There are many things I love about raising sheep.
They are cute, they are entertaining, they produce a lot of meat, milk and wool… the list goes on and on!
However, there is one thing that I have learned to be true about sheep, over the years I have reared them – they are not always the brightest.
This is not to say that individual sheep are not intelligent. We had a lot of super-smart sheep in our days and they can be taught new things easily. However, when the sheep come in a group, they lose their minds.
While this is not always a bad thing – in fact, it is one of the best things about raising sheep, in many cases, because it makes them easier to herd – when it comes to keeping predators away from sheep It can be harmful.
There are all kinds of hunters who run after the sheep, and really, can you blame them? When sheep come together in a herd and move collectively, thinking of them as a group rather than as individuals, they are easy targets.
As a shepherd, it is important to think actively about how you will protect your sheep from predators. In this article, I will tell you about several options to protect your herd from harm.
- 1 Which hunters usually target sheep?
- 2 How to protect sheep from predators
- 3 Be cautious and protect the sheep from predators
Which hunters usually target sheep?
If you raise cattle, there are probably not many hunters you need to worry about. Although you may occasionally have problems with predators going after calves or vulnerable members of your herd. For the most part, the sheer size of the cow will probably deter the vast majority of predators.
Not so with sheep. They are at that “sweet spot” where some hunters will leave them alone. However, others see them as a tasty entree to eat. While you will not have as many predators to worry about as if you were raising chickens, when it comes to protecting the sheep from predators, you are going to cut your work.
The list is extensive but the hunters you have to worry about will vary depending on where you live.
For example, I have mostly coyotes and domestic dogs in my neck of the woods to worry about. Although we have bears, we have enough wild space to roost in them (and enough wild sources of food) where they are not a problem with our sheep.
In some years, coyotes are more problematic than others, especially those in which the winter was harsh and killed common sources of food (such as deer). This year’s winter was mild and so coyotes are not as much of a concern.
Other hunters may have to worry about targeting their sheep which includes mountain lions and wolves.
Lamb and hunter
Now, it is important to note that these are predators of adult sheep. Young lambs can be even more vulnerable, especially if you are primarily breeding sheep. Depending on where you live and the inadvertence of your lambs, you may have to look for larger birds such as eagles and eagles, as well as smaller mammals such as foxes and bobcats.
Even raccoons are sometimes known to kill small lambs, usually by chewing their noses.
The good news about preventing predator attacks is that you can take steps to collectively address these risks rather than addressing each predator one by one.
How to protect sheep from predators
Good hunter protection starts with the right fence.
The most convenient thing about raising sheep is that unlike pigs, a hot electric fence is not required to keep them inside. In fact, electricity does not always work well with sheep (they are naturally insulated from their wool!) With so many cowboys completely abandoning it in favor of lower, less intensive page wire or other economical options. Choose the option.
The downside to this is that a low page wire or wooden fence is not going to keep predators out in the same way that it will keep sheep inside.
Therefore, you may have to add an extra level of protection by running hot wire around the perimeter of your fence. In this way, you can ensure that your sheep are protected, no matter what. If an electric fence is not an option, you can always use barbed wire instead.
2. Choose the right breed of sheep
When you are looking for the ideal breed of sheep for your farm, there are several things to keep in mind.
Are you raising your sheep for milk, meat or wool? Do you want to be able to handle them easily for shear or transportation? What about reproduction?
One thing that you need to consider is the herd instinct of your chosen breed. The herd is the only line of defense of the sheep against poaching. When a sheep goes somewhere, often, the rest of the flock follows it – even if it is not a wise choice.
Herd instincts can be helpful or harmful, depending on how you raise your sheep and what predators you are trying to prevent. We raise our sheep relatively close to home, so the herd instincts can be helpful in that we will be alerted if something goes wrong.
However, if you are concerned about animals that hunt in the herd (or raise the sheep away from your home) then the herd instinct may be less important.
Either way, treat it as if you are “shopping” for your sheep. Herds tend to be highest in good wool breeds but are present to varying degrees in all breeds of sheep.
3. Livestock Guardian Animals
One of the best ways to reduce the risk is to outsource your livestock conservation – enlisting the help of a livestock conservation animal!
Livestock conservation dogs are some of the most popularly chosen options. These animals live with the sheep 24/7 and are trained (and bred) to be gentle with the sheep, yet are cruel to anything approaching them.
They can also often help the sheep to move.
Finding the right LGA (livestock conservation animal) for the job can be challenging. Especially with dogs, you need to choose an animal that has been trained extensively. Otherwise, you will risk the animal moving the sheep and attacking them. It is often recommended that you keep this animal puppy with your sheep.
Other livestock conservation animals to consider include donkeys, lamas, and alpacas. Some shepherds choose to raise their sheep with larger animals, like cattle, because larger animals alone serve as a deterrent against many predators based on their size.
4. Animal Husbandry
Sheep are, unfortunately, vulnerable to hunting around the calendar year.
However, when it comes to stopping some types of predators such as predatory birds and raccoons, you really only need to worry about lambs.
Because of this, there are some animal husbandry tips that you can incorporate so that hunting can be reduced a bit.
For example, you can choose lamb during late spring or summer, when food sources are less scarce and smaller lambs are less likely to be targets. You can also choose a lamb at such a time of the year when you can be more present to keep an eye on things.
Many breeds of sheep are seasonal breeders, so it is easy to give time to lambs in this way. However some are not, so you will need to adopt a more tailored approach.
5. Pig Patrol?
This is not something that I have tried personally, but have often heard from other shepherds as a way to keep predators away from their sheep.
Run pigs nearby!
In the past, farmers did not only raise one type of livestock – they reared many species of animals for a diverse farmstead. It certainly meets their food needs, but can also help deter predators.
Pigs, especially large, full-grown pigs, are aggressive creatures that many predators have learned to avoid. Consider grazing pigs around the perimeter of your farm so that other animals may want to get away!
Again, cattle can serve the same benefit – even more reason to consider diversifying into their “farm portfolio”.
6. Nighttime Painting
During particularly weak times of the year (such as during the lamb), we make a habit of locking our sheep in the barn at night.
Even if you choose not to lock them in, it may be a good idea to at least run your sheep in a paddock that is located in your home or any other well-trafficked area. Be close.
It is an effective predator deterrent for many reasons. For one, it will keep your sheep nearby so that if anything goes wrong you can hear their cries.
It will also help reduce the chance of a predator attack because many animals are less likely to come near if there are humans nearby.
Be cautious and protect the sheep from predators
In our many years of raising sheep, not once have we lost a sheep to predators. I wish we could say the same about our chickens – but I think this is part of raising chickens, right?
I am sure a lot of it is due to luck alone. However, the above steps to protect the sheep from predators in rearing our sheep have helped us in preventing the attack of poachers.
When it comes to raising sheep, this is the best advice you can follow. Think carefully about the areas in which you are rearing sheep – and do your best to think like a hunter. Take a closer look at your fences, barns and other structures, and make sure you shore them up as nicely as possible.
By being alert and prepared, you will be able to prevent most of the hunting problems that occur with your sheep.
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