Thursday, November 11, 2010

Predators of Sheep

Llama guarding flock of sheep
The Gulf Islands are well known as an ideal place to raise
sheep - the climate, the grass, the quality of lamb produced, 
and the lack of wild predators.  But the reality is a bit 
different - for years sheep producers in the Gulf Islands 
have struggled with dogs, ravens, golden eagles, and the odd 
rogue bald eagle that attack lambs. On Salt Spring there has 
been the odd bear or cougar. For Vancouver Island, the major
predator is the cougar, for the rest of the province it is 
coyotes, and sometimes bears, cougars and wolves. 
     Predation of sheep is not unique to BC, and a survey of 
sheep producers across Canada by the Canadian Sheep 
Federation revealed that about half of all sheep producers 
have lost sheep to predators and the impact is significant.
     Last year the CSF worked on a national strategy to 
deal with the predator issue, which included a presentation 
to the federal minister of agriculture, and a Value Chain 
Roundtable on Predation in Toronto which I attended.
     The BC Sheep Federation started a Wild Predator Loss 
Prevention Pilot Program last fall to develop a sustainable 
approach to predator issues for all commercial livestock.  
The sheep sector has not been well served in the past, 
and in BC sheep producers are notcompensated for losses from 
wild predators.  This project was to helpdevelop prevention 
strategies, identify needs, gather baseline data and hold 
regional meetings to determine regional specific problems. 
At one meeting to discuss predators one of the producers on 
a conference call with us had to break from the meeting to 
chase off a coyote - the irony of the situation was not lost 
on us.   
   At a followup workshop in Princeton in conjunction with 
this year's BCSF AGM and seminar, a seasoned conservation 
officer advised producers as to what they can do to minimize 
the impact of predators, and what to do if prevention fails.
     Upon returning from the meeting, I found out that a 
stray dog had been running loose at our end of the island and 
had attacked a nearby flock, killing and injuring several 
sheep.  This wasn't the first time this year that dogs had 
been at large chasing deer or sheep on our island.  The one 
predator that we didn't talk about in the round of meetings 
over the past year was dogs, because they are viewed as a 
local government issue.  For us, CRD Animal Control is in 
charge of licensing dogs and ensuring that stray dogs are 
dealt with.  Butalthough a vigilant animal control officer 
is valuable in a community with sheep farms, we all rely on 
pet owners to have their dogs under control.
     And any dog can be a problem dog.  A survey of dog 
owners in Australia found that most pet owners are in denial 
about the ability of their own dog to cause damage.  Any dog 
is capable of chasing sheep and attacking them.  It is in 
their nature.  Indeed, most dogs are just having fun when 
they take chase of a sheep or a deer.  Many times, 
especially in hot weather, the sheep will die from exhaustion 
and won't have a mark on them.  Often, the wounds are 
extensive and the sheep may need to be put down, or it may 
have long term problems.
      Sometimes it isn't known who's dog was involved, and 
that is really a problem because it is very likely that dog 
will strike again.  I have had dogs attack my sheep on more 
than one occasion and the owners of the dogs have all 
responded differently.
     What can we do about dogs?  Owners have to keep them 
under control at all times.  Just because it is a pet 
doesn't mean it won't chase a sheep.  Producers are 
legally allowed to shoot any dog on their property that is 
worrying their flock, and anyone who sees a dog at large 
should call their local animal control officer, and alert 
any nearby sheep producers.  Sheep producers can receive 
compensation - either from the dog owner (if known)or the 
local government in charge of animal control 
(if the owner is not known).  Llamas can be helpful to keep 
with sheep, because they don't like dogs and they will 
inspect anything strange that enters the field with their 
sheep.  Guardian dogs are also useful to keep with sheep 
and can help with predators and stray dogs.
     Recently the BC Sheep Federation sent out a copy of the 
Sheep N'Ewes to every sheep producer in BC that receives the 
pink CSIP tags, and in the center of the magazine is 
information on the Wild Predator Loss Prevention Pilot 
Program, with a survey that I urge every sheep producer to 
fill out and mail in.  There is an area of the survey where 
producers can write how many sheep have been lost, and by 
what type of predator.  Be sure to indicate how many have 
been lost to dogs (or ravens, eagles, etc).  This will help 
the BCSF and your local sheep organizations advocate on your
behalf. (In the Gulf Islands the local sheep association is 
the Inter Island Sheep Breeders Assn.) 

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