Table of Contents
For the Love of Goats
Losing an animal to a predator is every goat owner’s worst nightmare. When it does happen, you want to know who did it and stop them from doing it again. But figuring out whodunnit can often be a challenge.
In this episode, we are talking to Gowan Batist, co-existence programs manager of the Mountain Lion Foundation. She is also a regenerative sheep rancher, hand-shearer, wool spinner, writer, and dog enthusiast who grew up outdoors with wildlife in Northern California and is committed to fostering a land stewardship ethic that increases and preserves biodiversity for future generations.
This episode is the wildlife edition of CSI as Gowan talks about how she helps farmers and ranchers figure out what predator killed their livestock and how to stop them. We also talk about the role that predators play in a healthy ecosystem.
Gowan talks about how and why different predators, including coyotes, lions, bears, and even birds and domestic dogs, kill goats and other livestock. She also talks about how different deterrents work for some predators and not others.
Learn more about Gowan Batist
Listen right here…
…or on your favorite platform:
One of the biggest challenges for anyone raising livestock is preventing predator attacks. Check out these tips for protecting your livestock from predators.
For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here is Deborah Niemann.
Deborah Niemann 0:18
Today’s episode is brought to you by Goats 365, my membership program for people who are living with, learning about, and loving goats, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. Basic members get access to six courses covering housing, fencing, parasites, nutrition, and health, as well as things like composting goat manure and the basics of starting a goat-based business. Premium members also have the opportunity to attend live online meetings via Zoom to talk about goats every month. Visit Goats365.com to learn more.
Deborah Niemann 0:52
Hello everyone and welcome to today’s episode. This is going to be something pretty much unlike anything we’ve ever done before, and I’m really excited about this because we are going to be talking about predators today, and how you can figure out what might be killing your livestock. And we’re joined today by Gowan Batist, the coexistence programs manager of the Mountain Lion Foundation. Welcome to the show.
Gowan Batist 1:20
Thank you so much for having me on.
Deborah Niemann 1:22
This is going to be really great. I heard you on your podcast a couple weeks ago talking to someone in California about coexisting with mountain lions on a homestead with goats, and it was really fascinating because they met you because they lost a goat that was killed and learned that it was actually the neighbor’s dog that did it, not the local mountain lion. So it was really fascinating, you just touched on how you knew it was a dog and I was like, oh my gosh, that’s so cool. All the predators basically have their MO, their modus operandi, how they operate and what they do and that they all kill for different reasons, they do it differently and that’s how you can figure out who did it. And of course, that’s the really important thing because if you just go and kill the wrong animal, you’re not helping the situation and also giving yourself a false sense of security.
Gowan Batist 2:24
Yeah, absolutely. So I have, I think, a pretty fun and unique job that I get to do. It’s part what I call barnyard CSI, where I’m doing sleuth work to figure out what happened, and then partially it’s support for people, and partially it’s support for wildlife. So ultimately our goal is that the best case scenario happens for everybody involved. I’m also a sheep rancher, I’ve grown up in agriculture my whole life. I’ve worked as a contract grazier both with goats and with sheep in the back country alongside a lot of mountain lions, bears, coyotes. So this is something that I’m really comfortable living and working with. I still manage a flock of about 50 sheep in mountain lion territory, and black bear territory, and coyote territory. So it’s really important to me that I don’t ask anybody to practice what I’m not practicing. I also really genuinely believe that the best long-term solutions for wildlife conflict with humans and domestic animals is proactive and is coexistence. Most lethal reactions to the killing of a domestic animal, which we call a depredation, there’s not great data that it helps at all, and there’s some pretty compelling data that it actually makes this problem worse. Even according to California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s studies looking at necropsy to mountain lions who were killed for depredations on domestic livestock, it’s a pretty small percentage of them that can actually be positively identified as the specific lion that did the thing, or that a lion did it at all. I think one of the most recent studies I looked at it was about 25%, which those aren’t good numbers to take lethal action, especially considering what happens in the aftermath of a lethal action.
