YORKTOWN - Rey Herrera lost five cattle in 2015-16 to vultures that would attack as a heifer was giving birth to a calf.

The vultures killed the cows by plucking out their eyes and reaching their brains.

During the birthing process, the cow is at a disadvantage, and the buzzard will attack the calf, he said. "They kill the calf before the calf is born. It's half-way out, and it's already dead."

The first calf that Herrera lost last year was during the fall. Herrera feeds the cows every day on his 50-acre ranch near Yorktown. When he went out to check on them, he found a mother cow standing over her calf. The calf was dead from a vulture attack.

"The buzzards are flying overhead, and the cow does not go very far," he said. "But when the vultures bunch up on the cows, the cows run off from their calves. It's like a gang thing. Buzzards are very smart. The last one that I just lost was a cow and calf."

Herrera does not want to shoot the vultures because it is illegal and he served time in law enforcement, he said.

Vultures are migratory birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, according to the United Sates Department of Agriculture website.

They are regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and cannot be killed without a Migratory Bird Depredation Permit, said Eric Jumper, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent.

The agency has a permitting office in Albuquerque, N.M.

"They have to justify why they need a particular permit," he said. "If the birds are causing problems and they are causing damage, the permit will usually allow them to take a certain number per a year. That's all based on the various scientific things."

If vultures are causing problems with someone's livestock, getting the permit can be worth the time, Jumper said.

"Those vultures are tough," he said. "There's various scare tactics, but they usually don't work, in my opinion. The permit, it probably won't solve all the problems, but it allows you to have some kind of control over them."

Farmers and ranchers could try to eliminate a circumstance that draws the vultures in, Jumper said. They like to gather on electrical equipment and transformers, so if possible, ranchers should move their cattle away from power lines. They should also keep a close eye on cows if they are birthing.

Vultures gather in pockets and move around, depending on the habitat, said Anthony Netardus, DeWitt County Texas A&M Agrilife extension agent. In cases where there is a high population, there may be a roosting place nearby.

"It could be in times there's not enough of the dead animals out there for their food source, so they move off and start feeding on live animals," he said. "Their typical food sources are dead animals. They're a necessity in our whole ecosystem to be the critters that clean up the whole world."

Johnny Friedel, 73, of Hochheim, had cattle in DeWitt County on more than 700 acres. About five years ago, he lost about 70 cattle to vultures. He went through the permitting process and was allowed to kill 100 vultures that year.

The permit lasted for about a year. Friedel might get another one because he has been having problems with vultures recently.

When he got the permit, federal officials came out to survey his problem and taught him how to build a trap to catch and kill live vultures.

Finding his cows dead was devastating to him.

"It wasn't a pretty sight. We were right next to a buzzard roost. It was a radar tower or some transformer," he said.

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Reporter

Kathryn Cargo covers business and agriculture in the Crossroads. She enjoys reporting on industry trends and getting her shoes dirty out in the field.

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