If you go out in the woods to­day, bring a stick

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page -

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

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