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Trends and Management of Wolf-Livestock Conflicts in Minnesota

Livestock Production in the Wolf Range

The northern Minnesota wolf range is not a major livestock production area compared with other areas of the state. Cattle, sheep, and turkeys constituted the domestic prey most available to wolves from 1975 through 1986, and production of cattle and sheep generally declined during the period. Cattle were fairly common across the area, varying between 231,000 and 362,000 during the period (midsummer estimates based on data from Minnesota Agricultural Statistics 1975-82, 1984-87; Fig. 2). Although both beef and dairy cattle were present, beef cattle were far more common. Sheep were less uniformly distributed than beef cattle, with heaviest production in northwestern counties, and numbers more variable 16,000 to 58,500 (Fig. 2). Turkeys were primarily in northwestern counties where the leading county, Roseau, produced 682,000 turkeys in 1982 (J. K. Hausladen, personal communication). No other data are available except that statewide production increased by 50% between 1975 and 1986, with fewer producers raising larger flocks (C. Rock, personal communication). The increase in turkey production in the wolf-inhabited areas may have exceeded 50%. Minnesota ranks second nationally in turkey production, which continues to rise (Minnesota Monthly Turkey Report 1988).

GIF - Estimated number of cattle and sheep

Fig. 2. Estimated numbers (x 1,000) of cattle and sheep on farms within the Minnesota wolf range in summer, 1975-86. Numbers are not shown for 1982-84 because county estimates were not made by the Minnesota Crop and Livestock Reporting Service in those years.

In winter, cattle, sheep, and other large livestock are in or near farm buildings where they are fed; movements elsewhere are discouraged by snow and lack of forage. In late April or May, most are released to graze in open and wooded pasture where they remain until about October (Fritts 1982). Within this period they are vulnerable to depredation by wolves. Young are usually with adults during summer; this is especially true of beef cattle, which calve mostly in March and April in northern Minnesota (R. L. Arthaud, personal communication) and whose young usually are not marketed until fall. Some livestock, especially late-birthing cattle, give birth in remote, often wooded pastures where they, and especially their young, are vulnerable to predators. Birthing and marketing schedules of dairy cattle and sheep are more variable than those of beef cattle, although lambing peaks in April. Turkey flocks are moved outdoors in June, and birds remain outdoors until final marketing in September or October. Flocks typically consist of 10,000-30,000 birds. Most flocks are contained by fencing except that an unfenced woods or brushline may form one boundary of the pasture. Dairy cattle, feeder cattle, and swine are more often confined and thus less subject to depredation than beef cattle.

Kellert (1985) found a strong positive perception of the wolf among Minnesotans, although a lower proportion of farmers held positive attitudes. Fritts (1982) believed that perception of the depredation problem in Minnesota exceeded the actual problem, because the term "wolf" was often used for both coyotes (Canis latrans) and wolves in Minnesota.

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