Gowan Batist 4:21
One of the things that I will often say to ranchers and homesteaders who contact me is like, okay, you can shoot your mountain lion, you can shoot your coyote, but its friends are going to come to its funeral. You open up this territorial vacuum and you tend to have actually more carnivore presence on your landscape and a younger population on your landscape as transient juveniles start kind of jockeying for position to take over this vacant territory. And those individuals are more likely to run afoul of humans because they’re less seasoned, they’re less competent hunters, they’re likely to be hungrier. So I would love to talk you through how we go about determining what happened in a given case.
Deborah Niemann 5:09
Just before we move into that, because it was really great, you started to talk about what happens when you lose your predators, and we talked about this a little bit before we started recording. And I said, oh, we’re so lucky in Illinois that we really don’t have many predators, just domestic dogs and coyotes. And you said, well, when you don’t have any predators, then you start having disease problems because things like whitetail deer come in. And I’m like, oh my goodness- yes, the reason we have no more llamas is because of meningeal worm because we have so many whitetail deer that are in our area.
Gowan Batist 5:47
Yeah. So mountain lions and other apex predators have a really important ecological role. And one of the things that I kind of have as a shorthand for it is we don’t have an option of having an ecosystem that doesn’t have predation. We’re either going to have an apex predator, like a mountain lion or like a wolf, or we’re going to have a microscopic predator. We’re going to start having disease. Disease is what happens when we have an imbalanced ecosystem. There’s quite a lot of evidence that mountain lions will preferentially target deer that have conditions like chronic wasting disease, like Lyme disease. And that can be really beneficial. I mean, when we’re people who are managing domestic ungulates on a landscape that’s shared by wild ungulates, that’s a shared disease pool. We don’t really have a way of completely separating these spaces. It’s the same with birds as well. So there’s quite a few benefits to having apex predators on the landscape that you’re working on, both in terms of overall system biodiversity, and also direct benefits to ranchers and homesteaders as well. There’s a pretty compelling study by Ripple and Beshta that was done in 2006 that looks at overall biodiversity in areas where mountain lions are actively hunting deer versus areas where they’re not. And what they found is that biodiversity at every trophic level all the way down to marine invertebrates and beetles is higher in the presence of an apex predator. Ungulate populations like our domestic livestock, they co-evolved with predation. They really kind of need predation to be healthy.
Gowan Batist 7:30
And also people who are afraid of living alongside these large predators, which is understandable, they’re big powerful animals. They have the capacity to do harm. But you’re much, much, much more likely to be killed by a deer vehicle strike than to ever see a mountain lion, let alone have a negative interaction with one. To the point that the reintroduction of mountain lions into South Dakota has been estimated to have actually saved quite a few lives and saved the state upwards of a million dollars in property damage as a result of reduced car vehicle strikes. So it’s important to keep in mind that in some ways, yes, managing livestock where you don’t have an intact ecosystem of native predators is easier, but we don’t have the option to have no predation. Our predation will come in a microscopic form. So in your case, it was this horrible worm infestation. And that’s exactly what we talk about, about why these animals are so important. Well, I think anybody who has ever had a buck break into their doe pen understands how quickly overpopulation can happen. It’s the same with wild ungulates. There’s something has to be a regulator on their reproduction. And in the domestic livestock world, that’s us. And in a natural environment, that’s apex predators.
Deborah Niemann 8:54
Yeah, I always tell people, goats are extremely healthy animals. I can just start rattling off multiple islands where two goats got loose and became such a problem that the government brought in sharpshooters to kill the goats because they reproduced so fast. So to the topic of predators, go ahead, you said that you were going to share a particular case study about what happened with one particular farmer.
Gowan Batist 9:23
Yeah. And I’ll definitely give folks a heads up that it gets pretty gory because in order to talk about this, we have to talk about how different predators eat their prey. What happens in that and how do you tell the difference? So in this specific case, I was brought to look at a goat, and this goat had clearly been run. You could see tracks in the soft deep wood chip bedding of this corral where the goat had run around and around and around the corral in a repetitive motion. There was bloody foam on the goat’s nose and mouth. Its neck was in a supine position. The goat was down on its side and there were scratches and superficial wounds to the back of the goat’s legs and around the top of their thighs and their hocks. So if I see something like that, the first thing that I think of is a domestic dog. And the reason for that is because mountain lions are ambush predators. They don’t tend to run down prey, and they’re not particularly efficient at it. If you’ve seen documentary footage from mountain lions who live in more open arid environments like Patagonia, like the Altiplano plains kind of environment, when they try to run down guanacos, their success rate is actually fairly low. They get their butts kicked pretty often. Mountain lions in general kill with a bite to the head or the throat.
