Livestock and Poultry Predator ID Guide

Photo of cougar tracks in mud



Assessing Your Risk of Conflict with Wildlife

To evaluate your risk of conflicts with wildlife, consider the following:

  • Predation statistics from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service
  • Wildlife identification in your local area, even at your specific farm or home
  • Predation pressure changes during the year, including offspring needing food, and weather or season reducing access to prey animals
  • Wildlife movements that are likely in the future as animals migrate into new areas
  • Wildlife attractors, including your terrain, livestock, and husbandry practices

As you analyze the risk of conflict with wildlife for your particular farm operation, remember to consider the site characteristics of your location, including its size, setting, natural environment, and terrain and how they relate to your husbandry practices.

  • It is more difficult to protect livestock over large areas
  • Livestock are more vulnerable using grazing areas farther removed from human presence
  • Forested areas and vegetated stream courses provide cover and movement corridors for wildlife
  • Land with a mosaic of fields and forests with high deer populations are attractive to predators
  • Rolling or steep terrain provides cover for wildlife while open, flat, terrain makes it difficult for carnivores to approach livestock undetected
  • Unsecured hay or other crop storage will attract deer and elk, and their predators
  • Afterbirth and sick, injured, or dead livestock will attract carnivores



Beware of the Dogs

Coyotes are clearly the primary predator that livestock producers face in Benton County.  However, in many areas, domestic dogs kill the next-largest number of livestock.  Dogs can be exceptionally destructive because they often “surplus kill” or slaughter livestock and poultry in large numbers – and not primarily for food.



Was This an Attack?

Sometimes scavengers and predators get blamed for a kill when they are just eating what was killed by local dogs or died of natural causes.  Getting to the carcass quickly after the animal’s death is critical for proper identification of the guilty species.  Tracks and droppings alone are not proof of depredation or of the species responsible.  They are evidence that a particular predator was in the area and, when combined with other characteristics of depredation, can help determine what species is causing the problem.  Consider using a trail camera to help you determine which predators are nearby and pose a threat to your livestock.  Some questions to consider when determining if a dead animal died from natural causes or a predator attack:

  • Can you determine the time of attack?
  • Are there signs of a struggle?  Signs may include torn wool, hair, or feathers; blood spatter; drag marks; and damaged vegetation.
  • How are your other animals behaving?  Are they unusually nervous, scattered, or vocal?
  • Are there bite marks?  If so, where are they located and what is their size?  Take measurements and photographs to help you identify the predator.  Try to identify whether it was a mammal or a raptor.  You may need to clip hair or wool to look for puncture marks.  When bites are made to a living animal, there will be bruising or hemorrhaging under the skin.
  • Is there significant blood?  Profuse bleeding occurs before death and for a short time afterwards.  A death from natural causes, not an accident or attack, may show a loss of bodily fluids such as urine but not much blood.
  • Is the animal a newborn or stillborn?  Stillborn animals may have soft membranes covering the hooves.  A field autopsy can also reveal important information.  Pink lungs indicate the animal was breathing before death, while stillborn animals have dark-colored lungs that will not float in water.  Milk in the stomach indicates the newborn was able to nurse before death.



Damage ID Tables

Identify potential culprits using the livestock and poultry damage ID tables below.  Small predators can kill, carry away, or consume only very small livestock – rabbits or small lambs, for example.  Note that predators can occasionally be active during non-normal times or behave in atypical ways.   For more detailed information on observations, tracks, and scat, see individual species profiles in the book, The Encyclopedia of Animal Predators, by Jan Vorwald Dohner.

These tables can be viewed and downloaded as PDF documents using the links at the bottom of this page.








Dohner, Jan Vorwald. The Encyclopedia of Animal Predators. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2017.  Adapted with permission from the author.

USDA-APHIS Wildlife Take and Resource Loss Summaries for Benton County 2004-2014 obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Disclaimer: The information above is provided for educational purposes only. We encourage you to do your own research on specific methods that will work best for you and your property. Any beliefs and/or opinions stated by the resources listed above do not necessarily reflect the belief and/or opinion of Benton County, or its affiliate organizations.