Minnesota ranchers in wolf range to get help to protect livestock

31December 2021

Minnesota ranchers will get another round of help to better defend their livestock from wolves.

The state Department of Agriculture is offering a total of up to $60,000 to help build livestock fences and pens or buy donkeys or guard dogs to fight off the predators. The department has offered the money every year since 2017 in an effort to prevent wolf attacks, but the help has had mixed results.

Wolf attacks have never been a big problem in Minnesota; they are reported at about 80 farms each year, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. That’s about 1 to 2% of all livestock operations in wolf range and about a tenth of a percent of all livestock farms in Minnesota.

However, the losses can be significant for ranchers when wolves home in on certain locations.

Minnesota’s wolf population has been remarkably stable over the past decade, averaging roughly 2,400 wolves. When wolves do attack livestock, they usually prey on newborn calves. From 2009 to 2018, the latest 10-year period for which data is available, wolves in Minnesota annually killed an average of 70 calves, 10 adult cows, 10 sheep and eight dogs, according to federal officials.

Ranchers are paid market value for their livestock losses — an average of about $131,000 yearly — and federal trappers are called in to kill the predator wolves. Trappers killed nearly 2,000 wolves in Minnesota over that 10-year span, or about 185 a year.

The state grants are intended to help ranchers prevent the deaths of calves and, ultimately, the wolves themselves. The aid can be used to build pens or install fences and alarms, or pay for such prevention methods as the use of horses to regularly patrol the ranch.

The money also can be used to buy guard donkeys and llamas, which have proven effective and are used by nearly a quarter of all U.S. ranchers in wolf territory, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

“The protective behavior of donkeys apparently stems from their dislike of dogs,” department biologists wrote in their latest assessment of wolf depredations. “A donkey will bray, bare its teeth, chase and try to kick and bite wolves.”

Wolves were recently taken off the federal endangered species list, leaving it to each state to manage its own population. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is expected to update its wolf management plan in 2022.

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