Predation poses a great threat to sheep and ultimately the profitability of raising sheep. Sheep have very little ability to defend themselves and this shows even when they are being compared with other prey animals kept as livestock. Sometimes when they are not directly attacked and when they may have survived the attack, sheep may still die from just the panic as well as the injuries.
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Do Sheep Have Defence Mechanisms?
Sheep react to situations that they are placed in according to instincts that have been developed over time, domestication is said to be the reason for their decreased instinctive behaviour. Stock loss from predators is a problem for sheep producers especially during lambing time. Some studies go on to report loss of rates of 5 to 10% of lambs due to predators after birth.
Sheep are gregarious, they will stay together in a group when grazing for protection. This also explains why they follow each other around a lot. However, sheep will maintain a flight distance between themselves and others, sheep will start moving away if they notice that this distance is getting shorter and will eventually get into full flight if the other keeps moving towards them.
The behaviour of sheep in a group and their dependence on each other is clearer in groups of at least four and it is shown by the disposition to follow a leader or to flee together. This instinct is so strong that separation from the flock can cause stress and panic. Isolating sheep from their groups should be avoided as much as possible.
Sheep depend on numbers as a sheep that is on its own is likely to succumb to an attack. After running away from predators, they get themselves into a group, making use of their natural leveling instinct to band together for safety. Sheep also have a keen eyesight, good hearing and a strong sense of smell that helps them to detect and avoid predators. They can spot wild dogs and other perceived forms of danger from 1,200 to 1,500 yards away.
Avoidance and Flight
When faced with danger, sheep are more likely to use avoidance and rapid flight to get themselves to safety. The natural instinct of sheep is to flee and not fight. The flight behaviour of sheep is said to be the major stimulus for eliciting predatory behaviour in Coyotes. Free range sheep breeds may be able to effectively evade predators, the same does not go for domesticated sheep that are known to heavily depend on man for protection. For domesticated sheep, if the flock has no form of defence whatsoever, when directly threatened by a predator, things can get ugly pretty fast.
Domesticated sheep more often than not bank on running away and herd defence, the bigger the group, the less likely it will be for any one of them to die. Breeds with a strong flocking inherent aptitude are likely to be less open to predators than those that scatter. Some early breeds of sheep may have developed unequaled flight patterns which enable them to successfully evade predators.
Rams are large, stronger than the average sheep and some of them have horns. The unfortunate part is that they can only defend themselves, they are not able to protect their young, let alone a group such that when attacked by coyotes that are in an organized group, they can quickly be overcome.
Some breeds of sheep make the effort of charging at their predators but they are however not really strong or brave and they do not have horns so their attempts hardly ever amount to much especially when standing against predators like wolves, coyotes and foxes that are driven by hunger. When escaping has been prevented, ewes may also charge and threaten through hoofing and stomping.
Sheep do not have fighting skills and this leaves them totally vulnerable. Farmers have over time learnt to use dogs as guardians. Sheepdogs are very efficient in terms of protecting sheep from predators. They provide an efficient, cheaper and more humane alternative method of predator control when they are working together with other livestock management techniques such as fencing and corralling.
Guard dogs have the ability to reduce sheep losses to predators. Sheepdogs are working dogs that are used to herd sheep and any other livestock. They can be used to move sheep from one pasture to another, to bring sheep to a pen and or barn and to separate individual sheep from the flock.
Due to the fact that sheep have a lot of natural predators, livestock guardians have been known to help the world over. These guardians can be the dogs, Llamas and donkeys. These animals generally stay with the sheep without hurting them and aggressively repelling predators.
What Animals Kill Sheep?
There are common predators of sheep that include wild dogs, the major predators of sheep in most parts of the world and sometimes they harass and kill strong and healthy stock for play rather than for food. The predators also include foxes that occasionally attack healthy lambs and sometimes rogue foxes have the ability to cause very high stock losses. Birds of prey are also known to take lambs.
Some of the animals that pose danger to sheep can not be shot by the farmers because they are considered to be endangered predators and they include bald eagles, Mexican and red wolves s well as grizzly and black bears.
Predation accounts for a significant portion of sheep and lamb losses all over the world. The extent to which farmers stand to lose their stock varies depending on their geographic locations and the regions. Some areas have losses that can be overwhelming to the point of liquidating the flocks and other producers hardly, if ever experience the loss due to predators. Even in the areas that are known to have very few predators, it is important to implement steps that prevent predation.
For farmers, it is important to remember that predators are not the only cause of death of their sheep, their attention must not be limited to predator control because some animals die from diseases and livestock may also disappear due to other reasons like drowning and wandering.