Gowan Batist 9:06
I had one mountain lion female that I was following who I was tracking with game camera, and I found successions of her kills and they all had the same diagnostic thing, which is that they had a big old canine puncture through the head of the deer, and the deer’s lower jaw was all the way around the back of its head. So if you think about that, that’s very dramatic, right? That’s a very powerful puncture bite. That’s a full dislocation, and that’s head and neck trauma. This goat didn’t have that. What this goat had was a bunch of small superficial wounds, which are what we see when unfortunately a dog is playing with domestic livestock. And I think it’s important to say here that even very good dogs do this. Dogs are pack hunting carnivores. It’s in their nature. It doesn’t mean that they’re dangerous to humans. They just don’t know any better. And very small dogs can do this and can kill goats and sheep from exhaustion. I’ve actually had a 10-pound Yorkie-type terrier run my cattle before with a ball in his mouth the whole time. And he was having a blast. And had no idea of the havoc he was causing. It’s often pretty emotionally difficult to tell people that what they’re dealing with is a domestic dog.
Gowan Batist 12:25
I have another case where there was a farmer who was losing poultry and was losing poultry successively every day, and we put up a game camera, and he lived in an area with a lot of wild predators, so it was very plausible, it easily could have been a native carnivore, but we got his neighbor’s Husky on video with this great big smile on his face causing havoc several nights in a row. And one of the things he expressed to me is that he wished it had been a wild animal because that was an easier conversation to have than to have to go talk to the neighbor about the dog. And that’s for sure true. That’s for sure the case. People have a harder time dealing with domestic dogs and fewer of our tools work on domestic dogs because we don’t have the luxury of having this very flighty, neophobic animal. Mountain lions are very neophobic. They do not like anything novel, anything new. There’s a study from 2017 from the Santa Cruz Puma Project that shows mountain lions will even abandon a fresh kill site if recordings of human voices are played. That doesn’t work on domestic dogs. They’re used to human voices. They’re used to human lights. So in a lot of ways, they’re a harder problem to solve. But in this case, when you don’t see serious head and neck trauma, when you do see superficial wounds to the back end of the animal, and when you see signs of exhaustion. I honestly think that this goat died of exhaustion. Heart failure or stroke. Which is very sad, I mean, that’s hard to accept too because that’s a hard death for a really beloved animal, especially on a homestead where you only have a couple goats that, you’re handling them all the time, they’re members of the family.
Gowan Batist 14:11
Some of the things that we would look for if it actually had been a mountain lion in addition to the head or throat trauma would be an animal that’s been moved. Mountain lions will often try to move them to a safer place. Caching. they’ll cover the carcass with leaves and sticks. This can get tricky because bears do this too, but bears will use dirt and mountain lions don’t use dirt. Another thing is wool pulling or hair pulling in the case of goats or deer. Mountain lions will actually defur their prey before eating it. They’ll pull out the fur. So you’ll often find these tufts of fur. Dogs will sometimes do that too when they’re playing with sheep. Dogs will pull wool, but not in the same way, in a more disorganized, chaotic way. Mountain lions will typically take their kill, take it somewhere safe, and then systematically pluck it and then eat it. Smaller cats like bobcats will eat pretty similarly to a mountain lion, but they won’t eat bone, which mountain lions will typically eat small bones. They’re big enough and heavy enough to do that. Canines and bears will usually tear open organs like the rumen, the intestines, the stomach, and those may be partially eaten or maybe strewn around. Mountain lions really don’t do that. Mountain lions are almost surgical in their precision about not doing that. Especially in temperate areas, the rumen or internal organs being missing can be diagnostic because mountain lions will remove those internal organs and drag them away from the carcass, which makes the carcass last longer. They’re very fastidious.
