Friday 22 April 2022

The Economic Tipping Point


Feeding multiple LGD is not cheap, the annual costs of the use of LGD needs to be weighed against the benefits.

The Economic Tipping Point
©Louise Liebenberg (2021)

 There have been several articles and studies done on the cost of raising and keeping livestock guardian dogs (LGD) versus the benefits of using guardian dogs to protect livestock against predation. In a study done by Tina L. Saitone, and Ellen M. Bruno (published in 2020) they took a closer look at the economics of utilizing LGD. The short summary concluded “We estimated that for a representative sheep operation with a breeding flock of 500 adult females (ewes), the use of 5 LGDs reduced lambs and ewes lost to coyote predation by 43% and 25%, respectively, for a total savings of US$16,200 over 7 years. However, we found that costs, which included acquisition and maintenance expenses, exceed benefits of this investment over the 7year useful life of LGDs by US$13,413. Our results inform the adoption of LGDs, demonstrating that LGDs are only costeffective for certain types of operations, namely those where LGDs can achieve high rates of predator protection efficacy.” (Wildlife Society Bulletin 1–9; 2020; DOI: 10.1002/wsb.1063)

Dan Macon, in an article he wrote, took a closer look at some of the points made by Saitone and Bruno. Macon questions how to put a value to some of the costs/benefit calculations; “how do I know how many sheep didn't die because we had dogs with them? What is the value of my own peace of mind? (
What was clear from both articles was that quantifying the cost /benefit is not a simple calculation of feed, purchase, and veterinary costs versus livestock lost/saved because of using LGD.  It is hard to quantify what was not lost or what was saved because of the presence of the dogs, or even the number of dogs a certain operation needs, labor costs will vary dependent on a variety of factors.

Cattle who are accustomed to large dogs, tend to be less stressed and calmer around wolves. Calmer livestock have a direct and positive effect on gains and well being of the animals.

Many of the costs/benefits are hidden and hard to quantify. Cattle who get harassed regularly by wolves tend to wean lighter weight calves, they expend more time and energy being on the lookout for predators and the cattle tend to be more nervous. They spend less time grazing and confine their grazing to safer areas. Calves can be lost due to abandonment because of predator harassment. These calves are often not even found.  These losses are not direct deaths however they do have an economic impact on the wellbeing of the livestock. How do you put a value or benefit to keeping cattle/ sheep calmer? Research (Weber et al, 2015) at the U.S. Sheep Center in Dubois, Idaho, found "that ewes grazing with accompanying LGD will travel greater daily distances compared with ewes grazing without LGD accompaniment. As a result of traveling greater distances, ewes may also be exposed to more and varied foraging opportunities." (
I have found in our own flock that having the LGD with the sheep allows for the sheep to spend more time grazing, they will go and graze in heavier bushed pastures.  Before using LGD, the ewes would not venture into these areas. They are more comfortable grazing when the LGD are present. Similarly, with the cattle. As our cattle are accustomed to large, big dogs in amongst them, they do not spook/scare easily.  Wolves like to test a herd by spooking them, they will make runs at the herd to create some panic where younger or older animal will split off from the main herd making it an easier target for wolves. We have seen wolves around our cattle, the cows do not spook, they tend to remain calmer and tighter together.  It would require the wolves to put a lot more effort into making the cattle run. How do you put a value to this?  Having calmer cattle that do not scatter or run through fences when approached by wolves, helps with overall cattle management and a saving in labor costs, plus the bonus is that the chance of an animal getting predated on becomes significantly reduced.

Another point to consider when looking at cost/benefit calculations is the do-ability and affordability of some of the other predator control methods versus the implementation of LGD.  It is not always feasible or cost effective to fence off a few thousand acres of land, or to hire a full-time range rider.  Not every area lends itself to rotational grazing, or where electric nets can be set up. Changing lambing time may require the building of large barns.  Not everyone can afford to pay for some of the other deterrent measures and some are simply not an option for many operations.  LGD in themselves might not always be cost effective according to Saitone and Bruno, but in comparison to many other options, it is still affordable and do-able for a variety of ranches. The cost of using LGD does need to be compared to the cost of other management tools. Most professional livestock keepers can implement and afford using LGD. Many operations find a large capital investment, such as fencing or barns, too high for their operation despite it perhaps being the “best” solution for the predation problems, affordability becomes an issue. 

Taking it a step further, the benefits may not just be directly to the rancher in how many lambs he can save but could incorporate a wider range of values.  Can one quantify what the value is of having predators on the landscape with regards to biodiversity, intact eco-systems, and populations?
In Portugal, the Grupo Lobo, is an independent, non-profit ENGO that works for the conservation of the Iberian wolf and its ecosystem. They provide LGD to shepherds, pay for the veterinary care and the first year of food for the dogs to encourage, and offset some of the initial costs of acquiring and caring for LGD.  A similar program is run through the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia where LGD are provided to sheep and goat farmers as means to reduce potential conflict between farmers and the endangered cheetah. If conflicts are reduced due to LGD being present in the flocks, then farmers are less inclined to kill the cheetah. The costs of the LGD program are far below the benefits of saving every single cheetah due to the fragility of the population.  What is it the value of saving an endangered species?

In some countries there are compensation programs to encourage people to utilize LGD. In Saskatchewan, Canada the province wants to encourage producers to find ways to reduce the possibility of predation, they have a LGD rebate program run through the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation where they contribute; “$100 to help producers offset the cost of purchasing a livestock guardian dog. The use of guardian dogs can be an effective method of preventing predation; however, it does require the commitment from the producer to develop the potential of the dog. Livestock guardian dogs are most effective when complemented by other predation management practices.” ( It is in this case, it is cheaper to pay towards the purchase of a LGD than to compensate for livestock that is predated on.

Using LGD is costly and for many ranchers it is a serious consideration. Many calculate this cost and write it off as an operating expense. Similarly, to a store that needs to invest in a security system.  It is the cost of doing business in certain neighborhoods. Cost estimates for keeping one LGD per year, range between $350 to $1600 per dog, this estimate includes direct costs such as veterinary care, food, purchase price, replacement costs and labor. This is a significant amount.  This brings me to the tipping point.  Where do you draw the line between if need or want an LGD?  When does the cost override the benefits? If your livestock consists of 5 hens then spending on average of $750 per year to maintain the dog, might not be proportional to the value of the livestock. It may be cheaper and an easier solution to build a solid chicken coop or good fencing, that will last many years.  In this scenario you might not really “need” the LGD.  Even smaller professional operations can often have good results with other management strategies to reduce predation, things like fox-lights or electric netting might be more profitable than working with an LGD. I often chuckle when reading through some of the social media platforms, where some people advise folks with a handful of sheep to use 3 to 5 LGD. Obviously, these people have not had to feed and provide veterinary care for this many dogs!

Each situation is unique, and it is not quite so simple to make a cost- benefit analysis. However, it is an important consideration because having LGD in the flock or herd is not “free” or cheap. Sometimes economically, it may be sensible to investigate other options than LGD for keeping the livestock safe. For many operations having LGD is a necessity and worth the financial and time investment.  In other situations, having a LGD is simple a “want” and not necessarily a “need” and that is okay too! Each operation needs to find their own tipping point where economic implications are weighed against the benefits. LGD are essential for my livestock operation, but I also value their companionship, the safety they provide me when I am in the bush and the fact that I can sleep a little easier at night knowing the dogs are watching over the sheep.

A night corral for livestock  in Portugal. The cost of this type of anti-wolf fence might not be affordable or do-able to most livestock owners.

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