By Kelly Smith
In recent years, black vultures have been extending their range into southern Missouri. A cousin of the more-common turkey vulture, these aggressive birds with a five-foot wingspan are now a common sight in our state. Until recently, the average farmer or rancher has had few options to deal with these pests. Thankfully, a new Missouri Farm Bureau program is providing relief.
Vultures are commonly thought of as solitary scavengers, feasting only on dead animals. The black vulture, however, has a different approach. A group, known as a “wake,” will often prey on young livestock like calves or lambs, targeting their soft tissues like eyes, noses and tongues. Once the birds attack, they will usually not stop until the animal is dead or so injured that it must be euthanized.
Historically, black vultures’ habitat has ranged from Uruguay to the southern United States. Although these birds are abundant and in zero danger of becoming endangered, their international movement qualifies them for protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. It is against federal law to kill a black vulture without a federally-issued permit.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the depredation permitting process to allow legal “takings” of black vultures. Through an innovative pilot program, MOFB received a statewide black vulture depredation permit. The statewide permit allows MOFB to take applications for and issue “sub-permits” to farmers and ranchers dealing with livestock depredation by black vultures.
Missouri farmers and ranchers who are suffering from depredation can contact MOFB’s Marketing and Commodities department at (573) 893-1416 for information about the sub-permitting process. It is important to note that it is against federal law to kill a black vulture before obtaining a permit.
Sub-permits will be issued to livestock operations only. Applications will be scored based on past livestock losses, number of livestock on the applicant’s farming operation, number of black vulture roosts and birds in the immediate vicinity and the county ranking of livestock within Missouri. A maximum of three “takes” may be issued to an approved applicant and will be determined by the application score. Applicants must agree to follow all rules and regulations required by USFWS in the MOFB statewide permit. You do not need to be a Missouri Farm Bureau member to apply.
Producers experiencing extensive depredation issues or having large black vulture roosts on their property are encouraged to reach out to USDA Wildlife Services to review the conflict and to develop a comprehensive management plan.
Dealing with pests and predators is a never-ending challenge in agriculture. Missouri Farm Bureau is always looking for ways to help farmers and ranchers solve the problems they face. Working together, we can better protect our livestock and make life a little easier for the people who produce our food and fiber.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Kelly Smith is the senior director of Marketing & Commodities for Missouri Farm Bureau, the state's largest farm organization.