G U I D E T O R A I S I N G FA R M A N I M A L S 47+ KEYS TO FINDING THE BEST ANIMALS FOR YOUR HOMESTEAD •
LEARN THE BASICS OF RAISING SHEEP
TAKE CARE OF YOUR ANIMALS FROM PREDATORS
FIND TIPS ON ROTATIONAL GRAZING, FORAGE
READERS SHARE STORIES OF HOW THEIR BRAvE HOMESTEAD COMPANIONS PATROL PASTURES AND KEEP PREDATORS AT BAY. BY VICKI MATTERN
or years, Sara and Adam Bryda of BlueMoonN-Farms in Massachusetts valiantly fought off an assortment of predators determined to chow down on the family’s goats, sheep, ducks and chickens. “The hawks were a nightmare, t h e f o x e s w e re c h ew ing o n co op s, and a be a r w a s c i r c l i n g t h e f e n c e l i n e s , ” Sara says. They tried lights, predator urine, taller fences and deeper wire, but to no avail. Then, Trinity and Mara - a pair of female Great Pyrenees — entered the scene. Hawks? “Gone, they vanished overnight.” Foxes? “We still see their tracks now and the, but the mostly say far, far away.” Bear? “It came by one night, and I heard an explosion of sound. I ran outside, but only saw it running away. Since then we ha v en’t ha d a b e a r i s s u e ,” S a r a s a y s . “The girls h av e k ep t t hes e c re a t u re s a w a y f ro m t h e livesto ck w hen al l ot her m e t h o d s f a i l e d . I d o n ’t k n ow w ha t I w oul d d o wi t ho u t t h e m .” Homesteaders like Sara are discovering the benefits of employing dogs, donkeys, llamas, and other livestock guard animals. Fencing doesn’t always keep threats out, and many stockowners are reluctant to use poison or firearms. Looking after livestock can be especially problematic in regions where animal predators have shifted or expanded their ranges in response to changing climate or suburban sprawl. While no protection plan is foolproof, agricultural studies report that certain animals make extremely effective livestock guardians. As a bonus, this age-old arrangement is (usually) nonlethal to wildlife. To gain insight about the advantages and challenges of using animals for homestead security, we asked readers to share their experiences.
Here’s what they had to say....
Dogs— the most common farm defenders - have protected humans for thousands of years, Some researchers believe that modern livestock guardians dogs descended from breeds that accompanied nomadic shepherds in the Caucasus as early as the sixth century B.C. The job of these helpers is not to herd (as Border Collies do), but to bond and live with livestock, looking after them night and day. It takes a special dog - temperament varies with breed, but even within breeds, individual personalities make some dogs more suitable sentries than others. Effective stock guardians share three traits: attentiveness, loyalty and protectiveness
ATTENTIVENESS — Demonstrates by walking and sleeping
among the livestock, attentiveness reflects the tight bond that develops between a dog and its wards. Many readers shared incredible stories of this relationship. “I believe my Sarplaninacs know each one of my hundreds of sheep, and they always recognize a new one, “ says Louise Liebenberg, a rancher in High Prairie, Alberta, Canada.
LOYALTY — When first introduced to sheep or other
livestock, the dog should be curious or submissive, but not aggressive of predatory. A loyal dog respects all parts of its master’s farm, including other animals. Robyn Poyner of Purdy, Missouri, who’s kept a variety of guardian breeds for more than 20 years, looks for this trait when adding a new dog to her goat farm. Most of her working dogs are rescues, whose suitability for the work needs to be determined.
Poyner introduces the newcomer gradually by confining the dog in a pen for the first week or two. “From there, it can see me interacting with the other dogs and goats, “ she says. “When I bring over a goat, the dog should Show interest or submission by lowering its head. It needs to know that it must protect what’s mine.” PROTECTIVENESS — If face with a potential predator, the dog should bark forcefully and place itself between the intruder and the defended animals. Often, a guardian d og ’s v i g i l a n c e e x t e n d s t o t h e f amily’s children too. “When our son was eight or nine y e a r s o l d , o u r Tibetan Mastiff was his personal bodyguard,” says Theresa Wegner of St. James, Missouri. “The dog followed him everywhere. “ While livestock guardian dogs have been selectively bred for generations, all require training. “One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking they can just throw the dog out in the field and it will know what to do,” says Wegner, who has worked with guardian dogs for 24 years. “I don’t advise putting pups in with lambs that are the same, for instance, without supervision. Like other dogs, they need guidance to learn right and wrong.” The dogs must quickly bond with the stock, but safeguarding instincts might not fully develop until maturity. “Set the ground rules early. No chasing or playing with the stock,” Poyner says.
