If you go out in the woods today, bring a stick
If you go out in the woods today, you had better wear snowshoes, or cross-country skis. Venture off a beaten path, and you will be waist-deep in snow. Depending on the location and time of your outing, you might also want to ensure your common-sense, self-preservation instincts are on alert. You never know what type of wildlife you might come across in the great outdoors. Isn’t it great?
If you replied, “Yes” enthusiastically, you are obviously not a livestock owner. Wild animals are a constant concern for farmers.
It is estimated that every year, Ontario sheep farmers lose an average of 2,965 sheep and lambs ever, year to coyotes and wolves. In addition to the financial and emotional price paid by producers, predation also hits the taxpayers. The province pays out about $430,000 per year in compensation under the Livestock, Poultry and Honeybee Protection Act.
We know that coyotes are doing well. Sightings of the sly and shy stalkers are common. This winter, with heavy snow, deer have been easy prey for wily rascals.
When country folk hear howling in the middle of the night, they know that coyotes are on the prowl and/or their neighbours just received another shocking hydro bill.
Calls of the wild are especially unnerving for shepherds, who are obliged to employ all sorts of devices to guard their flocks at night.
Chances are that those coyotes are joined in their nocturnal serenades by the family dog.
Which brings us to questions for canine owners: Where does your dog go when you're not looking? Does it lead a secret life?
Just as cats like to snack on song birds, family dogs like to terrorize sheep.
An Australian study of 1,400 dogs that attacked livestock found most dog owners, when approached by authorities, refused to believe their dog could have killed or injured any sheep. They believe their dogs are too small, too young or too friendly to harm farm animals.
Dogs chase and attack sheep for fun, observes the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. They rarely kill the sheep immediately. The victims usually die later from their injuries or from infection, or they must be destroyed.
Livestock evaluators have described the aftermath of dog attacks as “excessive mutilation.”
On the other hand, coyote attacks are quick. Often coyotes select one sheep to kill and eat, and leave the rest of the flock alone. Sheep flocks that experience a coyote attack are often not as stressed or noisy as those besieged by dogs, the ministry says.
So, if you have a dog, make sure it is not allowed to wander. You ought to also remember that you are legally responsible for your pet’s actions. By keeping their pets under control, responsible pet owners can help to relieve the pressure on harried shepherds.
This topic becomes even more interesting – if that is possible – when one considers the measures farmers implement to keep baying bruisers at bay.
Livestock guard animals, a.k.a. predator control animals or mobile flock protectors, are used as a nonlethal means of reducing predation.
Like the iconic sheep dog, livestock guard animals live with and protect the flock. Popular guard animals are llamas and donkeys. Burros are gaining in popularity because of their low cost, minor maintenance requirements, longevity and their compatibility with other predator control methods. Plus, donkeys have the same basic diet as the flock.
The Ontario Predator Study reported that about 70 per cent of the donkeys being used were rated “excellent” or “good.”
However, they are not a cure-all: The donkeys' effectiveness ranged from total elimination of predation, to having absolutely no impact on predation while simultaneously causing other problems within the flock.
Obviously, donkey compatibility with farm dogs and people is an issue that can never be treated lightly.
Regardless of how dedicated and well trained it is, like a security guard, an anti-predation animal must be in the right place at the right time.
At times, the threat to livestock may come from a surprise source. Ravens – and this is disgusting – have been known to go after newborn calves and pluck the eyes out of the vulnerable babies. (Nature can be a real horror movie sometimes, eh?)
From a human perspective, the outside world is relatively safe. We might inadvertently and unknowingly get into the vicinity of a bear once in a while. But we are not likely to get any hassle from muskrats, beaver, weasles or fishers, unless they are very hungry and we find some way of ticking them off. And how are we ever really to know when a muskrat is miffed?
We can never forget that wild animals are wild, and like that docile puppy, can, without any notice, morph into vicious, blood thirsty beasts. This latent trait can be found in many species, even those that seem to be so innocent.
In fact, there is ample evidence that those seemingly helpless deer can go berserk and attack people.
But the remote chance of a lethal wildlife encounter cannot stop us from enjoying all of the wonders of the great outside world.
To truly experience this lovely season, one should attempt a night-time walk in the wilderness. Breathe in the crisp air, watch moonlight dance on crisp virgin snow, and walk softly.
You also might want to bring along a ski pole or a stick.
Howling might signal the presence of a coyote or a poor Hydro One customer