Gowan Batist 15:54
So all of those things can be ways of identifying who you’re dealing with. In general, mountain lions are very risk-averse. They’re kind of cowardly, really. They’re cats that right now we think of them as an apex predator, but for millennia, for hundreds of thousands of years, they were living alongside much bigger, more formidable predators than they are. They lived alongside saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, short-faced bears, American lions. So their strategy for survival is to be tidy and quiet. And they’re generally really good at that. So that’s a way that you can tell one scene from another. Dogs will often just cause devastation in a way that mountain lions usually don’t. I’ve had people send me pictures of just barnyard carnage with multiple dead animals, and sometimes a mountain lion, if it gets into a small area, and there’s still animals that are not able to get away from it but are alive and are still running, a mountain lion will kill multiple animals. They do that because, again, they’re very risk-averse. They’re not going to eat or try to move a prey animal if there’s still living animals that could hurt them. They may kill more than one animal, but they typically don’t play with them the way that dogs do or the way that sometimes even coyotes will. So there’s a really different feeling and usually a different pattern of evidence when you look at the ground when it’s been a mountain lion versus a canine and definitely versus a domestic dog.
Deborah Niemann 17:38
So could a mountain lion pick up a goat and jump over a fence with it to take it away?
Gowan Batist 17:43
Absolutely. Yeah, they have absolutely done that. Mountain lions can climb trees with deer in their mouths.
Deborah Niemann 17:51
Wow! That’s impressive.
Gowan Batist 17:53
However, this is something I’ve also seen is if you have a super tall fence and a super heavy goat or a deer and maybe a younger mountain lion, they might not be able to get it up over a fence and they might drag it up against the fence, go over the fence themselves, and then eat it from the other side of the fence through the fence. We’ve seen that happen before.
Deborah Niemann 18:15
I’ve seen a domestic cat do that with poultry.
Gowan Batist 18:18
Deborah Niemann 18:19
I know exactly what you’re talking about.
Gowan Batist 18:21
Yeah, I actually had somebody call me last week about poultry that her geese were lying against the side of her coop and a bobcat had reached through the coop, killed the goose, and was pulling pieces of the goose out. And what I say to people is really the bottom two to three feet of your coop should have hardware cloth on the inside, you know, that very small diameter welded wire that nothing can get its paw through because that is a very common thing. Domestic cats can do it, domestic dogs can do it, and wild predators can do it.
Deborah Niemann 18:50
That is really fascinating. So then how would you tell the difference if it had been a coyote that had killed a goat?
Gowan Batist 18:58
That can be harder because they have some similarities. I think the difference is coyotes typically have to work for their food more than dogs do. So there’s less of like a joie de vivre in your crime scene usually when it’s been coyotes. There’s also usually multiple coyotes. There can be multiple dogs too. Out here where I am, most coyotes are topping out at about 35 pounds, so that can kind of help you if you’re looking at tracks. A lot of domestic dog tracks are going to be bigger than coyote tracks. But coyotes in general, again, there are circumstances where they will kill multiple animals. It’s usually a defensive thing. People tend to think of it as oh, this animal is just wantonly cruel and destructive. It’s a very unusual environment in nature to be stuck in a small space with a bunch of panicking animals. So it’s usually a self-defense thing when they kill more than one. But coyotes are going to try to eat that prey item as soon as possible. And a domestic dog often doesn’t know what to do. It’s like when they catch a, you know, if you’re chasing a car and you catch it, what do you do next? I’ve seen domestic dogs actually eat livestock that they’ve killed, but it’s rare. They typically- I think in their sweet little dog brains, they’re kind of like, oh, I was playing with this and now it’s not playing with me anymore. They don’t really understand what happened. A coyote’s goal is to get food. And a coyote will eat organs, will eat soft tissue. They’re omnivores. They’ll often rupture internal organs kind of unlike a cat. But typically, if you see what looks like serious feeding, that can be a sign. And then it’s really just looking at your environment. Are there access points for coyotes? Could multiple coyotes get into this space? And then again, looking for clues about the size of the animal.
