October 2008
Featured Articles

How to Reduce Wildlife Damage on Your Land

These tips may help you in controlling problem wildlife on your land

By Ben Norman

Alabama farmers have battled crop depredation and livestock losses from wild animals since the first settlers arrived. Large predators our forefathers had to contend with like bears, mountain lions and wolves couldn’t coexist with human encroachment, but a few others have adapted very well. Now, farmers, ranchers and wildlife managers are struggling to keep coyotes, deer and wild hogs from destroying their crops, livestock and wildlife food sources. 

According to Dr. James Armstrong, a wildlife scientist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, deer and coyotes are in all 67 counties. Wild hogs are in the most southern counties and are expanding their range. Deer are responsible for the most crop depredation statewide, followed by the wild hog. The coyote is responsible for the most livestock losses, especially with goat and sheep predation.

Alabama has approximately 1.4 million deer or approximately 28 deer per square mile. The herd has been brought from the brink of extinction in the 1800s to overpopulation in some locations today. Deer eat soybeans, strawberries, peas, corn and other crops and can literally devour small fields. Crop destruction from deer is so bad in some areas farmers have literally had to abandon working these fields. 

Many farmers have tried the propane cannons, which make a loud bang, but with little success. The cannons work well for a few days to a few weeks, but the deer become accustomed to them and soon graze around them and pay the noise little attention. One approach some farmers have taken is to limit their planting to very large fields. Since deer are more comfortable near a wood line, they tend to do the most damage around the edge and may do much less damage to the remaining field. Fields subject to noise and headlights from vehicles tend to experience less damage than isolated fields, also.

Dr. Armstrong agreed that gas cannons will protect crops for only a few days but have little effect after that.
“Electric fencing is probably the most cost effective deer repellent,” said Dr. Armstrong. “Erect an electric fence before planting, using a single wire 30 inches from the ground. Attach strips of aluminum foil coated with a mixture of peanut butter and peanut oil every three feet. When the deer gets a shock on the tongue, it will usually avoid the fence.”

Many farmers have tried controlling deer damage with commercial deer repellent, human hair and mothballs with varying degrees of success. An inexpensive repellent that has shown some degree of effectiveness is hanging soap bars from branches at 3-foot horizontal intervals.

Wild hogs have inhabited the swamps of Southwest Alabama for many years, but they have expanded their range in recent years. Natural migration along waterways accounts for some of the increase, but illegal stocking by man is mostly responsible.

Wild hogs can wreck havoc on agricultural and forestry land.

A wild hog herd can wreak havoc on almost any crop in just a few days. Crenshaw County farmer Hugh Bagents has been battling wild hogs for several years now.

“The hogs moved in on us in February of 1998,” said Bagents. “They really got bad during peanut picking time. We had experienced some crop damage from deer in the past, but nothing to compare with those hogs. We have neighbors who are having trouble too.”

Hog hunting experts say it is impossible to eradicate a wild hog herd but hunting and trapping can control them. Stationing four or five hunters in elevated stands with scoped, high-powered rifles in a field frequented by hogs can be effective. Wait until the whole herd appears before firing. This tactic will allow each hunter to kill one or two hogs, making a significant dent in the herd size. Trapping with corn-baited box and corral traps also can be effective.

Coyotes are cunning hunters. Young sheep and goats are easy prey for them.
Many consider the coyote a newcomer to Alabama, but there are documented cases of coyote kills in Alabama as far back as the late 1920s. The last 25-30 years have been a period of rapid expansion of their range and they are now well established in all 67 counties.

Coyotes weigh 20 to 40 pounds and are usually salt-and-pepper gray in color. Their diet consists mostly of small rodents and rabbits, but they are opportunist and will kill poultry, calves, goats, sheep and fawn deer. Several goat herds in Alabama have been wiped out by coyotes or free ranging domestic dogs. They often do considerable damage to melons, sweet corn and other crops.

Guard dogs, like the Great Pyrenees, are one of the best deterrents to livestock killing coyotes. Guard dogs are bred to bond with the animal they are protecting and will remain near their charge at all times.

Dr. Armstrong also recommends electric fencing in conjunction with guard dogs.

Goat and sheep owners can cut their loses to a minimum once guard dogs are introduced to the herd.
“An electric fence using high tensile electric wire strung to 300 pounds of tension and charged by a 7,000-watt, low-impedance charger should stop most coyotes from entering. Wires should start 6 inches from the ground and be spaced every 6 inches to a height of 5 feet,” said Armstrong.

According to Dr. Armstrong, trapping can be a very effective way to control coyotes. He said the best way to learn to trap is to learn from a successful trapper or purchase one of the “How To” trapping books available at large bookstores. Local Quality Co-op stores stock steel traps, Conabear traps and live catch box traps.

Predator calling with electronic or mouth blown calls that imitate a small animal in distress is becoming a popular sport across the South. Allowing an experienced predator caller to hunt one’s property can reduce coyote numbers. Books on calling are also available at bookstores for anyone wanting to take up this exciting sport.

Before beginning any animal control program, contact the Alabama Department of Conservation for clarification on pertinent laws and regulations.

Ben Norman is a writer from Highland Home.