Do you need livestock guardians for your homestead? If you're looking for some tips on picking the best guardian for your home, try this!
I should begin by saying that I am a dog person. Specifically, a spaniel person. Field bred, English Springer Spaniels. I’ve had them my whole life, and right now there are three gamboling joyfully in my house. I don’t keep dogs outside, they are welcome to come in and lay on the sofa, muddy paws and all, and I have been known to welcome them into bed with me too.
So when we moved to the new farm and it became apparent that we had a significant coyote and stray dog problem, the prospect of employing a livestock guardian dog was, honestly, somewhat intimidating. I had tried at my previous place to have an LGD, and it hadn’t worked out. Granted, that was probably more to do with the fact that the dog came to me with a significant set of psychological issues related to his past than anything else, but I’m never one to stray from a challenge and I thought I could fix him. I was wrong.
The dog that ultimately arrived at the farm was Merry, a one year old Great Pyrenees who had been raised and trained by a good friend who owns a sheep and goat farm in West GA. I was opposed to the idea, as I had fairly recently lost a dog who I loved very much, and I didn’t feel there was room in my heart or my life for another one. But nonetheless, I did everything as my friend instructed: trained her to her area, taught to trust me, bonded her to her livestock, and slowly but surely, she settled into her place here and now I can’t imagine life without her.
By contrast, she was later joined by Willow, a GP x Anatolian mix. Willow is a great LGD, but has scant regard for people’s personal space, and weighs more than I do, so she can be difficult to handle. She is also unreliable with rabbits and small birds, and likes to dig under fences. But all the same, since these two dogs joined forces (reluctantly; Merry isn’t really a dog person), I haven’t had a single loss from predators.
But here’s what I’ve learned from my journey; perhaps some of it might help you find your perfect farm partner:
- Choose your breed carefully. Research and ask advice as to which one might suit youbest, from breeders and other LGD owners. Some breeds are more suited to different livestock, acreages and predator type.
- Don’t buy just any random dog labelled as an LGD from Craigslist! While there’s achance of striking gold, there’s also a chance that you’re buying a dog with a whole pile of issues. The safety of your livestock is at stake; choose wisely.
- Don’t buy a dog that has been cross-bred with another type. For example, I see analarming number of Great Pyrenees x Border Collie, and GP x Aussie. You can’t cross a guarding breed with a herding breed and expect it not to be confused. I’m sure there’s exceptions to this, but this is my experience.
- If you don’t have the time or experience to put into training a puppy, don’t buy a puppy. Yes, they’re adorable. Cuteness personified. But they require a lot of training to become functional, working dogs. It’s not just instinct. If you don’t have the time of the knowledge, buy a finished dog. You’ll spend a lot more, but ultimately it will be better for you and the dog.
- If you are buying a puppy, get one that has been raised in the barn, with the animals. If the pictures you’re seeing of the pups are of them running wild in someone’s house, be cautious. Pups raised in the barn are far superior.
- Don’t let your LGD in the house!! Don’t do it!! You might want to when it’s cold / rainy /too hot, but don’t do it. Once they’ve been in, they’ll want to continue to come in. Like, when they’re meant to be guarding their stock. Let them be with the animals 24/7, and give them adequate food, water and shelter. This is what they do, and they like to do.
Let them do their job.
- You’re going to need secure fences. Ideally, you’d have wire with a hot wire top and bottom to prevent jumping and digging, but even so, many LGDs have a wide ranging area they want to protect and patrol and fences are not going to dissuade them from doing this. Bonding them closely to their livestock is the best way to handle this issue. I also found that leash walking around the boundary when I first brought them onto the property helped clarify for them what was ‘theirs’.
- I have tried twice to keep a male Great Pyrenees. I am not, however, any kind of alpha of the pack, and I found them impossible to control. If this is something you can relate to, you might try a female. I have two, and they work very well for me.
- All livestock guardians have their pros and cons. Alternatives are donkeys or llamas, but really it depends on the kind of livestock you keep and the type of predators you encounter.
Need some tips on how to react and behave in case you meet a livestock guardian? Then watch this video from Agridea515:
What do you think of these tips on picking livestock guardians? Will you give it a try? Do you already have a LGD? let us know in the comments below.
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