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There seems to be a broad discussion about wolves coming back to Germany and stressing farmers of sheep and other animals.

But today for the first time I read about a foal being eaten by a wolf.

For some years there have been more and more regions, especially in the east, where wolves have been wandering back in from more eastern countries. Because Germany had been "wolf free" for more than 200 years, farm animals did not need special protection.

So how would I make a meadow safe, so no wolf is able to get the foals of my horses?

(To clarify, I own no horse, it is more a theoretical question)

UPDATE

Because it seems unclear for some people:

In summer months it is usual that nearly all horses I know of are, night and day, in a field of green grass, surrounded by wooden posts with a wooden fence and electrical wire. The size depends of the amount of horses on it. During the summer the location is regularly changed (sometimes different parts inside the wooden fence by changing the line of wires, sometimes from one fenced area to another). Some of these areas can have a proper distance to the stables.

The only horses I know of that are not allowed to stay outside are the really valuable ones (insurance problem) and the breeds which have too fine a coat to withstand the weather. For horses it seems more natural to have a lot of space all day long, because they walk long distances if living wild.

Another point is that wolves are not only active at night. They also hunt in the daytime. So "put them in a stable overnight" answers are simply not helpful. (Same as "shoot the wolf" which is against all laws in Germany).

In conclusion, to satisfy details-needed people:

Assume there is a breeder of "common" horses (healthy staying outside); the horses live 24/7 in the field (excepting ill ones, working ones); fenced as described above in a quiet area (surrounded by e.g. crops, small woods, bigger natural woods with wolves at some distance). Some horses with foals are living as a group in one meadow; other bigger foals (i.e. one year and older) live in another field as a "youngsters" group maybe with, but also maybe without, an adult horse.

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    Your question is not really about pets at all, is it? :) It is not even about horses, it is about protection against wolves.
    – virolino
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 7:16
  • @virolino it'd apply to any animal kept in an outside pen, and ponies and horses are kept as effectively pets.
    – jwenting
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 7:17
  • You'd need a wolf proof enclosure, which'd effectively mean a tall electrified fence they can't jump over or dig under (yes, they can dig, just as can dogs, to get to food). Bye bye single line of barbed wire nailed to some wooden posts, as has been the standard pasture fence in much of western Europe for over a century.
    – jwenting
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 7:18
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    I don't have the time to go hunt for sources, just know what it takes to protect against even foxes and feral dogs from growing up in an area with both decades ago and having to protect our small herd of goats, rabbits, and chickens.
    – jwenting
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 7:58
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    Another point to clarify: why would anyone have a pet horse roam free over a meadow at night when wolves are a realistic threat, and not have a smaller enclosure with better proper protection?
    – virolino
    Commented May 12, 2023 at 10:25

4 Answers 4

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My personal experience with wild wolves: humans usually don't even notice them.

When wild wolves grow up without any interference of humans, they actively avoid humans. I know that there are wolves in the woods around my parents' house (because there are automatic cameras in the woods), but I have never seen one personally.

As response to the discussion in the commts: This is not only my experience, but the experience of basically everyone in central Europe. There is a large body of evidence that wolves actively avoid humans and that it is downright difficult to encounter a wolf on purpose. So I wouldn't worry about letting your children play or taking your dog for walks or riding horseback in the woods at all.

Actually seeing a wolf is such a rare occurance (at least in Germany) that it stirs up discussions in certain Facebook and WhatsApp groups. If a wolf openly shows itself to humans, it probably got fed by one as a puppy. That means it lost its natural fear of humans and very quickly becomes tagged as a "problem wolf" and will be killed, usually before it can attack any humans or pets living in or around the house.

However wild wolves will approach human villages and kill farm animals. Usually they attack sheep or goats, but as of December 2022 there have been at least 14 reports of horses or ponies being attacked by wolves in Germany. Some of the horses died, some survived.

There are special dog breeds that were specifically bred to protect herds against wolves. Usually one or two properly trained dogs are enough to deter wild wolves. The dogs don't actually have to "fight" the wolves, just be present and show the wolves that this herd is not an easy, unguarded target. Because they weren't needed much in recent decades, these breeds have become rare and expensive. Usually they also have to grow up with the herd they are supposed to protect, so farmers cannot simply buy an adult dog.

Side note: These dog breeds are special because they actively approach the wolves and growl or bark at them instead of running away. All dogs I personally know avoid the smell of wolves. We know when wild wolves were near us because our dog is afraid to go into the woods.

Some farmers have experimented with guard lamas. They are unusual animals because they literally stare danger in the eyes and actively approach lurking predators. Wolves seem to be freaked by this and tend not to attack.

There are also wolf fences. They are extremely expensive because they need to be very tall above ground and need to extend deeply underground and you need two fences in a certain distance. Understandably not many farmers can or want to afford this.

In the end there can never be a 100% secure protection against wolves. That's basically why they were hunted to extinction in Germany. But there are measures that can deter wolves from attacking farm animals.

