Ranching with wolves

Shella DelCurto, right, brought Hilary Zaranek, left, of Montana’s Tom Miner Basin Association and J Bar L Ranch, to Baker County, Ore., to lead three days of workshops addressing cattle ranching with wolves on the landscape. Another workshop will be held at the Klamath County, Ore., fairgrounds Feb. 26-27.

HALFWAY, Ore. — In 2009 two wolves migrating from Idaho were killed in Baker County, Ore., after they attacked local livestock.

Today, one northeastern Oregon family in wolf country is experimenting with management methods used in Montana to keep cattle safe.

Shella and Barry DelCurto raise cattle outside Halfway on private and public land. Last April, shortly after turning their cattle onto open range, a calf was found injured. State biologists confirmed the calf’s wounds were wolf-caused.

During those first couple of days on the range three other calves disappeared, Shella DelCurto said. Two months later the injured calf died.

The depredation spree subsided when the pack’s breeding female went to her den. Two other wolves were also legally killed to reduce livestock losses.

To help the DelCurtos, Suzanne Stone of Defenders of Wildlife offered to buy hay for their cattle and paid their registration at a workshop geared to managing cattle where wolves roam led by Hilary Zaranek of the J Bar L Ranch in Montana.

Shella DelCurto said she learned that herding cattle out of timber and brush and leaving them in a meadow each afternoon makes it easier for them to see wolves and less likely to be attacked.

“We’ve trained the herding instinct out of them. It may take a year or two to train them to herd up, but I don’t see it taking that long,” DelCurto said.

Her family has already started using the techniques, she said, by herding cattle in the hay pastures where they winter-feed.

Stone, who has worked with wolves for decades, attended the Montana workshop where she said the participants were shown videos of cows chasing wolves.

“Hilary and her team showed us they want to have mother cattle that are defensive,” Stone said.

Roblyn Brown, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife wolf coordinator, also attended the Montana workshop and came away impressed.

“The workshop does not focus on reactive tools like fladry to deter predators, but gets into some very interesting proactive operational techniques that some ranchers in Montana have been using to not only successfully reduce depredations on their cattle but to also improve grass production, cattle health and the efficiency of ranch operations,” Brown said.

Brown said the ranch’s operation became more successful when, instead of spending money to kill weeds, they managed for healthier soils and grasses.

“This goal led to them grazing more cows in areas for shorter time periods. Over time, they noticed that by doing this their calf losses decreased,” Brown said.

DelCurto said she’s sold on Zaranek’s results.

“What we saw with Hilary’s techniques was an increase in their AUMs (animal unit months) and that the Forest Service was willing to work with them,” DelCurto said.

In January DelCurto invited Zaranek to Baker County, Ore., to lead three days of workshops — two days for local ranchers, and one day for agency wildlife biologists and range managers.

“If we can improve our range our big goal is to get the Forest Service and BLM on board to change how they allow us to run on the public land,” DelCurto said.

If non-lethal measures don’t work, but are well documented, DelCurto said it helps ranchers receive compensation from the state and can convince local wildlife managers to use lethal measures when necessary.

DelCurto and Zaranek are taking part in the range management workshop at the Klamath County Fairgrounds in Klamath Falls, Ore., on Feb. 26-27. For registration or more information visit https://StrategicRanchingOregon.com or Strategic Ranching on Facebook.

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