Deborah Niemann 21:02
Yeah. The only time we ever had a really bad problem with predators was back in 2007. And that was actually why we wound up getting llamas. And we were losing a lamb every night or two. We would go out in the morning and it’s like, oh, there’s another lamb missing. And then when there was only one lamb left from the whole, like we had had nine lambs that year. And when there’s only one lamb left, we’ve been out one day and one of the ewes was missing. And what we found of her was just like a head and a foreleg.
Gowan Batist 21:41
Deborah Niemann 21:42
That was it.
Gowan Batist 21:43
That sounds like hungry coyotes, right? Because they eat everything they possibly could. And it’s very diagnostic to just have an animal be gone. That rarely happens with dogs. Dogs rarely remove an animal that they’ve killed. Yeah, that very, very much sounds like coyotes. In general, I know a lot of people get llamas when that happens. I personally am not a fan of guardian llamas for a couple of reasons, but in my experience, electric mesh, either with like a plugin or a solar energizer is a miracle worker for coyotes because they can’t climb it because it’s collapsible, it’s a soft mesh and it shocks them. It really works very well for small canines. So I generally advise that for people. Mountain lions can jump it, but they often don’t because it really just sort of freaks them out. The way that it moves in the wind, the sound that it makes is it makes this little clicking electric sound. They really don’t like it, but it does work really, really well for coyotes. It’ll keep them out. The one thing that I run into problems with it, with that, is this is another person who was having coyote losses, implemented electric fence just at night. They had a big flock of sheep, a couple hundred sheep with lambs, which means they were grazing on rangeland, but you can make a night paddock out of this solar electric mesh to bring them in at the most vulnerable time, which is always going to be dusk and dawn. I love when people do that. It’s a great strategy and it’s really simple. And unlike a livestock guardian animal that you have to take care of year round, you can put the fence away when you don’t need it. It’s a great technique, but in this case, they didn’t have it grounded well enough, and they didn’t have it tensioned. So it was saggy and it wasn’t very hot. And they had several lambs get tangled in it and die. And I hate when people have bad experiences with coexistence tools like that because then it feels counterproductive. Like, oh, I was doing this to not have losses and now it’s causing losses, which is also how people feel when donkeys kick their lambs to death, which they’re notorious for doing, which I also often don’t recommend donkeys.
Deborah Niemann 23:58
Not a fan of donkeys either for that reason.
Gowan Batist 24:01
Yeah. So electric mesh fence works very well for canine predators in my experience, but it has to be hot and it has to be tight. And there are easy ways to do both those things. So things like that, that kind of tech support is really what I’m here for.
Deborah Niemann 24:19
Yeah. I think we have around 15, 16 rolls of Electronet fencing now, and I absolutely love it and it is so great. The problem, the reason we had so many losses with the sheep that year, it was really sad. It was the sheep’s fault, believe it or not. They had been, like anywhere they would find, there was a little dip under the- because we moved into a former horse farm, which had this single strand electric fence and the sheep would find anywhere there was a little dip under the fence and they would go under it. When they went under it, it would rub off some of their wool. So we realized way too late that there were these- because we were filling in the holes- we’re like, oh my goodness, there’s a hole here that the coyotes are able to come through. So we’re filling up these holes with logs so the coyotes can’t come through them, not realizing that the electric fence was insulated with sheep’s wool.
Gowan Batist 25:23
Yeah. Oh my gosh. Wool is such an amazing, amazing textile. I love wool. I’m a hand spinner. I’m a sheep shearer, as well as a shepherd. I’m wool crafting all the time and wool is amazing, and one of the many ways that it’s amazing is that it is a fantastic insulator. Yeah, no, that would do it. That would do it. Sheep in general are not particularly reliable in high tensile fencing systems designed for horses.
Deborah Niemann 25:57
Yeah, we learned that one the hard way. Neither are goats. It does not work for Nigerian dwarf goats either.
Gowan Batist 26:02
Oh gosh, no. Yeah, they’re trouble. My partner has three Nigerian dwarf goats that are kind of just like flock mascots and those three goats cause more trouble than all 50 odd ewes put together, but they’re so adorable, you know, you can’t get mad at them. But yeah, no, they would not stay in horse fencing.
