David Tharp

Why mountain lions attack livestock
Conflicts between humans and large felids have been occurring since the domestication of livestock. Large cats around the world prey on livestock for a variety of reasons. The nature and disposition of domesticated livestock is a large factor in their vulnerability to predation. They are less alert, slower, and less able to defend themselves than the majority of their wild cousins. Furthermore, in many ecosystems with large scale ranching operations, the habitat becomes degraded and the ecosystem is thrown out of balance. With less natural prey for predators to take, they often turn to domesticated livestock. Lastly, mountain lions and other predators cannot distinguish livestock and hobby animals from their natural prey.


To ensure the long-term protection of livestock and hobby animals, it is necessary to take certain steps to modify property and your ranching plans.

Download the Rancher's and Farmer's Guide to Keeping Livestock Safe

Techniques are listed below that landowners can implement to protect their animals:


1. Make the property less attractive to predators - Avoid attracting mountain lions’ primary natural prey, mule deer, to your property by using deer-resistant plant species. Visit the Deer Resistant page for more information.


2. Livestock management to promote a healthy rangeland - a. Coordinate livestock calving season with that of the resident wildlife. Mountain lions often prey upon young animals due to their ease of capture. They will be less likely to prey upon young livestock if there is an ample supply of young wild game; b. Rotate livestock between different grazing areas and rest depleted pastures to allow grazing areas to rejuvenate. This will prevent the degradation of the rangeland and allow wild game populations to remain healthy; and c. Provide supplementary feeding to livestock during the dry season to help prevent the depletion of the grazing supply for wild game.


3. Bring free-ranging livestock into an enclosure at nightfall (since mountain lions do the majority of their hunting at night) - Fully-enclosed structures have been proven most effective, but if this is not an option, other techniques and improve safety.


Effective night enclosures should include the following:


Roofs that are sturdy enough to withstand the weight of a snow load or a mountain lion.
An “apron” around the perimeter of the fence to prevent digging animals such as coyotes from gaining access. Fencing material placed along the ground and extended out a few feet from the fence.
Chain link laid across the floor of the enclosure to allow for mobilization if desired.


For additional tips and guidelines for enclosures, please download the full booklet.


4. Guard Animals - Guard dogs, if raised and trained properly, are an effective means of preventing livestock loss. The best breeds are the Anatolian Shepherd, Akbash, Great Pyrenees, and Komondor. Guard dogs should be reared with the flock from 8 weeks of age with limited human contact.


5. Motion Lights and Alarms - Motion-detecting lights, The Scarecrow (a motion detector that emits a cold blast of water), and The Electronic Guard (a device that uses light and sound in different intervals and combinations) are devices that can frighten and deter carnivores from attacking livestock. However, in order for frightening devices to be effective over time, their location and the frequency of their sound and light emission should be alternated. This will prevent lions and other predators (Such as coyotes and bobcats) from becoming habituated to the devices.


6. Fencing - If a covered pen is not an option then building a tall fence can be a suitable alternative. Fencing is most effective if it is constructed before the mountain lion has entered a livestock area, as lions may be less deterred by a fence if they already view the livestock as prey. Since mountain lions are capable of leaping fifteen feet vertically, it is ideal to construct a fence of at least that height.


While permanent fencing is an excellent option for small pastures, it is often impractical on the public lands where the high costs make it untenable for most ranchers, and where its presence impedes the movements of other wildlife species, including pronghorn antelope and mule deer. Therefore, fencing should not be constructed in a manner that blocks migration corridors for wildlife. Larger operations should consider fencing a smaller area in which to confine sheep at night, or to confine ewes and lambs for the first month or so after birth.


Temporary or portable fencing can be used to keep livestock together so that they can be guarded more effectively. Portable electric fencing is easy to set up and allows herders and guard animals to monitor livestock and intruders. The effectiveness of fencing is influenced by a variety of factors, including density and behavior of mountain lions, terrain and vegetative conditions, availability of prey, size of pastures, season of the year, design of the fence, quality of construction, maintenance and other factors. For more information on covered enclosures and fencing options (including designs and additional resources), please download the full booklet.


Putting it all together


Since retaliating against offending mountain lions and other carnivores only provides a short-term solution to protecting one’s livestock, it is economically and environmentally beneficial to predator-proof one’s property. No single method for preventing livestock loss will be effective in the long-term on its own. A combination of several techniques will contribute to an overall safer ranching operation and lower the chances of livestock predation by mountain lions.


Information above compiled by Felidae Conservation Fund and The Mountain Lion Foundation.