Missouri Ruralist logo

Black vultures kill young calf in Missouri

A farmer shares how to safeguard the beef herd from a predatory bird mob.

June 11, 2024

7 Slides

by Joann Pipkin

Adren and Shawn Stockton thought it would never happen to them.

Then, it did.

After a black vulture attack fatally wounded a newborn calf, the Polk County, Mo., cattlemen want other cow-calf producers to be aware and alert, so they won’t fall victim.

An unwarranted assault

An October 2023 morning found Adren out checking pastures. It was calving season on the Stockton ranch, which he runs with his son, Shawn, and grandsons Conor and Evan.

“I had seen this particular calf a short while earlier, and it seemed to be just fine,” Adren recalls. “Then, I went back maybe an hour or less later and discovered it had a problem.”

Upon inspection, Adren found the calf deceased, its eyes already missing. He transported the calf to his house and reported the event to the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Then, Chez Kleeman, a biological science technician with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), inspected the calf and confirmed what Adren had already suspected: Black vultures had killed the calf.

Prior to the attack, both Adren and Shawn had heard through media outlets the messages from the Missouri Department of Agriculture on black vultures, and they knew the devastation the birds could cause to a cow herd. Still, they never thought it would happen to them.

“After Chez came out and confirmed, he spent a day or two just going around the farm and checking to see if we had any black vultures still flying around, where they were roosting, so that he could try to scare them away for us,” Shawn explains.

Black vultures on rise

According to MDA, black vultures are increasing in population across the state. Their aggressive nature can make them troublesome for livestock producers.

However, farmers need a permit to kill or destroy the black vulture, its nests and its eggs.

Kleeman says livestock owners can obtain up to five permits at a time. He encourages producers to have the permits on hand when calving season is in effect.

Without a permit, livestock owners can only “harass” black vultures. Firing a pistol in the air and using green lasers are examples of nonlethal methods that could be used to help “move” vultures away from livestock, according to Kleeman.

“You’ll never shoot your way out of a problem,” he adds, noting between 200 and 300 birds can be in a flock at one time.

How to protect livestock

After losing the young Charolais calf to a black vulture, Shawn and Adren Stockton learned how to do more against black vultures.

The Stocktons recommend these tips to help protect you and your livestock from black vulture attacks:

1. Be diligent with herd checks. Observe what might have the cow’s attention. Frequent and thorough monitoring can help head off a potential black vulture attack. “Make sure you’re always looking up in the air for what’s flying above you,” Shawn says. “And if you see that you’ve got a black vulture, you might want to watch the herd longer.”

2. Tighten the breeding cycle. “I recommend a tight calving season, so you don’t have a 12-month watch for baby calves,” Shawn says. “We do spring and fall breeding, so I recommend keeping a tight cycle so you can watch your cattle and check on them daily.”

3. Dispose of deceased animals properly. “Make sure you dispose of a deceased animal quickly because that’s going to cause black vultures to feed in the area,” Shawn says. “Taking care of their food sources is the No. 1 priority.”

4. Remove items from pastures that encourage roosting. Dead trees and old buildings can be a haven for vultures looking to roost. “They roost in the evening and go out in the daylight,” Shawn says.

5. Keep binoculars handy. Shawn says it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between a red-headed turkey vulture and a black vulture. “One of the things that Chez [Kleeman] is good about is telling you how to identify them other than the black or red head,” he says. “No. 1, the black vulture must flap its wings more than a red-headed [turkey] vulture because they can’t soar. They have a shorter wingspan.”

He adds that all gray feathers on the underneath side of the wing also denote a turkey vulture. Gray features on the tip of the wing are characteristic of the black vulture.

6. Store a rifle or laser in the truck. When checking cows, these can come in handy in case you need to fire in the air to harass or scare away black vultures. Once a permit is obtained, a weapon can be used to destroy the black vulture if it is threatening livestock.

Knowing what to watch for and how to protect yourself and your livestock from black vultures can be a valuable tool in protecting your farm or ranch.

“It is a time investment, and you need to understand if you think it’s not going to happen to you, it’s going to,” Shawn says. “We were those people.”

If you suspect you have a black vulture problem on your farm or ranch, contact Chez Kleeman with USDA-APHIS at 870-841-1503.

Pipkin writes from Republic, Mo.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like