By Joyce Weaver
After purchasing these 57 acres of bare farm ground at auction in 1997, I found them to be infested with coyotes, not to mention other wildlife. I was recovering from five years of fighting ovarian cancer and was in a rather weakened physical state, but was determined to “soldier” on. The property had been rented out for several years to farmers who had raised corn, soybeans and wheat. When I first walked the ground before seeding it to hay and pasture to raise sheep, I was delighted to find many arrowheads and stone tools brought up by farming tillage now visible on the bare ground. Today, they are no longer visible due to grass covering the soil. I feel honored to be dwelling where Native American peoples had once lived and hunted.
I had to put in a driveway, get a well dug, put up fencing, build a barn and of course, get a house up. I figured going modular was the quickest way of getting a house up. I hired an Amish crew to insulate the crawl space with insulation foam to protect the well pump, pipes and retain more heat for the house. The sheep, of course, seemed delighted to have more space, a better barn and better care. In the winter it is a lot easier on me to have all the animals inside out of the weather when I have to feed, water and care for them. Previously I had to slosh around in the mud/snow/ice in the winter to take feed and carry water to various small outer sheds. Yuck.
When I first moved here, I did not have a livestock guardian dog (LGD) and of course, had all kinds of unwanted wildlife contacts. Like the time I came home from work in Indianapolis and went to the barn to feed. It was dark by then and I only had one dim light in the barn. I needed to get a grain sack, which was placed on a pallet on the floor. I bent over to pick up the grain sack and came face to face (barely 2 inches) with an angry defensive opossum with a very large mouth and set of teeth hissing and snarling at me. Needless to say I screamed and jumped back yelling bloody murder! That was quite an impressive incident and I will NEVER forget that encounter.
Then there was the mystery of disappearing sheep. I was still working away from home then so wasn’t here during the day and not as able to observe my flock. Finally one day I noticed some commotion going on out in the sheep pasture, got out my binoculars and saw some “dogs” chasing the sheep. Upon arriving at the pasture I found a fresh kill and of course it was a group of coyotes, not dogs. This made me quite angry and I knew I had to do something.
Enter the Great Pyrenees guard dog. I obtained a Great Pyrenees male neutered dog from a dog rescue. He was a nice, big, pretty white dog, very friendly to people, but had never been around sheep or livestock before. He was not well suited to sheep because he kept chasing and occasionally bit them. I have found the Great Pyrenees are harder to keep home. Many tend to wander away from the farm. He wasn’t here at the farm long because an overhead flying paramotor (motorized parachute) pilot kept flying low over my house and farm, which terrified the dog. He eventually ran off and I never saw him again. This is what happens when you get an adult dog that has not bonded to you or your farm since a pup.
An effective LGD needs to be raised with sheep/goats from birth to adulthood. Some people even put wool in the puppies’ nesting box to imprint pleasant smells to them early. As the pup/young dog grows, he needs to be monitored by the owner to thwart any bad habits he may develop (such as play chasing the sheep, wanting to “wrestle” with them, etc.). I have found that having two pups grow up together helps thwart a desire to chase and wrestle sheep, as they then play and wrestle with each other instead of the sheep. Sometimes it takes until the pup is 2-years-old to settle down and behave more responsibly.
I finally bought two female Anatolian/Great Pyrenees cross puppies from the same litter. This turned out to be the best team of LGDs I have ever had. I kept them with lambs from puppyhood up and they grew to love the sheep, stayed home and were wonderful protecting the flock from predators. I could have a peaceful night’s sleep knowing I would not have to get up at 2 a.m. with rifle and flashlight in hand to ward off yipping coyotes in the yard approaching the sheep lots.
There are several breeds of dogs imported into this country that are used as livestock guardians, such as Great Pyrenees (France), Komondor (Hungary), Akbash, Anatolian, Kangal (from Turkey) and Maremma (Italy) that one might want to investigate. Some people even use donkeys or llamas to protect their flocks.
My experience has been that my Great Pyrenees dogs have been very good for other uses around the farm. They keep other animals away, such as raccoons, opossum and deer. When I first moved here, I planted several nice young trees in the yard. I’d come home from work and find deer in the yard eating the tops off my new trees. (That was BEFORE dogs). Not anymore. The dogs patrol the property at night barking, which deters a lot of unwanted pests. And of course, they bark when a strange car drives up the driveway letting you know you have company. They solve a lot of problems and make life more pleasant for the flock owner. In my opinion having a good livestock guardian dog or two on the farm has more benefits than just to the sheep.
Keep on shepherding! (firstname.lastname@example.org).