Wolf Depredation on Cattle in Europe
by Cat Urbigkit, Pinedale Online!
May 17, 2015
A new report to the European Commission "Exploring Traditional Husbandry Methods to Reduce Wolf Predation on Free-Ranging Cattle in Portugal and Spain" offers a look at the problems faced by livestock producers in this region of the Iberian Peninsula, but does little to suggest viable relief from problems specifically identified by cattle producers.
The paper acknowledges that "the economic impact of wolf damages on cattle is high and is becoming more relevant in recent times since cattle numbers are getting proportionally higher among livestock species."
One of the main reasons that more livestock producers are turning to cattle is because wolf depredations on sheep and goat herds prompted producers to switch the type of livestock in their operations, or to leave the business entirely.
In two mountainous regions of Portugal and Spain in the northern Iberian Peninsula, high densities of up to six wolves per 62 square miles occur in a human-dominated landscape where livestock husbandry is an important economic activity. Government subsidies are an important share (more than 50%) of the economic income of cattle breeders in these mountainous areas.
In Portugal, a cattle producer with 250 head can benefit from more than $100,000 in annual funding from European Union subsidies per year. In much of the wolf range in Portugal, livestock is the main food source for wolves, with cattle comprising up to 30 percent of the wolf diet.
In Spain, cattle spend their winters in stables or barns, and graze near villages in spring and fall but are penned inside at night, all wolf depredations occur in summer pastures on the mountain. Seventy-five percent of cattle breeders who used mastiff livestock guardian dogs did not suffer livestock losses to wolves, but 64 percent of cattle producers who did not used dogs suffered wolf depredations on their herds.
The Covadonga region of Spain has high five times higher mortality of cattle by wolves than in other regions combined, even though producers in this area do not take small calves to the mountain and shepherds remain with the herds during summer grazing. But the availability of wild prey is low, leading to higher depredations on domestic livestock.
One of the most effective damage prevention measures to protect livestock from wolves is the use of livestock guardian dogs (LGDs), but cattle producers in Spain listed the following constraints on the use of dogs.
• Summer pastures are not accessible by 4-wheel drive vehicles, and farmers have to walk to reach their herds. Bringing food to the dogs would be difficult.
• It is more difficult to bond the dogs with cattle than it is with sheep or goats, and insufficient bonding is the main cause of later problems with the dogs.
• Maintenance of livestock guardian dogs is expensive, with the cost of maintaining a mastiff dog for one year equal to the value of a calf, so the loss of two or three calves per year is equivalent to the maintenance cost of two or three mastiffs.
• Large dogs can scare hikers or tourists, triggering complaints.
As part of the research on wolf-cattle conflicts, round-table discussions with stakeholders were held, with livestock producers providing a comprehensive list of problems, with governmental bureaucracy being an important one. But instead of proposing improving access to pastures, the final report recommends cattle be grazed closer to villages and structures. Instead of addressing the lack of places and structures to confine livestock, and the bureaucracies involved in the licensing of the building of these structures, the report simply recommends confinement of livestock. Another problem is the lack of coordination between the entity responsible for wolf damage, and a separate entity responsible for agricultural aid. Financial assistance is available to producers who purchase replacement animals after wolf depredations, but these animals must be purchased within 20 days – even though damage confirmation and compensation is not completed by that time.
The report recommends best practices for damage prevention, with two major points:
• Recovery of wild ungulate populations to serve as an alternative food source.
• Apply damage prevention measures, "which should be mandatory to benefit from compensation for wolf damages and from EU aids for livestock production in wolf range.
Unfortunately, while producers did assist in helping define important wolf-cattle management and conflict issues, the report states that "Many cattle breeders are not willing to improve their procedures or effort to actively prevent wolf attacks" and concludes with a list of best management practices that fail to address those specific issues identified by producers.
The report included the following "best" management practices for wolf damage prevention on cattle:
• Promote attended grazing, including 1 shepherd and a minimum of 1 LGD per 50 animals (up to a maximum of five LGDs per herd).
• Nocturnal confinement of cattle.
• Confinement of calves less than three months old.
• Have cows give birth to calves indoors.
• Prevent free-range grazing in winter by confining animals.
• Avoid free-ranging grazing during summer over distances more than 3 miles from confinement structures.
• Promote the use of cattle breeds that are well adapted to extensive grazing and to the ecological conditions of mountainous areas.
The complete report is provided at the link below.