National damage statistics
As the wolf occurrence increases, the damages caused by wolves increase as well. Most wolf attacks on livestock are recorded in areas where wolves are establishing new territories and sheep and goat keepers are not prepared yet for the presence of wolves. Mostly, damages decrease within one or two years when animal keepers are properly equipped to handle wolf presence.
Although damages increase with an increasing wolf population, this does not allow for a prediction of the damage level when a certain population level is reached, due to a high variance. Through livestock protection measures, damages can be limited even in areas with many wolf territories. On the other hand, a single or migrating wolf can cause considerable damages when encountering unprotected sheep or goats.
Additionally, wolves can increase damages when they have learnt through insufficient protection measures that sheep are easy prey. In some cases, these wolves learn how to overcome protection measures that are set as minimum standard as prerequisite for compensatory payments in many federal states. This minimum protection standard (e.g. an electrified fence of 90 cm height) is a compromise between protection of livestock and earlier practices, which were not equipped to handle wolf presence. Therefore, the minimum protection standards are usually lower than protection measures that are recommended for safely keeping animals on pastures (e.g. an electrified wire fence of 120 cm height with 5 strands in heights of 20, 40, 60, 90 and 120 cm).
Throughout Europe, sheep and goats are killed significantly more often by wolves than larger livestock (Kaczensky 1996, 1999). This is in accordance to the damage statistics in Germany. As flight behaviour has been reduced in the domestication process in many breeds, multiple kills often occur when wolves attack sheep or goat herds. In Germany, an average of 3.6 animals were killed per wolf attack in 2019.
Cattle and horses are naturally quite defensive and often still have a strong herd behaviour. In Europe, loss of cattle or horses through wolves are distinctly lower compared to smaller livestock (Kaczensky 1996, 1999). Attacks on cattle or horses mainly occur in areas where ungulates and sheep are rare. When wolves kill large livestock, they mostly kill young or separate single individuals. However, individual wolves can learn to kill adult cattle or horses. The livestock killed by wolves in 2019 were 88,4 % sheep or goats, 6,7 % game kept in enclosures, and 4.4 % cattle (mostly calves).
Petra Kaczensky (1996): Large carnivore-livestock conflicts in Europe. unpublished report to Wildbiologische Gesellschaft München. e.V., Linderhof, Germany
Petra Kaczensky (1999): Large carnivore depredation on livestock in Europe. Ursus 11: 59-72