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Livestock guardian dogs is a natural follow-on to the previous podcast about coyotes. At that time, we weren’t really willing to make that step. However, after speaking with other sheep herders, we’ve decided it is time. This is a really big step for me. I truly still feel quite uncomfortable about my ability to properly care for a dog. I don’t really know what my block is in this regard, but I’m jumping in there and I’m going to move past it. I believe some of that revolves around the years that we could not have animals that require daily attention as we were only here on the weekends. It’s an old mindset that no longer applies. I’ve learned to care for lots of different animals. I can do livestock guardian dogs.
I want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much. If you want to help us out with our mission to provide local, nutrient dense food and heal the earth, please share this podcast on your social media with those interested in following the sustainable homestead life. That’s the best way to help us grow. Now on to our stories.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
Let’s start with some updates on the homestead. If you listened to the last podcast all about coyotes, you know that we have been having some predator issues and we lost a significant number of our sheep. We believe we have that under control for the moment. After lots of discussions and soul searching, we have decided to get a dog. After I give you the normal updates on all of our wonderful homestead livestock buddies, I’ll go into that topic in detail. But first, let’s get you caught up on what’s going on around here.
As noted in the last podcast we lost over half of our sheep and lamb population. In fact, we lost all six of the lambs born this year. I let Scott talk me into having a fall crop of lambs. So, Lambert is back in with the girls. We shall see how that goes. We’ve never had lambs in the fall, though it is quite common.
All of the sheep are now in the back pasture again. The cameras we put out night after night indicate that there are no longer any predators coming into the area. We will be getting a dog anyway. They will eventually return and we want to be prepared.
I’ve completed the registration process on all of our girls. We have three registered Jersey girls and five registered Normande girls. The breeding season is upon us. In mid-June we will start the artificial insemination process once again.
There are still a few details that we haven’t worked out in that realm. Depending on the conversation we will have with the vet will determine whether we try using embryos. The implantation of an embryo enables you to pick all of the genetics of the calf. The mom simply carries the fertilized egg in embryonic form. I don’t know much about this yet. More to come on that.
The twin calves are back in the calf pasture and we’ve added Virginia to the mix. I don’t know if I talked about that last time. Virginia was sneaking in and stealing Cloud’s milk. Cloud is already supporting two calves. A third, especially a yearling, would be way more than she could support. She has a significant percentage of black angus genes and does not produce as prolifically as the other dairy cows. Butter could support three or four calves. She produces well over six gallons of milk per day.
We are still eagerly anticipating the birth of our last calf via Violet. June 10th is just around the corner. I can’t wait. The late birth may eliminate her from being in the breeding rotation for next year. After birth, it is a minimum of six weeks before she can be bred again. And that would put her insemination at the end of July and the subsequent birth date would be late April. I think we may give AI one try, perhaps two. A second attempt would have her delivering in mid-May. That is pushing it. But it just might work to get her back in sync with the other cows. Ideally, they all need to give birth from mid-March to mid-April.
This is all so much more complicated than I ever imaged. The cheesemaking process demands that you have lots of milk. And to have lots of milk, the cows need to give birth at the same time. Without that piece, you can have many weeks of small amounts of milk in the spring. If they all give birth within three weeks, that’s ideal.
The weather has delayed us in planting the garden. I’m finally ready to get the beans in the ground. It was only a few days ago that the temperatures were back down into the 30’s at night. The soil needs to be consistently warm for summer plants to grow. I think we are finally there. Look for more news on that in the future.
The strawberries are doing well. I went out there an checked on them this morning. There is one strawberry starting to turn red. And there are thousands of others that are white. It’s so exciting to see so many berries out there. Do you love strawberry jam? We sure do.
The blueberries are finished blooming and the blackberries have just started. All over the place are lots and lots of white blossoms. The wild blackberries and wild rose are in full bloom. If you live in the area, I’m sure you’ve noticed the clouds of white flowers everywhere. If you are brave and want to pick wild blackberries later in the summer, take note of where those flowers are blooming. Growing up in NW Georgia, we would suit up every 4th of July holiday weekend and go blackberry picking. You had to have long sleeves and no shorts because of the thorns. And in Georgia, it was best to have some way to keep the chiggers off of you. Chiggers are also known as red bugs. And they are a pain. Are you familiar with them? Unless you live in the south, probably not.
