My question about livestock and guarding livestock has to do with the livestock itself. My question may be very naive here, but, what do you think about selecting cattle that have characteristics of good self protection, as in circling with young in the middle, adults facing the threatening animals, cattle with horns or long horns vs polled varieties, etc.? Of course, these wouldn't be the only traits for cattle selection, but do you think this line of thinking would help prevent livestock loss from predators? Or is this silly?
Thanks and I look forward to reading your book to learn more.
Barbara from North Central WA where the wolves and cougars and bears live too.
So you are not totally off base here! You can be alert for cows or ewes that show an unusual aggressive reaction toward predators and keep them in your herd. I have a fairly unproductive Shetland ewe is just like that - we watched her chase a coyote across a pasture in broad daylight! We keep her just because of this. Ironically, her name is Pax!
These animals are often the least human-oriented and it is tempting to remove them but their leadership, instinct, and experience can be valuable in your herd or flock. If you are able to keep a ram, buck, or even bull in your pasture you will naturally benefit from his aggressive and protective instincts, although this may not be possible for your situation.
A pony, donkey, or a horned cow such as a Highland can also be helpful is deterring predators in a mixed flock. In fact, any significantly larger animal pastured with sheep or goats offers some measure of protection like a llama or a donkey does.
I know next-to-nothing about cattle, so this may be a dumb question, but why don't people leave a bull or two with a herd of cows? Losses to predators are much lower with chickens when you keep a few roosters around, and I would think this would apply to most other species as well.
Most people don't keep bulls because they are expensive to feed - AI is cheaper.
I do have a bull - at one point I had 3 bulls of varying ages but the bulls have always been very tame - to humans anyway.
I have Belted Gallaways and I visited a farmer who told me he never loses calves to coyotes because the mothers are very protective. He told me that he had an 18 year old cow give birth in the barn and he took the calf to weigh it and the 18 year old cow stared at him and then jumped over the gate to get her calf back! He gave it back ...after he weighed it.
My project thread Agriculture collects solar energy two-dimensionally; but silviculture collects it three dimensionally.
We had yaks in an area (S.E. CO) with plenty of bear, puma, bobcat and coyotes. All three adult yaks had horns
On the challenging side, these particular yaks hadn't been well socialized to humans, and the lead cow (dri) once slammed my roommate in the stomach, resulting in some spectacular bruising when he got too close/confident. She also once gored a neighbor right in his butt. The guy had banged her over the head with an iron pipe while trying to herd her, and had been nasty to her in the past, so IMO he totally deserved it.
At the same time, my hubby actually fell asleep in the yak corral buck naked and the worst damage they did was to sniff around and nose him and stand over him in a protective manner. It pays to make friends with your critters.
A few times the yaks escaped their corral and went on walkabout (for an entire month in the last case). Despite the fact that on the last occasion they had a couple month old calf with them, all four returned home safe and sound, with apparently no scuffles with predators.
So yeah, I'd say that as long as you're cautious and gentle in your own interactions, having cattle with horns to protect themselves is a major plus.
What is the purpose of the cattle? Milk, Meat, pasture art? Hard to beat a Longhorn for self preservation. A breed like the Mustang, it grew out of escaped cattle from the Conquistadors. They bred and developed with nothing but natural selection guiding the breeding. Smart, tough, protective, and fearless. They have all the instincts you mentioned. They actually fair better in the long run in meat production if you factor out all the care and attention one has to provide more domesticated stock. However, they don't price well at feed lot auctions, because they lack the high marble content in the choice cuts. For a milking breed I don't know of any that have the instincts as a breed. Watusi are also a breed that can defend itself well, although I don't have a lot of data to share. I have not been around many of them.
I like the Yak suggestion. There is/was actually a herd of Yak out Hwy 12 going toward Aberdeen at one time. They had a specialty clientele. One of them was a grill in Aberdeen that sold Yak burgers. Another thought is Bison/Buffalo. However, the fencing to keep them at home can get mighty pricey. Seems they will walk through a 5 strand barbed wire fence like a bulldozer through blackberries. There is a Buffalo Ranch on Hwy 20 outside of Marblemount that might be able to give you some information on keeping them. I don't think the market is so saturated with Buffalo that they would not being willing to answer your questions. There might even be some grant money out there somewhere to support the return on the bison to the Okanagon Valley.
We kept our yaks specifically for dairy and wool ($16/oz last I checked!). I can't eat anything I name. (Future chickens and hogs will NOT get names with the possible exception of breeding stock.) But yes, our girls were badass at protecting themselves. (Sometime I'll tell the story of the dog/yak fight that ended in a draw.
But ultimately I think keeping horns on a critter is a good idea,
Despite the fact that yaks are possibly the oldest domesticated cattle species, they do tend to be slightly feral and highly protective of their herd. (On the other hand, I've heard tales of yak bulls so tame that they cuddle up, protect their owners and even shake "hands."
Super intelligent critters too. I've had "normal" cows (Jerseys and Guernseys) and they weren't near as smart.
I'm told a llama with sheep, or a donkey, will help protect the flock. There is a large white dog breed that is bred and lives to herd and guard sheep, and often live with their flock. So if anything shows up, they have protection.
As for cattle, we had Charolais on the farm. Large white cows, meat animals, and they were insanely protective of their calves. They could and were crossed with part bison (bull was 3/8ths) and would throw a very large calf (some were close to 90#, I know I helped pull them sometimes) that grew well and fast with good meat. Some came out 'pink' when we had Hereford in the cross. We later got mostly Herefords and Angus and kept those old Charolais cows with the herd as they helped protect it. That calf bellered and she'd come over 4 strands of barbed wire to get you, one we confined in the barn as we knew she was going to have problems and she climbed/crawled an 11' fencing (we added boards, 2x12's) and got out and had it outside the barn in a blizzard in March (I helped pull that by pickup headlights). Or she'd tree you on the windmill tower, and someone would have to get the big tractor and bucket to give you the ride of shame out in the lifted bucket with her dancing around down there wanting to stomp you into a bloody booger. Most of the time they were no trouble, unless her calf said something. If you want a cow that can protect herself, leave the horns on. You might end up with one or two in your herd that are kind of antisocial but are wicked in defense, and you keep them for that. We never kept a bull but would arrange with a neighbor to take one of their bulls for a few months, and boy can they eat. That is why you usually don't keep a bull unless you're running a large herd, and usually trying to raise breeding stock (and bull calves to sell at auction). AI is often cheaper and easier. When the folks had milk cows it was almost always Holsteins and an occasional Guernsey or Swiss.
If you want to do things right a blue heeler or border collie that is trained is a good cattle dog to help you work the herd. I'd say the blue heeler is better with bulls and that border collie lives to work. They can be very good dogs but they need to be trained and given a job.
The Florida Cracker and the Pineywoods cattle are two closely related semi-wild cattle breeds descended from the same Spanish ancestors as the Longhorn, but adapted to the forested environment of the southeastern US, so they have shorter horns than the Longhorn that was adapted to the open plains of Texas. Traditionally they were left to run free and only collected up a few times a year to harvest the surplus, so they had to be able to take care of themselves.