Deborah Niemann 26:23
No, so we eventually had to replace all of that with either woven wire or the problem was a good chunk of our land is in a flood plain with a creek running through it, and so that we just had to say, all right, there is no permanent fence here other than we left a single strand of electric that we can hook up the electro net to. And when it looks like there’s going to be enough rain to cause a flood, we just move everybody out of that area and pick up the netting so that it doesn’t get destroyed.
Gowan Batist 26:55
That’s a really great adaptive response to it. I think that the thing is a lot of these lessons are hard. They’re hard emotionally, they’re hard financially. But being able to react to them thoughtfully and be like, okay, these are the structural changes that we need to make. That’s the perfect way to approach this. We’re in dialogue with landscape, right? And that means the animals that live on it, the topography, the seasonal flood cycles, that’s what the work is. And I think too often, I see folks who will keep hammering away trying to make the same thing work instead of taking a step back and being like, you know what? We need to make a management change. For me, one of the things that shifted for me early on in my career is when I was growing up, you got up before the sun went out and you went out and did your animal chores. And I eventually realized that the only time I was having losses was when I was going and letting animals out of their secure night pen in the early morning before the sun was fully up. And then if I just stayed home and had a cup of tea and waited for the sun to rise, everybody was happier. And those habit changes can be the hardest to implement, but they can be the most powerful.
Deborah Niemann 28:19
Yeah, that is really interesting. What do you see with bears? What kind of signs do bears leave behind?
Gowan Batist 28:29
So we have unfortunately had some pretty dramatic bear incidents nearby where I am. And we do sometimes, I get calls with the question of, was this a bear or a mountain lion? Because I’m the mountain lion lady, but I end up responding to all kinds of things because it’s not usually clear to people what was going on. A difference that you’ll see between bears and mountain lions, mountain lions are very fastidious and kind of finicky. Bears are like, I don’t really know how else to say it, bears are like drunk and rowdy. They go right through stuff. So there was a sad situation near us where a barn door was actually broken into and four alpacas were killed. That was a black bear. A mountain lion cannot bodily rip a wooden door off its hinges. They don’t have the dexterity to do that, they don’t have the upper body strength to do that. Bears can crush chicken coops, we’ve seen that before. They’ll really just peel it open like a tin can, they’ll crush chicken wire. Electric fence works well on bears actually, because they’re sensitive, they don’t like getting shocked, but they usually destroy it in the process of running away from it. So they’ll get swatted by it, they’ll panic, they’ll come down on it, they’ll get tangled in it, they’ll run away dragging it behind them. I’ve seen that happen before. In our area, people who have beehives will put up high tensile electric around to keep bears out and those fences are hot. That’s like thick gauge metal electric wire. That works really well, but I think the worst possible thing that you could do in bear country is have unsecured trash bins or a flimsy chicken coop with chicken run because they’ll just go right through it.
Gowan Batist 30:26
I actually personally at my place had one of those barrel composters that was totally full. That thing weighed more than 100 pounds and a bear just picked it up and walked off with it. Wasn’t actually able to break into it, but carried it several acres away into a pasture and I couldn’t actually get it back by myself. I had to use the tractor to bring it back to the house. It was so heavy. So they’re powerful animals. In terms of when they’ve actually killed a domestic animal, bears are omnivores, cats are obligate carnivores. So you will often see bears tear open the internal organs, tear open the rumen, tear open the stomach, those may be partially eaten. You won’t see that with mountain lions. Bears also cache or cover their kills, but they’re much messier about it. They’ll use dirt. Mountain lions won’t put dirt on their food. Bears typically don’t pluck fur either. So in general, when you see a bear, they’re messy, they’re chaotic, they’re sensitive. Most of my experience I will say is with black bears, it’s not with grizzly bears. I have friends who are ranching with cattle in grizzly bear areas, and it is not subtle when a grizzly bear kills a cow because nothing else can really do that kind of damage that they can. A mountain lion can’t do the kind of damage to a full-grown cow that a grizzly bear can.