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    My brother and his family have guard llamas to protect against fox/wolves attacking their sheep and goats, and although they hear (and have seen footprints) of both foxes and wolves in their area, they have had no animal casualties while having the guard llamas around. And yes, these guard llamas can be very friendly to people they know, but can be downright ornery to anyone (and any animal) they don't trust by spitting, kicking, biting, etc. They're also large and imposing visually.
    – Milwrdfan
    Commented May 12, 2023 at 17:45
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    @terdon you seem to be missing the point: there is a large body of evidence that wolves actively avoid humans and that it is downright difficult to encounter a wolf on purpose. It's not "one" person who hasn't seen one, it's pretty much everyone. There are virtually no anecdotes of people facing a wolf on a forest trail in western Europe, because it basically doesn't happen. This guy: youtube.com/watch?v=lr7fSeANwzU spent 3 years in French mountains trying to get close to a pack of wolves, and that's his job. The film shows a bit how hard it is to get anywhere near them.
    – njzk2
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 12:30
  • Thanks for the edit, @elmy, that's all I really wanted. And sorry for the excessive pedantry I unleashed in the (now deleted, and correctly so) comments.
    – terdon
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 18:35
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A wolf killing a foal is a fairly unlikely event and I think you'd be worrying too much if you did more than just build a fence.

One good kick from an adult horse will likely kill or seriously maim a wolf and mares tend to be fairly protective of their young. Any foal older than a few months would be able to do a lot of damage to a wolf as well.

They're far more likely to go for easy prey like sheep and pigs.

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  • I saw a picture. And yes, I do not know exactly, if it was a wild dog or wolf, but the owner of that foal were sure it is a wolf, and that is reason enough for some to awake the desire to actively go into the woods and shoot wolves as soon as they spot some. Commented May 12, 2023 at 4:29
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    @Allerleirauh - I'm not saying it never happens... I'm just saying it's not high up on the list of things you need to worry about when you've got a horse with foal at foot... It's far more likely the mare will accidentally stand/sit on the foal than a wolf get to it Commented May 12, 2023 at 18:22
  • I agree with you, that it is not the highest risk a foal is in, but to prevent misunderstanding: The horse will not step on her foal, if she has enough space to turn and walk, as it is given in the frame of my question. Commented May 13, 2023 at 13:30
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One "hack" is to have a significant number of guarding dogs. The Caucasian shepherds are sure to to a good job - if you afford to have a small farm to feed them :)

For centuries dogs similar to the Caucasian mountain dogs have served shepherds in the Caucasus Mountains as livestock guardian dogs,  defending sheep from predators, mainly wolves and human sheep-thieves.

Please remember that the Caucasian shepherds are not hunting dogs, nor herding dogs - it means that they will not be able to run as fast and as long as a horse - if you plan to take those horses for rides. In those cases, even the best fences will not help (you will probably be outside of them anyway), so only some fire arm could help you if meeting a wolf.

Additional information (source):

The dogs are introduced to livestock as puppies so they "imprint" on the animals. Experts recommend that the pups begin living with the herd at 4 to 5 weeks of age. This imprinting is thought to be largely olfactory and occurs between 3 and 16 weeks of age. Training requires regular daily handling and management, preferably from birth. A guardian dog is not considered reliable until it is at least 2 years of age. Until that time, supervision, guidance, and correction are needed to teach the dog the skills and rules it needs to do its job. Having older dogs that assist in training younger dogs streamlines this process considerably. Trials are underway to protect penguins with LGDs.


This solution can work not necessarily because of the casualties in case of (wolf - dog) conflict, but because wolves are highly territorial anyway, so they could learn fast to stay way from someone else's territory. Unless there is a tough winter with no food - in which case you are better off feeding those wolves yourself with food convenient for you - i.e., not your horses.


PS: I guess it is not needed to say that "classic" stables, fences and gates are still a must.

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  • Wolves are in general scared by the scent of humans. And grown up horses may be a pray for a whole pack, but are too much effort, if there are other better game. So I would assume an attack while riding a horse has really really small possibility ^^ Commented May 11, 2023 at 10:38
  • +1 for stables. Be sure the wolves can't get in over half-doors and such. Any action that might wind up with a dead wolf should be carefully considered for legal problems. Consult legal authorities first. Even loading up on dogs should be carefully examined with a lawyer beforehand. Laws to protect re-introduced species can be, well, disheartening.
    – Boba Fit
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 12:49
  • +1 on stables as well. Commented May 11, 2023 at 17:21
  • Would you please add any kind of source? Do you guess that the dogs and especially this breed is a good solution? Is it a solution for horses too? What would be the needed training/preprocessing? Commented May 12, 2023 at 7:43
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If the wolves are a matter of concern for entire communities (rather than just a passionate horse owner), then it might become more economically feasible to build the fences around the forests. Installing gates conveniently, of course.

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    i hope you know that a forrest can be larger than a country,and that there is roads crossing forrests and they need to be fenced on both sides or a wolf can easily find populated areas. Commented May 12, 2023 at 12:11
  • Yes, and that is why I voted to close the question, as being unanswerable.
    – virolino
    Commented May 13, 2023 at 17:01
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    as you can see from other answers, it is, in fact, answerable
    – njzk2
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 12:43

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