Improvements to Fladry
At the edge of a field, a wolf stops to study movement in the distance. Bright red flags blow gently in the breeze, just enough to make the nearby fence look like it is quivering. Inside the fence, 30 pregnant ewes continue to graze while unaware of the danger. Luckily, for this sheep herd, the wolf passes it by.
As producers learn more about fladry, NWRC researcher Dr. Julie Young hopes such a scenario becomes more common in areas where wolves (or coyotes) and sheep coexist. Fladry is a simple tool used to prevent predation. It consists of a line of brightly-colored flags hung along the perimeter of a pasture. Because wolves are wary of new items in their environment (like fluttering flags), they are cautious of crossing the fladry—at least for a little while. Those few weeks of effectiveness may be just enough to protect livestock and their young during the lambing and calving seasons.
Unfortunately, one of the downsides of fladry is that it easily coils. This forms gaps through which predators can pass. Once a fladry line is crossed, the fear associated with its novelty ends.
“We tested seven fladry designs made from rip-stop nylon and marine vinyl. Our goal was to identify one or two designs that not only resist coiling, but also are economically feasible alternatives to traditional fladry,” states Young.
Eighty-four strands of fladry were developed and installed in fields at the NWRC Utah field station. The strands were checked and the percentages of coiled and frayed flags were recorded each day for 47 days. Wind speeds recorded from a nearby weather station confirmed the fladry experienced wind conditions known to cause coiling. Results showed that flags made from marine vinyl held up better and coiled less often than rip-stop nylon.
Although marine vinyl out performed rip-stop nylon, it also cost and weighed more. Its cost is likely offset by its ability to last longer, but its additional weight may cause a problem for producers carrying it to remote areas using pack animals or backpacks. Findings also showed that the shower-curtain design (d below), where the flags are attached via circular links, and the top knot (g below), where a knot is tied in the flag below its point of attachment, experienced the least amount of coiling. Researchers note the top knot flags did not move as much compared to other flag designs and caution that decreases in flag movement may impact the effectiveness of the fladry. Researchers plan to test both materials and designs in areas with wolves and coyotes to determine which may be most effective at reducing damage.
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