May 13, 2021

Reducing black vulture attacks on livestock

Q&A: Lee Humberg

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Although primarily scavengers, some black vultures cause problems for cattle operators, harassing and even preying on young calves and other livestock.

For producers dealing with black vultures, Lee Humberg, Indiana state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, suggests first assessing your operation to ensure that it’s not attracting the birds.

As the spring calving season progresses, Humberg answered questions about black vulture habits and methods that could be used to stop them from harming livestock.

Why are black vultures affecting livestock?

“As others have said, the ‘why’ is maybe the toughest question to answer. There are a lot of variables that likely play into vulture’s predatory nature. The research that Purdue University is embarking on will show us how and when the vultures use the landscape, hopefully giving us insights into the ‘why.’”

How are black vultures affecting the livestock industry?

“While I cannot speak on behalf of the industry, anecdotally we do know impacts vary, often regionally. This is most likely determined by number of vultures, number of producers, head of livestock, extent of damage and history and culture of dealing with vultures. An example of this is effective migration.

“The latest National Agricultural Statistics Service nationwide data identified producer reports of 2,170 adult cattle and 24,600 calf losses due to black vultures. The extent of impact to an industry is hard to measure, but the information derived from our ongoing research will aid in determining cause of damage and death, as well as testing effectiveness of mitigation measures.

“This information will be widely disseminated and when implemented at local scales could have cumulative positive effects to the industry as a whole. The more we learn, the better off producers and vultures will be.”

What are some steps producers can take to prevent and get rid of vultures on their farm?

“As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That really starts with producers taking an objective look at their operation and removing any attractions that vultures find appealing.

“Remove dead trees. ... Vultures also like to roost and nest in old barns that have open access to hay lofts. Clean husbandry practices also reduce attractions.

“One of the toughest hurdles to overcome is just frequent human presence, especially during calving season. Many producers work full-time jobs and have other obligations, but having a good cattle or livestock protection dog may be helpful.

“One of the simplest and most commonly used deterrents is an effigy. Vultures show some sensitivity to dead of their own kind, so an effigy displayed where cattle frequent is highly recommended.

“Other harassment tools, such as lasers and lights can be effective, but black vultures are sometimes stubborn and resistant to harassment efforts.

“In certain situations permits authorizing lethal take may be warranted. Permits are issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but those interested should contact the USDA Wildfire Services at 866-487-3297 for instruction on how to obtain permits in their respective state.”

Ashley Langreck

Field Editor