E KNOW THE DOGS ARE SUCCESSFUL BECAUSE OF THE LACK OF PREDATION AMONG OUR STOCK, WHEN NEIGHBORS ARE LOSING UP TO A QUARTER OF THEIRS. 6
â€” LOUISE LIEBENBERG
PICKING A PASTURE POOCH
Livestock guardian dog breeds differ in size, coat length and temperament. When choosing a breed, consider the type and number of animal predators in your area, your climate, the terrain and your own personality. In some cases, several dogs of different breeds will be most effective. Asian and Eastern European breeds, which require more socialization and assertive handling, are not for everyone. “Know your capabilities, “ says Poyner. “If you’re not assertive, you may not be able to handle the stronger-willed Asian breeds. “ On the plus side, sharper-tempered dogs are usually more effective against big predators. “The Sarplaninac has a little more attitude,” Liebenberg says. “It will stand up to wolves, foxes and any other predator. We know the dogs are successful because of the lack of predation among our stock, when neighbors are losing up to a quarter of theirs.” Liebenberg uses eight Serplaninacs to guard 600 ewes and 40 cows inside pastures surrounded by portable electric fencing. “It’s important not to under-stock your dogs,” she says. “A pack of six wolves might not be intimidates by one or two dogs, but the wolves would have to expend a lot more energy to take on an equal number of dogs in a fenced area - and it would be easier for them to go somewhere else.”
Keep in mind, however, that you need to provide care and housing for each dog, and feed and veterinary costs can add up quickly. Also, be cautious of imported dogs advertised as “territorial,” warns Poyner. Some have been bred with fighting lines, making them unpredictable and hard to control. “Guardian dogs must have self-control and show a measure of response, barking first, then backing off, before escalating.” In rural Missouri, where coyotes, feral hogs, mountain lions, eagles and bears are a threat, both Wegner and Poyner prefer a mix of “bonders” that hang back and stick with the stock, such as Maremmas and Estrela Mountain Dogs, and stronger perimeter dogs, like Armenian Gamprs, Central Asian Shepherds and Anatolian Shepherds, to patrol. Several readers report that having dogs of mixed ages can also be useful, as older dogs may show younger ones the rope. When researching dogs, you’ll notice organizations dedicate to rescuing specific breeds, including Great Pyrenees and Anatolian Shepherds. Many readers report excellent results with rescues; the very traits valued in a guardian dog - including nighttime barking and perpetual watchfulness - explain why some are abandoned by urban and suburban families you want a mellow indoor companion.
LLAMA LOOKOUTS The Christy’s also work with llamas as livestock guardians. “Llamas are excellent protectors because they see predators miles away, and sound an alert that all of our animals recognize. They’re clean and easy to maintain, too,” Phyllis says. After sounding the alarm, the male also herds the goats into their shelter and then stands guard. The Christy’s enjoy llamas because of their versatility - besides producing wool, llamas clear overgrown brush and work as pack animals.
Phyllis Christy and her husband raise goats, chickens, ducks, horses, rabbits and pigs on their 30-acre fenced ranch in New Mexico, where coyotes, stray dogs, raptors, and the occasional bear and mountain lion prowl. The Christy’s rescued and rehabilitated a donkey that now works as their lookout. “If she sees something, you can hear her distinctive alarm call two miles away! Nothing can sneak in.” Donkeys are reputed to dislike dogs, but Christy says her guard donkey can accurately discern predatory dogs and coyote - and will take them on - while tolerating the family dogs. In the Flint Hills of Kansas, Jackie Wilt and her family successfully teamed donkeys with an Anatolian Shepherd to protect their goats. With multiple yards and pastures, a division of labor proved a smart strategy. The Donkeys gaurd the outer pastures, while Silas the dog stays close to the goats. “In our 11 years on the farm, we’ve never lost any livestock to predators,” Wilt says. Some readers report that a donkey can be too rough with young animals. “We’ve never had that problem, but we move the does that are ready to kid as a precaution,” Wilt says. “That’s why we got Silas - he was raised with the goats and loves babies!”
SURPRISING SENTINELS A typical guardian animals have shown impressive skills, too. Jeff Rideout in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, used to lose half of his laying hens to weasels, foxes and other critters. Since adding five geese, however, he hasn’t lost one. “Papa gander seems to be doing the job,” he says. Sandy Tarnowski in Paulden, Arizona, welcomed a vigilant peahen to her flock of chickens, An unexpected resident, the peahen flew into her yard and now defends the chicks against crows. Meanwhile, in Sandy Oregon, Anne Sheldon’s good-natured guinea hogs have put a stop to the loss of her chickens to predators, Clearly, those predators have discovered what happens when you wrestle with a pig.