Research shows cows aren’t crying wolf

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In 1994, an environmental impact statement collaborated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and the US Forest Service, was signed to reintroduce gray wolves to central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park.  

Since then, the wolf population has boomed across the western region and proved to be problematic for livestock producers. Reuters image

According to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, there were 51 confirmed cattle kills, 15 probable cattle kills, 24 confirmed sheep kills and 7 probable sheep kills in the state in 2013.

On top of hitting ranchers’ finances with livestock death rates, a recent study conducted by Oregon State University (OSU) has found cows exposed to wolves are less likely to become pregnant.

“"When wolves kill or injure livestock, ranchers can document the financial loss," said Reinaldo Cooke, an animal scientist in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences, in an Extension article. “But wolf attacks also create bad memories in the herd and cause a stress response known to result in decreased pregnancy rates, lighter calves and a greater likelihood of getting sick. It’s much like post-traumatic stress disorder – PTSD – for cows."

The study involved 100 cows – 50 came from the Council, Idaho area from a herd that has confirmed wolf experiences and 50 came from Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center which has no reported wolf experiences – both groups came from herds where trained working dogs were utilized.

In a 20 minute simulated wolf encounter, the separate groups of cows were held in a pen exposed to wolf urine while a stereo played recorded wolf howls. During this time, three leashed dogs resembling wolves were kept 25-5 m from the fence – dogs did not vocalize or act aggressive during the encounter.

Afterwards, cows were individually held in a squeeze chute that had been exposed to wolf urine, while the howling was again played, and were exposed to the leashed dogs.

In a series of measurements, researchers found cortisol levels, a stress induced hormone, elevated by 30 percent in the Idaho cows that had previous wolf experiences. The study noted these cows were also more excitable during the simulation, compared to the previous non-exposed cow herd which maintained normal cortisol and activity levels.

Typically, livestock producers practice low stress handling for not only animal welfare purposes, but profitability. Studies have shown cattle under low stress conditions are more efficient, healthier and more likely to become and remain pregnant.

In 2010 OSU published an analysis of estimated economic losses to ranchers due to wolves in five counties of northeast Oregon.

Along with noting, “Confirmed losses generally are reported to be 1 confirmed carcass for every 8 actual losses,” it also found the ranchers had the potential to lose $261 per head of cattle. This included $55 for shrink associated with wolf exposure and $67 for decreased pregnancy rates.

"In a herd, if you are not raising calves, your cows are not making you money," said David Bohnert, an expert in ruminant nutrition at OSU's Eastern Oregon Agriculture Research Center in Burns, in the Extension article. “With stress likely decreasing the proportion of those getting pregnant and causing lighter calves from those that do, a wolf attack can have negative financial ripple effects for some time.”

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texas  |  March, 07, 2014 at 10:01 AM

If cattle ranchers would do what goat and sheep ranchers have been doing and putting a guard donkey with their herds there would be zero cattle deaths. Problem is the ranchers want to use wildlife areas for grazing and the govt. leases them out cheap.....there is the CONFLICT of interest. Same reason they round up mustangs and buffalo too. We need to set aside wildlife areas. How is it that buffalo, mustangs, deer, etc. manage to thrive where there are wolves present in our national parks? So much so that the govt. wants to cull them every single year. That's the question that should be asked.

ny  |  March, 07, 2014 at 08:23 PM

Unmitigated bull

TX  |  March, 07, 2014 at 10:05 AM

So the wildlife dept. is wiser than God and wants to eliminate predators? One has to wonder why almost all the western state's land is owned by the govt? They own almost no land in Texas and we manage to get along with predators without losing too much livestock. Private ownership is the key and cattlemen would wisely be able to manage those lands well if they owned them instead of leasing them which creates a conflict of interest with wildlife. Wildlife areas should remain as natural as possible and set aside from cattle leasing.

USA  |  March, 07, 2014 at 11:32 AM

We all know the Cattlemen's Assoc. lobbies to get everything they want, which now would include feeding GMO corn, and other toxic products to their cattle and sheep anyway. Your worried about a few poor wolves, which will probably die from eating these diseased animals anyway? Yet you seem to care not one iota what your cattle is doing to the consumer of your products. What a great group you all are......not! SAVE THE WOLVES!And the people!

ny  |  March, 07, 2014 at 08:30 PM

Wow, nothing yet but tree hugger troll posts so far. "Reintroducing" wolves into an environment where their "natural" prey is only in limited supply was pure economic terrorism. It took a long time to remove this vermin originally, it is a shame that it will be needed to be done again.. We need a pelt bounty and total elimination of this threat.. Shame to have to do a job twice because of environmental ignorance and or incompetence.

Cody Wyoming  |  March, 07, 2014 at 10:24 PM

Funny how you speak of environmental ignorance in your post. A healthy, balanced ecosystem includes predators besides humans. The Coyote situation was created because humans exterminated Wolves. The list is long of animal species that have been exterminated and reintroduced by humans in North America in the last 165 years. Wolves kill few livestock (less than 1/10th of 1% and much fewer than domestic dogs, Bears, Coyotes, Cougars, weather, disease, and rustlers), do not pose a serious threat to humans and benefit all ecosystems where they exist. Elk numbers in the northern Rocky Mountains have more than doubled (from 149,000 in 1995 to over 380,000 in 2013 -source RMEF) since Wolves returned. Your hatred and intolerance of completely innocent animals exhibiting completely normal, natural behavior and minding their own business is based completely on myths legends and superstitions and is not based on current, fact based science.

pineapplefish56  |  March, 08, 2014 at 11:01 AM

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