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Prairie dog control, Producers may be able to qualify for cost-share to control pests

Written by Saige

Torrington – Landowners who fail to control their prairie dog population can expect a 30 percent increase in numbers each year. 

Jenna Meeks, assistant supervisor at the Goshen County Weed and Pest Control, discussed the profit pulverizing pests during the Southeast Wyoming Beef Production convention in Torrington on Nov 20.

If the prairie dog population reaches 20 percent colonization on grazing land, Meeks said cattle will gain six percent less, compared to uncolonized grasslands. If colonization reaches 60 percent, cattle will lose 15 percent of gain. 

For a 500-pound steer, this can account for a loss of 27 to 70 pounds per calf. At $1.75 a pound, that is $45 to $122 less revenue per head.

“It may not look like prairie dogs are destroying pasture, but they are,” Meeks said to more than 100 ranchers at the conference. “We need to be proactive about prairie dog control.” 

Habitat preference

Prairie dogs prefer short grass prairie and favor grama, western wheat, and buffalo grasses. During the winter months, when grass is dormant, prairie dogs feed on cactus and thistle groups. 

“They don’t require additional water. They can get all the water they need from the plants they eat or clip, so we won’t see them around water tanks much. They eat a lot of vegetation, so they can see and hear things,” she said. “In these areas, vegetative recovery can take up to 20 years, depending upon weed pressure, precipitation and wind erosion.”

Population control

Since they prefer low biomass areas, producers can create visual or tall grass barriers or use cultivation and irrigation to repel prairie dogs. 

Fall is an ideal time to focus on prairie dog control. Control can also be accomplished by leveling and eradicating mounds and reseeding destroyed areas. 

Prevention of overgrazing and moving watering sites from the short grass areas prairie dogs prefer can also be successful recovery methods.

Producers can choose to hunt or trap prairie dogs, but the most effective methods are toxicants or fumigants. Bait like Kaput or Rozol can be dropped into their burrows, and it will cause death by hematoma. 

“They are considered anticoagulants, so the capillaries will rupture,” Meeks explained.

Poisoning prairie dogs with poisonous oats has also been used successfully. 

Meeks recommended placing a teaspoon of the poison on the edge of the mound in the morning. When prairie dogs consume it, the poison reacts with the moisture and stomach acids causing death by asphyxia. 

Zinc phosphides, aluminum phosphides and USDA gas cartridges have also been used as methods of control.

Cost share

Meeks shared with producers information about the availability of a cost-share program that can help pay for prairie dog bait. 

“We are not looking at total eradication but containment to control them,” she explained.

She also reminded ranchers and landowners that they need to have an applicator license for most poisons and anticoagulants to control prairie dogs, including poisonous oats and hemotoxins. She encourages producers to look at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website before using any anti-coagulants for prairie dog bait. 

Some states require applicants to carry a piece of paper that can be printed out from the EPA website, showing they read the regulations, she noted. 

Quick growth

Prairie dogs typically mate between February and March, with pups born between April and May. Although the average litter is usually three to four pups, it can be as high as eight, she said. 

The prairie dog lifespan is three to five years, but half the pups will die in the first year due to predation, disease and lack of food, she explained. 

She commented, “It is impressive they can expand as fast as they do, given that half the litter will die.” 

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..