WEB ONLY: Conquering predators on the farm

OFA Commentary #1409

For decades, Ontario farmers have experienced the ravages of predators on their farms, losing millions of dollars worth of lambs and calves to coyotes and wolves.

Reducing those losses and receiving adequate compensation for the damage has proven difficult.  It seems now, though that the Minister of Natural Resources, Donna Cansfield has stumbled on a unique solution – at least one that works for a high priced neighborhood in the Beach community of Toronto.

The Minister has decided to move a pesky Toronto coyote to a rehabilitation area. 

Now, there is no doubt that different rules will apply to  the Toronto coyote’s poor rural cousins. Rural based predators are not likely to receive such kid glove treatment.  Likewise, rural residents, long plagued by large coyote and wolf populations that threaten pets, children and livestock businesses have always been left to fend for themselves.

If Minister Cansfield believes in fair and equal treatment, she will be particularly interested in the Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s recommendations recently crafted by an expert Predator Task Team.  The Task Team was asked to identify ways and means of better coping with the influx and damage of predators such as wolves and coyotes in Ontario.   

Created in response to an Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency resolution, the Task Team recognized that the growth of the sheep industry in Ontario and the profitability of other livestock farms is being limited by the impacts of predation.

The resolution said consumer demand for lamb is increasing in Ontario, but the domestic sheep industry is able to supply less than half that consumer demand because of predation on their farms.

The law allows farmers to shoot or trap wolves and coyotes when they are threatening domestic livestock on their farms. This has not proven effective in controlling populations that feed on livestock.  The recommendations conclude that snares must be permitted on farms in Southern Ontario to control predators.

However, it also recognized that skill is required to safely and effectively use traps and snares to catch and remove predators.  Consequently, the recommendations also call for training for farmers.

Improved fencing is another approach members of the OFA Task Team considered. While predator-proof fencing may be deemed more acceptable, it is limited in effectiveness due to its expense and the simple fact coyotes can dig their way under or go over such fencing.  Public funding will be required for such solutions.

Another possibility for protecting farm animals from predators is the use of guard dogs and other control animals.  The Task Team has recommended cost share funding for such animals.  However the Task Team also cautioned about recent changes to the SPCA legislation making it illegal to allow animals to fight other animals.  We will need to be absolutely clear, with confirmation from the office of the Attorney General, that this provision does not pertain to the protection of domestic livestock.

There are also chemical products that can be used to eliminate predators.  The Task Team has also recommended their limited to target those predators preying on livestock.

This exhaustive list of remedies, coupled with improved compensation for livestock losses, will start to address the coyote and wolf problems faced by our farmers.  We trust Minister Cansfield is as receptive to our calls for assistance as she was to the call from the Beaches.
OFA and its commodity partners will continue to work with our governments in search of acceptable solutions to the predator problem.