Chiggers or Red Bugs
They are arachnids. The red-colored larvae are so small – only 1/120 to 1/150 of an inch – that you cannot see them with the naked eye. They hang out in tall grass, weed patches, and underneath trees. Any brushy or thicket – such as blackberry bushes can house them. I grew up with the popular belief that they burrow into your skin. Not true. They attach to your skin. They like tight places like in your armpits, around your waistband, etc. If they are not removed, chiggers will remain on your skin for about four days.
How do you keep them off? We took several steps when getting ready to go blackberry picking. As I said, long sleeves and pants. We also treated our clothing with insect repellent. We did use those that have DEET – and they are safe enough if you only put it on your clothes and not on your skin. And today there are DEET-free alternatives. Wear boots and tuck the pant legs into them. Then pull your socks up over the pants leg. Double protection there. But it is needed in that area as walking through the brush and bushes is a significant hazard to picking up these little guys. Once you return home, get in the shower immediately and use lots of soap while they are still wandering around. Launder the clothes in hot water.
That’s a little side note not at all related to livestock guardian dogs. Let’s get on to that topic.
Livestock Guardian Dogs
There are many breeds of livestock guardian dogs and they have been used by shepherds and farmers for centuries. They are bred and trained to instinctively protect their herd from predators. The breeds can be crossbred with other livestock guardian dogs, but crossbreeding with any other breed ruins the innate ability to be a great livestock guardian dog. I can’t stress this enough. This topic comes up over and over again when I am looking on Facebook. People ask about this all the time. And the answer is always the same. Your German shepherd is not a good LGD. Great Dane and Dobermans do not make good livestock guardian dogs, and on and on. You can’t breed a livestock herding dog with a livestock guardian dog and get a good outcome. You ruin both sides of that equation. Herding dogs have wonderful instincts but they are completely different than the instincts of a guardian dog.
We are looking at several different breeds. The Great Pyrenees is probably the most well-known livestock guardian dog. They are quite popular in the US. Other breeds we are considering are the Akbash and Maremma. The Great Pyrenees originates from the Pyrenees mountains of Spain and France. The Akbash is originally from Turkey. And the Maremma is native to Italy. There are more than a dozen different breeds from various parts of the world. The thing they have in common is their breeding for livestock guardian instincts. Some are better in one or another area. It depends on what you are looking for in your particular situation.
What Makes a Good Livestock Guardian Dog?
They need to be large and strong. Typically, they are very comfortable living outdoors, though they should still have a dog house or some other kind of shelter. Developing a strong bond with livestock is essential. We are looking for a peaceful demeanor unless a predator comes around. They we want them to move into action quickly. These dogs like to mark their territory. Most of them are very vocal and can bark a lot. You want that.
One of the vendors near me at the market says that she can tell when new lambs have been born by the sound of the bark. The dog will be right there with the lambs, waiting for her to come and see to the new lambs. These dogs love to work, and truly need a job to stay occupied. I know a lot of people want to have them as pets, but they can really be a handful if kept couped up in an apartment. Even a nice sized house and yard can be problematic. They need acres and acres to roam and patrol in order to be happy. They need animals to protect to be truly happy.
Some other breeds you may have heard of include: Anatolian shepherd, a Turkish breed; the shaggy Komondor from Hungary is sometimes referred to as the mop dog. You’ll know one when you see it; there is the Tibetan mastiff, an ancient breed used by the nomadic tribes of Nepal and Mongolia; The Karakachan is known for acute senses and a strong bond with the flock. There are just so many. How to choose?
These guys actually become part of the herd. They are always with the livestock, integrating into the workings of the homestead. Some routinely check the perimeters of the property, others like to keep watch from a high vantage point. They are not going to run off after bunnies and other small animals. They will stick close to the flock. Even after chasing off a predator, they will quickly return to their animal charges.