Gowan Batist 31:52
It kind of reminds me of one of my favorite graphics to talk about this kind of thing. It’s put out by Cheetah Conservation Botswana, which is a fantastic coexistence organization in Botswana for cheetahs. But they have this great pamphlet, I think possibly because people in Botswana are maybe a little bit sturdier about these topics than a lot of Americans are, where it shows an image of a cow with different parts of the body highlighted and notes showing the track, showing the scat, showing which parts of the animal they will and won’t eat. And it’s this really excellent little quick footnote to go through. And they’re coexisting alongside 20 plus large predators that can kill their livestock and successfully using coexistence techniques. So if they can do it, we can absolutely do it. But the one for African lions, the entire cow icon is blacked out. And the diagnostic trick is that you will just see massive trauma. And that is really, I think, the closest analog that we would have to something like a grizzly bear, where they’re just immensely huge, immensely powerful. In situations with bears, I feel like scare devices work better than physical barriers do, unless the physical barriers are really sturdy. A lot of chicken coops that you’re going to buy as a kit are not really going to keep a black bear out by themselves. But you can add things to those coops. You can add a motion activated alarm, like a gadfly, or you can add a perimeter of electric fence. A bear might destroy your electric fencing in the process of running away from it, but it can still work. It can still be successful because a bear that has a really bad experience like that isn’t that likely to come back.
Deborah Niemann 33:50
Yeah, that makes sense. They seem like they’d be pretty smart about that.
Gowan Batist 33:53
Yeah, it’s part of the reason why they’re so hard to keep out of people’s trash. If it keeps working for them, they’re going to keep doing it.
Deborah Niemann 33:59
Yeah, exactly. One of the things you mentioned too that can cause a problem with sheep and goats is birds, which some people might not even think about at all as a possible predator. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Gowan Batist 34:15
Yeah, and where I am, a really frequent animal that kills baby lambs on pasture is ravens. Ravens and I think other large birds can be problems in different parts of the country. And the data that I’ve looked at says that if you keep lambs in jugs with their moms in a more controlled setting for their first 48 hours, predation from birds almost totally disappears. It’s something that typically happens when people are lambing on pasture where they have very, very young lambs that often still have afterbirth present. And ewes, especially ewes that are having twins who might still be in labor, don’t always have the ability to defend the lamb from a big mob of ravens. And that’s something that it’s not always immediately obvious what killed this lamb, and people will often get a gun and go looking for coyotes when it could very well have actually been birds. So it’s just something to keep in mind.
Gowan Batist 35:15
A good livestock guardian dog will key in on ravens and will keep ravens away. But for me personally, managing all the pros and cons, I’m just not a fan of pasture lambing. I feel like the lambing and kidding with goats, it’s a time period where when you look at reporting for USDA Wildlife Services, which is the lethal trapping service that’s funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, when you look at their own data, the causes of death for lambs, for goat kids are overwhelmingly other factors than wildlife. It’s environmental like weather or it’s disease. And that’s another thing, it’s like if you’re lambing outside or you have newborns outside and you have a cold night with a wet lamb, you might come out and have a dead lamb and then wonder which critter is responsible for this when in reality it was the cold. So for me personally, I think because the window where their vulnerability to depredation is the highest is lambing and it’s also the window when they’re the most vulnerable to everything else, to me it really just makes the most sense as a management tool to just keep them under cover when that’s happening. Even if it’s just for 48 hours, your survival rate just skyrockets.
Deborah Niemann 36:40
Yeah, that makes sense. I’ve even heard people talk about how ravens like placentas and things like that.
Gowan Batist 36:45
Yes. Yeah, for sure. And it’s not just lambs. They do the same thing with deer. And I’ve even seen both seagulls and ravens descending on the afterbirth and placenta as a seal was giving birth on the rocks. I live on the coast. And I’ve seen a seal give birth and have a mob of birds right there wanting that after birth before she was even done giving birth. So that is also part of the ecosystem.
Deborah Niemann 37:16
Yeah, interesting. Do people need to worry about a really big bird like an eagle grabbing kids?
Gowan Batist 37:23
Sure. Yeah. If you live somewhere where you’ve got bald eagles or golden eagles, that can happen. I think it would be pretty unusual, but it’s not impossible.
