herd of cattle, farmer Swen Keller received advice from the regional wolf competence center and implemented effective protective measures. Today he gives his colleagues practical tips for herd protection.
When I came to my pasture in March 2017, I found a dead cow and two torn calves. Of course I had heard of the wolves, but I was not worried about my animals. After some searching, I called the regional competence center . A genetic test proved that it was a pack of wolves.
This is how Swen Keller described the attack on his free-roaming herd of 25 animals. After the attack, the first thing he did was to remove his animals from the pasture, but he knew that this was not a long-term solution, because free range was his promise of quality. Swen Keller was and is determined to protect his herd.
Do grazing livestock panic when wolves are nearby?
Whether sheep and goats panic when a wolf is around depends on the breed and previous experiences of the sheep. If a wolf attacks, the animals will respond by panicking. How long this state lasts is, among other things, a question of the breed and the former experiences of the sheep/goats. This is less common in cattle. For these animals, it also depends on the experience of the other animals, the composition of the herd (calves, young cattle or adult cattle) and, to a certain extent, the breed. Horses may also panic when attacked by wolves. The response always depends on their past experience with wolves. Donkeys have less instinct to take flight than horses and are very alert and defensive. However, they are not able to fend off wolves effectively.
How do I know if wolves are present in my region?
Only the “genetic fingerprint” is considered to be clear evidence of a wolf’s presence. All other signs and tracks are only indications. The most important ones are:
- Prints: adult wolves walk on their toes and leave a print with 4 toe pads and claw marks, 9 to 13 cm long, slightly rounded. It is easy to mistake for a dog’s paw print and it is impossible to unequivocally identify a wolf from a single paw print.
- Faeces (scat): the scat can usually be ascribed to a wolf with relative certainty as long as there are no golden jackals, feral dogs in the area or dogs that also feed on wild animals (or pets).
- Carcass: based on the injuries to the prey’s body, the tracks around it and the way the animal was eaten, the perpetrator can be identified relatively reliably.
Most regions have official or voluntary experts to monitor and identify the wolves in the area. These are the right people to ask for information about the presence of wolves.
Four weeks after the attack, the herd were grazing outside again. Together with Andreas Berbig from the Wolf Competency Center Iden, Swen Keller analyzed possible herd protection measures and found that there was hardly any experience in Germany of cattle protection. In a pilot project with the support of WWF Germany, Swen, who is also a dog trainer, bought two herd protection dogs and fenced the pasture with a mobile electric fence. The combination of the two measures is crucial for their effectiveness, because individual wolves succeed every now and then to jump over a fence or dig through it.
Wolfs and livestock for Sachsen-Anhalt
honorary wolf ambassador
Guided Swen through the process of obtaining livestock guarding dogs and advised him on fencing equipment
+49 22 22 22 22
Livestock Guarding Dogs
Livestock guarding dogs defend the herd against attacks by wolves. They feel like part of the herd and settle down with the pet owner. The dogs live permanently outside and defend “their” herd against all intruders from the outside. Well-trained livestock protection dogs are no danger to walkers and hikers, but these should lead their dogs on a leash. To make this work, well trained herd protection dogs are required, which are adapted to the type of grazing by the livestock. This requires regular checks made by experienced people so that the dogs do not start to behave incorrectly.
Mobile electric fence
Electric fences are an important foundation for protecting herds. Through the painful contact, the predators learn to stay away from farm animals. We recommend a fence system with five taut wires, at least 90 centimeters high and with a mimimum voltage of 2,000 volts. It is important to remove the grass under the fence, since otherwise the electricity is permanently discharged. Holes made by lynxes and badgers must also be removed, as otherwise the wolf uses them for digging through. Some vendors specialize in fences that are very easy to assemble and disassemble mechanically – they are particularly suitable for mobile use.
Swen Keller has spent a great deal of time trying to find the best possible solution for his herd, breaking new ground. He was able to finance the necessary purchases through the pilot project. Today, he advises other pet owners in a newly founded association on suitable protective measures and their application in practice.
I am always asked how much it costs and the anticipated expenses. Of course, it does involve extra work at first, but I’m convinced that I can protect my cattle without killing wolves. I therefore pass on my knowledge today in workshops to other livestock owners. ―Swen Keller
Effectiveness of Livestock Damage Prevention Measures
Limited evidence on the effectiveness of interventions to reduce livestock predation by large carnivores
Successful coexistence between large carnivores and humans is conditional upon effective mitigation of the impact of these species on humans, such as through livestock depredation. It is therefore essential for conservation practitioners, carnivore managing authorities, or livestock owners to know the effectiveness of interventions intended to reduce livestock predation by large carnivores. We reviewed the scientific literature (1990–2016), searching for evidence of the effectiveness of interventions. We found experimental and quasi-experimental studies were rare within the field, and only 21 studies applied a case-control study design (3.7% of reviewed publications). We used a relative risk ratio to evaluate the studied interventions: changing livestock type, keeping livestock in enclosures, guarding or livestock guarding dogs, predator removal, using shock collars on carnivores, sterilizing carnivores, and using visual or auditory deterrents to frighten carnivores. Although there was a general lack of scientific evidence of the effectiveness of any of these interventions, some interventions reduced the risk of depredation whereas other interventions did not result in reduced depredation. We urge managers and stakeholders to move towards an evidence-based large carnivore management practice and researchers to conduct studies of intervention effectiveness with a randomized case-control design combined with systematic reviewing to evaluate the evidence.