South African farmers have struggled for many years with the loss of livestock on their farms due to predators such as black backed jackals (Canis mesomelas) and caracal (Caracal caracal). These farmers have been known to use both lethal and non-lethal methods to control these predators on their properties. This study investigates the use of livestock guarding animals (LGAs) as a non-lethal method of controlling predators on farms.
The study investigated the use of dogs, alpacas and donkeys on farms through the use of an online survey. Despite multiple appeals being sent out to different media outlets the response was modest. A structured, quantifiable and analysable questionnaire was sent to 34 farmers of whom 31 farmers completed the entire survey. The survey was used to gather information regarding the success of using these LGAs as well as the factors leading to their success and failure. There were 23 respondents who made use of dogs, eight who made use of alpacas and three using donkeys.
Many studies have been done in the past on the use of dogs to protect livestock, these studies were done in Europe, the United states of America, Australia and Southern Africa. The use of both donkeys and alpacas have not been studied to the same degree.
The hypothesis was that the use of LGAs (dogs, alpacas and donkeys), was successful in reducing predation by 50% or more on 75% or more of the farms surveyed. It was found that 21 of the 31 farmers who completed the survey said that predation decreased by 50% or more after acquiring a LGA. The factors leading to the success or failure in using these animals was determined for dogs, alpacas and donkeys individually. The questionnaire was designed to gather information about the farms such their size, terrain, the proximity to other farms, towns and nature reserves, and the wildlife found on the farm. We then looked at what livestock were being farmed and what LGA is being used by the farmer and how many of them are being used with the livestock. The questionnaire then went on to collect information on conception rates, lambing percentages, weaning percentages and percentages of livestock lost due to disease, predation and other factors. Looking specifically at predation we wanted to find out how much predation the farmers would attribute to which predator, how they determined which predator was responsible and how the predation changed over the time they had been using the LGA. It was also important to determine what methods of lethal control had been used previously on the farm and what was still being used by the farmers. Finally, the questionnaire covered the factors that contribute to the success and failure of the LGA as well as the cost of keeping the LGA.
It was found that 33 of the 34 farmers had both sheep and cattle on their farms and only 11 farmed with goats. Nineteen of the farmers were farming on flat open plains. The farms were mostly in close proximity to other small livestock farms while others were on communal land. The number of LGAs used by the farmers were mostly determined by the size of the farm and the number of livestock.
Supervision with livestock was not used by many farmers; 56% said it was unnecessary while 26% always had supervision with their animals. The rest of the farmers only occasionally had supervision with their animals. It was also found that the number of farmers making use of lethal control methods on their farms decreased from 80.65% before acquiring a LGA to 64.52% after acquiring a LGA.
Predation was attributed to jackals on all farms, to caracal on 28 of the 31 farms of respondents that chose to answer this question, three farmers had problems with dogs and one farmer had predation due to leopards on his property. It was found that LGA had the greatest potential to decrease predation by jackals.
The factors that were important for the use of dogs were their management, training and feeding. It was also found that dogs had the greatest financial impact on farmers as they cost more to acquire and maintain. The mean annual running cost as given by farmers was R11970.05. It was also seen that they had the greatest impact in reducing predation. The mean change in predation was 64% when making use of dogs. It was also seen that the weaning percentage on these farms increased by 25.23%. There was a change seen in the conception rate as well as the lambing percentage but neither was as large as with the weaning percentage. This is consistent with the fact that more lambs would survive if a LGA is keeping predators away. The factors that were listed as the most important factors in the use of alpacas were their temperament, the number of livestock you place with the alpaca and the age of the alpaca. The information collected on alpacas was small but showed that only four of the eight respondents saw an improvement on their properties after acquiring their alpaca. The cost of using an alpaca was not as significant as for dogs as they do not require extra housing or feed. The average running cost per annum for the use of alpacas was given as R525. There was no significant change in the conception rate, lambing percentage or weaning percentage of farmers making use of alpacas.
There were only three responses for farmers making use of donkeys therefore there is no clear trend in the data but it has been reported on. The factors that were given as important were the gender of the donkey, specifically jennies (females) being more suitable, the donkey’s temperament, management and the number of livestock placed with the donkey. This was all in line with what was found in previous studies done on donkeys. Two of the three farmers using donkeys said that there was a 50% or more improvement in predation reduction on their farms. The average running cost of using a donkey was R2560 per annum.
From the study it can be seen that these LGAs are successful in reducing predation but that more can still be done to encourage the use of alpacas and donkeys and to determine how successful they are.