Deborah Niemann 37:32
Okay. And they would just be more likely to like just probably would they carry them away or
Gowan Batist 37:38
It honestly would depend on the bird and depend on the animal. It’s definitely not out of the realm of something that could happen. I don’t know how likely it is. It’s not something I hear about a lot. I’ve heard some anecdotal stories about lambs and golden eagles. They’re certainly capable of it. But it’s like, then again, livestock guardian dogs, lambing undercover, those are your best defenses to everything.
Deborah Niemann 38:05
Yeah. Well, this has been so interesting and really fascinating. It’s interesting how it makes you think about the fact that they’re all individuals and they’ve all got their own unique preferences and the way that they want to have their lunch. And it’s just really interesting. And I think it’s going to be so helpful for people to get a better understanding of exactly who might be causing their losses.
Gowan Batist 38:32
Yeah. I think the most important takeaway is that we all do better when we all do better. We are safest, our domestic animals are safest when predator populations are safe and stable. We’re the most at risk for conflict when these apex predators are under threat, when they’re poisoned by rodenticides, when they’re injured by car vehicle strikes, when their community is fragmented by the death of a territorial adult, you get juvenile influx. Things are better with us when they’re better with them. And I really do think it’s an asset for a ranch to have a stable adult population of predators because they’ll be the bouncers. They will regulate behavior in their own community way better than we ever can. Lethal methods are messy. They’re really inexact. They rarely actually catch the correct animal. They don’t always even identify the right species. And there’s always a repercussion. Individual animals, like you said, they’re individuals and they can be educated. One of the things that we had a mountain lion that was just cruising by a poultry farm and just taking a chicken in the middle of the day, every day, like it was a drive-through. And what I told this farmer is like, okay, our plan, our course of action here is to get the worst Yelp review from this mountain lion that we possibly can. We’re going to make him absolutely hate coming to this drive-through that he’s treating your farm as. We ended up setting up a motion-activated sprinkler. And that worked. That worked great. So this is the thing. And a mountain lion that has learned that farms are not worth their time is a valuable member of the community, and a dead mountain lion can’t learn anything.
Deborah Niemann 40:27
Yeah. That’s funny. I always tell the coyotes, you can have all of the rabbits and squirrels and everything else out in the woods. Just leave my sheep and goats alone.
Gowan Batist 40:39
Yeah. And in general, that can work. Having that kind of dialogue and communication can work. Part of what we looked at when we were talking about our coexistence strategy for our ranch is what’s the native prey doing? And we’ve made decisions to leave some heavy brush in place where deer like to bed down, to not run machinery at peak mountain lion hunting hours. We have headlights on our tractors, but we’re not going to go out and work at 5 AM. That’s the mountain lion’s time to be out there after the deer. Why disturb them? If they don’t get a deer today, they’re hungry tomorrow and my sheep are in the field tomorrow. So when thinking of ourselves as part of an ecosystem where we’re all impacting each other is really important. And I think that that’s something that’s hard with mountain lions because they are so good at living close to us without us ever seeing them, that they tend to not get a lot of credit for how much of the time that they do coexist with us really successfully. Because you can live alongside mountain lions for decades and never have anything happen without necessarily giving the mountain lions or yourself credit for doing a good job at coexistence. It tends to only become visible to people when something goes wrong. So I think that’s partially where the education piece comes into.
Deborah Niemann 42:07
Yeah, that makes sense. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. I know this is going to be really helpful for a lot of people who’ve got way more predators than we do in Illinois. Thanks.
Gowan Batist 42:18
Yeah, absolutely. You’re so welcome. And I’m accessible to people. They can reach out to me through the Mountain Lion Foundation and I do consultation. I do consultation on the phone or via Zoom to all 50 states. So absolutely consider us a resource. We really want to do our best to make sure that the best possible outcome happens for wildlife and for people and for domestic animals.
Deborah Niemann 42:41
Do you have a Facebook page or anything like that or just the website?
Gowan Batist 42:45
Yeah, the Mountain Lion Foundation is on Facebook, is on Instagram. We are findable on all the major social media sites.
Deborah Niemann 42:52
Awesome. All right. Thanks.
Deborah Niemann 42:54
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit ForTheLoveOfGoats.com, and you can follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next time. Bye for now!