Pilot program helps farmers protect livestock from black vultures

Cattle graze on a sunny Friday morning in Marion County. A recent statewide depredation permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Missouri Farm Bureau will allow farmers and ranchers who have have lost livestock to the birds can apply for sub-permits to legally “take” up to three black vultures, based on factors like past livestock loss, number of livestock and the livestock rating of the county with Missouri.

PALMYRA, Mo. — Farmers had little defense for their livestock from black vultures in the past, but a new pilot program between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the Missouri Farm Bureau aims to change that situation.

MOFB received a statewide depredation permit for black vultures from USFWS, based on an application process taking into account the factors like the number of vulture roosts in the immediate area. Marion County Farm Bureau President Joe Kendrick said the birds are prevalent in southern Missouri and southern Illinois and have been moving northward to Northeast Missouri and surrounding areas. MOFB has been working for the past couple years with members to find ways to combat the threat to livestock.

Kendrick raises corn, soybeans, cattle and pigs around Palmyra and Monroe City, and he said the birds are in the area. They aren’t posing a big problem in just yet, but they are continuing to make their way north, traveling in large groups called wakes.

The bird, which is a cousin of the turkey vulture, can be identified by its five-foot wingspan with white feathering and black beak. Kendrick said they look similar to their cousins, which have a red beak. They also resemble a juvenile eagle, which Kendrick said is one of the reasons it has taken a while to get to this stage. When there are more the black vultures in one area, they can kill livestock like sheep and cattle.

“I’ve known a few farmers around who have said they’ve seen them. They’re pretty detrimental to the cattle industry, because they’ll actually sit in a tree or somewhere close to where a cow is calving,” Kendrick said. “As soon as that calf has been exposed ... they literally picked the eyeballs out of the calf before it hit the ground — basically killed it. They’re pretty invasive in that respect.”

The black vulture’s habitat extends from Uruguay to southern parts of the United States historically, Kelly Smith, senior director of marketing and commodities with MOFB, said in a release. Black vultures are not endangered, but their international travel provides protection under the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is a violation of federal law to kill a black vulture without one of the predation sub-permits.

USFWS manages the permit program, and MOFB issues the sub-permits to farmers and ranchers dealing with predation of livestock. The application process evaluates livestock losses, number of livestock on the applicant’s farming operation, number of black vulture birds and roosts in the immediate area and the county ranking of livestock within the state. A maximum of three “takes” will be allowed, based on the application data.

Applications will be provided to livestock producers only, and they must agree to follow rules set forth by USFWS in the statewide permit process. Farmers and ranchers do not need to be Missouri Farm Bureau members to apply.

With black vultures being attracted to animal composting sites at farming operations like hog facilities, Kendrick expressed his gratitude about the program and the protection it can provide for livestock.

“It’s good that they’re trying to get ahead of the program and maybe do some eradication,” Kendrick said.

More information and applications for sub-permits are available by calling the MOFB Marketing and Commodities department at 573-893-1416. Farmers and ranchers who are facing extensive depredation or large numbers of black vulture roosts are urged to contact USDA Wildlife Services to review the situation and develop a comprehensive management plan.

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