Feeding Feeding during calving season holds one of the highest potential predation risk areas. Wolves are keen on recognizing vulnerability in potential prey and quickly learn to take advantage of any patterns in livestock management that create a window for increased prey or cattle vulnerability.
For example, when feeding hay during calving season, wolves will listen for the tractor in anticipation of the cows leaving their bedded-down calves to follow the tractor and feed. The cows are checked out often for hours while feeding, leaving their calves behind and vulnerable to wolves. Here are some basic ways to minimize this risk.
Have a rider present: have a rider (or someone on foot) pick up the calves behind the cows to ensure they stay together and go with their mothers. This alone will reduce vulnerability to predation significantly.
Feed in the evening: Once cows finish feeding, they will be more likely to bed down together in a group versus scattering. With their calves already nearby, this further encourages the herd to remain tighter during the night.
The combination of having a rider pick up the calves and evening feeding has proven to be a very successful strategy in reducing the potential for conflict.
Pasture/Lot Rotation Simply changing the scene can help reduce wolf predation during calving season. Wolves associate a place with hunting success and/or potential for food gain if they perceive the prey's vulnerability as higher than their level of risk. Changing up the scene by rotating or moving the calving pastures 1-2 miles can reduce the potential for conflict.
Fencing If a regular/permanent annual pasture for calving is used, installing multi-strand high tensile wire fencing (HOT!) around the perimeter of the calving pasture has shown to be nearly 100% successful in keeping wolves out. This is an expensive option to install initially. However, long-term, it can significantly reduce the potential for predation and the need for continued human presence, other than what is part of your standard practice in terms of day/night calvers and feeding.
Terrain Wolves learn to take advantage of terrain features. Many predations occur in narrow draws, steep-sided creeks, bogs, downfall, wooded areas, and fringe territory. In addition, they may run their prey up against fencing.
A pasture located in more easily defensible open terrain with minimal characteristics that wolves can take advantage of will help reduce the potential for conflict. This is often easier said than is realistic; however, being aware of the landscape and considering what features may increase vulnerability in both the cows and calves will help you create a calving strategy that works to manage potential risk.
Human Presence A human presence, whether in the form of day and/or night calvers or simply a watch setup, can be an effective strategy during calving season. Changing the location of human presence or work pattern/schedule may increase effectiveness – wolves will learn patterns and times of human activity and take advantage of that awareness. Lights that can flash (flashlight or other) may help to enhance the effectiveness of human presence at night.
HAZING: Hazing that does not have the potential to harm a wolf (non-injurious) is currently allowed in Colorado. Using airhorns or other noisemakers and lights may be effective in deterring a potential threat. ONLY haze if wolves are in the cattle OR stopped just outside the fence line and eyeing the cattle. If wolves are simply passing by, leave them alone. For hazing to be effective, wolves must associate the mental discomfort directly with the cattle. Once the wolves start to move out and away from the cattle, release all hazing pressure.
Tools Turbo Fladry, Foxlights, and RAG boxes (if available) may provide effective though short-term protections. And in more extensive pastures, some of these tools may not be reasonable to use due to costs, terrain, and/or miles needed to be covered.
Turbo Fladry has been shown to be the most effective of these tools. Fladry wire needs to be HOT (you want to provide more than a minor sting) to be fully effective and help ensure a longer duration of effectiveness.
Foxlights have also been shown to be effective in multiple settings and may be more reasonable to use on larger calving lots. On light per ¾ mile of fencing is recommended—mounted just outside the fencing at 24” using a sturdy t-post. The solar-powered model is lighter and easier to handle.
A combination of tools and switching things up, e.g., moving the location of Foxlights every week or so, generally has better results. For grazing season in open range, strategies based on herd management and grazing practices combined with stockmanship techniques and an understanding of wolf biology and behavior have demonstrated sustainable and long-term success for landowners in not only reducing the vulnerability of cattle to predation but in increasing ranch economic viability and resiliency.
There is no bulletproof solution to reduce wolf-livestock conflict. However, strategies have been discovered, evolved, and come a long way, especially over the last 15 years. Being proactive in working to prevent conflict vs. working reactively after a conflict occurs is, by far, the smarter and more effective approach. Feel free to reach out with any questions or for more information on support and resources available. We are here every day, 24/7.