What Do We Need in a LGD?
There are quite a few things that we have thought about so far and likely more to come. We are looking for an adult dog that already has some experience with livestock. After getting one adult acclimated to the homestead, we will likely add another that is in the puppy stage. We want to understand all the ins and outs of training as well. So, the first one needs to already know what it’s doing because we sure don’t. After the flock is protected, we can move into learning how to train one from start to finish. These dogs mostly live 12 to 15 years or so. We will likely need quite a few over our lifetime.
They are big dogs and that is a little intimidating for me. Even while still in the puppy stages, under two years old, they will be very large dogs. These are intelligent and headstrong breeds. We have the land and livestock to keep them busy – and they need that to keep them out of mischief. If they get bored, unwanted things can happen. In a household, chewing up things is not uncommon. Again, I don’t think we will have too much difficulty with that, but you just never know how rambunctious your animal might be.
Puppies vs Adults
Puppies simply cannot be left on their own. They need time to mature. The teen stage can be particularly horrible for most. They are just so big but they are still puppies at heart. A dog under two years of age can easily severely hurt of even kill the very livestock they are meant to protect. Again, we are going for an adult dog in the beginning. It is much easier for a puppy to learn if it has an adult mentor.
They absolutely need proper socialization training. Without it, they can potentially be very dangerous. Their sheer size and strength mean that they can cause serious injuries to people or other animals. They can inadvertently injure small people or children during what is considered quite routine play for them. Many breeds, even as adults, have difficulty with protecting birds – chickens, ducks, turkeys and so on – as they like to chase them as many have inbred instincts to kill them. We will be looking for which breeds can be trained well in this area as we intend to have chickens soon.
Caring for a LGD
The next thing I want to talk about is caring for them. This is my greatest area of insecurity. Almost all of these dogs are long-haired and need to be groomed at the very least every month. What do you think it will be like bathing a dog this big? Better get one that enjoys it. It would be impossible to handle a one-hundred-pound dog that didn’t like having a bath.
I’ve look at some of the breeds that don’t have as thick of a coat. But they need the thick, long coats to help protect them from predators and the elements. Some even have mane-like fur to protect their neck and shoulder region from the teeth of predators. It requires more effort from us, but in the end is worth the investment.
There are a few things out there in the interwebs that I have found to be myths. I think the worst one is that you can’t be friends with your dog. Making friends with a livestock guardian dog does not mean he won’t do his job. These are not house dogs and they have no such desire. They do however, love treats as much as any other dog.
I mentioned earlier about cross-breeding with herding dogs. Even worse is the idea that a herding dog can be a good livestock guardian god. Nothing could be further from the truth. Herding dogs have a completely different function. They are small and can easily be overwhelmed by large predators. Their job is to chase animals, although in a controlled way. Inevitably, they will tend to kill animals when bred with LGDs. Not a good thing.
How They Think
These dogs will bark at people that visit but will not bite. Their instincts are to attack only if there is a threat. Again, the difference between an LGD and say a Doberman. That Doberman may attack without provocations. Not so with the LGD.
If a stray dog comes around, they put on a great show but will not harm the dog unless an actual threat is perceived. If there is no threat, they leave the dog alone, perhaps escorting them off the property. The same with humans.
Most livestock guardian dogs learn to enjoy killing wild predators and may even hunt them. They know the difference between a domestic dog and a wild animal.
I’m so glad that we have peace on the homestead again. For the time being, all is well with the animals. The garden is moving along slowly but steadily. That means more time outside in the sunshine. It’s good for the soul. Yeah, get that vitamin D.
The perfect livestock guardian dog will be found and our animals will be protected. We will progress through yet another learning curve in caring for animals on the homestead. It’s all a cycle. One after another, after another. It’s a beautiful thing. And yes, I’m still intimidated. But I will get over it. I’m going to love having a dog. And it will be the best dog on the planet receiving the best care available from our loving hearts.
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Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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