Although wolves mostly prey on elk, deer, and moose, some have been known to injure or kill livestock. Wolves will also scavenge on carcasses. Many nonlethal conflict prevention strategies have been developed to minimize wolf predation on livestock, and WDFW works directly with livestock producers to adapt these strategies to individual situations.
WDFW currently provides this assistance with support from the Washington Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Wildlife Services, U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Forest Service, and other state and federal agencies and grazing land managers.
The type, age, and number of livestock all play a role in mitigating conflicts and reducing the potential for problems with wolves. Sheep, goats, and calves are the livestock most commonly attacked by wolves, while adult bulls, cows, and horses are at less risk.
The location, size, and accessibility of calving/lambing areas, feedlots, grazing sites, and pastures may also dictate the level of risk. Remote livestock ranges or rugged terrain make it harder for producers and managers to observe animals and detect wolf-livestock conflict situations. Changing grazing sites temporarily may be necessary to avoid conflicts with wolves while they are at pup-rearing dens or rendezvous sites.
Besides live animals, wolves also feed or scavenge on the carcasses of animals that died from other causes. Wolves have a strong sense of smell, so to minimize attraction for wolves and other scavengers, livestock owners should dispose of all dead animals whenever possible. Carcasses should be rendered, buried several feet down, or burned in an appropriate and safe manner. Local restrictions should be followed before any burning occurs.
A carcass pit should be at least 8 feet deep and completely enclosed with fencing that discourages scavengers.
Sick or injured livestock should be temporarily removed from the rest of the herd and brought to a safe location in a barn, secure structure, or pasture near a residence while their needs are addressed. These animals can be particularly vulnerable to wolves.
Pens, fencing, and fladry
Livestock producers should confine cows and ewes to fenced or barnyard areas where they can be easily monitored during calving and lambing season when possible. Calves and lambs should be kept in secure pens until they grow larger. It is also helpful to delay the turnout of cattle from fenced areas to open, remote grazing areas until calving is complete, or until deer fawns and elk calves are born. This is usually in early June.
Permanent or portable fencing can be used, especially at night, to protect flocks or herds. Electric fencing has been effective against wolves.
The use of fladry on portable electric fencing is more effective. Fladry is a series of bright (usually red or orange) cloth flags hung at 18-inch intervals along a rope or fence line. Wolves are reluctant to cross this barrier. Combining electricity with fladry (turbo-fladry) conditions wolves to stay away. If wolves test the fladry after an extended period of use, deploying fox lights may help prolong its effectiveness.
Fladry is only a temporary solution, so producers should be selective about when and where they use it, as well as how long to deploy it.
Guard dogs and human presence
The frequency and intensity of livestock supervision can be critical because wolves are territorial and tend to avoid humans.
The use of livestock guarding dogs alongside a herder or shepherd can provide protection for sheep, goats, or confined livestock of any kind. Specific breeds, such as Anatolian shepherds, mastiffs, and Great Pyrenees can be effective, particularly when paired with people. Note that it is important to keep guarding dogs away from active wolf den sites to avoid conflicts with wolves protecting pups.
Herders or range riders monitoring livestock and keeping cattle together in small groups on open range can add protection from wolves. Daily checks and keeping calves in small groups with adults may provide more protection to the livestock on open range. Wolves tend to stay away from areas where there is regular or frequent human presence.
Hazing and scaring devices
The use of any hazing or scaring device must be done in coordination with WDFW and federal authorities. Light and noise scare devices can be used to frighten wolves away from confined livestock and alert herders to their presence. Using nonlethal munitions – including propane cannons, cracker shells, rubber bullets, paintballs, and beanbags – to haze wolves near livestock can also be effective.
More information on wolf-livestock conflict mitigation
- Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol
- Livestock-Wolf Mitigation Measures Checklist
- Wolves on the Landscape: A Hands-on Resource Guide to Reduce Depredations
- Rancher's Guide to Predator Attacks on Livestock
- Wolf-Livestock Nonlethal Conflict Avoidance: A Review of the Literature
- Livestock Injury and Mortality Investigations: A Reference Guide For WDFW Field Personnel
WARNING: This manual contains graphic and potentially disturbing photos of depredation incidents.