Loving the herd life
- Jan 10, 2022
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We have had two breeds of LGDs, guardian llamas, and a mule over the past 35 years of livestock raising. Here is our experience. First let's talk about LGDs.
We currently have Anatolians. We switched from Pyrs 7 years ago due to their roaming behavior. Our neighborhood has changed from rural to suburban. I have a peeve about roaming dogs and it constantly bothered me that my own dogs were roaming! Since keeping our Pyrs inside our boundary fences on our 6 acres had proved impossible, we switched to Anatolians 7 years ago. Anatolians are a wonderful breed, depending on your lifestyle. If you have countless friends, schoolchildren, farm tours, etc. wandering through your property forget Anatolians. They love their families and those they recognize as family, but others are not welcome on the property. We did not start with Anatolians because at that time we had small children who brought friends home, were 4-H leaders who held meetings at our house, in the barn, and entertained al fresco constantly in the summer. We started with Pyrs because the Idaho Sheep Station had found their temperaments to be the best in their LGD breed trials.
Anatolians 30 years ago were much more aggressive. They had a reputation for viciousness. This was partly due to the prevailing belief then that proper LGD training was to dump the dog in the pasture and never pet or socialize it. Some Anatolian ranchers who did this with large flocks found that the dogs would not allow them near their own sheep. Apparently LGDs can't read brands, ear tags, or transport documents, and don't recognize people who show up claiming ownership of the flock. Several ranchers suffered severe attacks from their own dogs when they tried to enter their pastures. Anatolians are one of the more aggressive breeds of LGDs, but a lot of progress has been made in breeding softer temperaments. This can be either good or bad. An LGD with too gentle a temperament is less likely to defend the flock against greater odds, too aggressive and the dog may not always make the correct decision over who to drive away.
Our children are grown now. Our fences are high and the fences and gates bordering the road are wrought iron with dead bolts. We have a very high predator load of coyotes, with the occasional stray dog packs and cougar. Along with the rest of the country our slightly secluded neighborhood is seeing an unprecedented rise in crime. We no longer have any house dogs. Our Anatolians keep the flock and ourselves safe. A word of warning though, Anatolians are the most dominant of the LGD breeds.
If you need a good natured LGD who will allow strangers onto your property, then Pyrs are probably the most common and easily obtained. Be warned that Pyrs have been witnessed climbing 6' chain link fences. Whether their extra toes have anything to do with this gift is debatable. I myself have seen a full grown Pyr squeeze through a piece of stock panel missing one horizontal wire. They are like cats and can compress their bodies. Or maybe it is some magical skill. "Beam me up Scotty." Whatever it is they are escape artists and roamers.
This is because Pyrs have a different guarding style to Anatolians. Where the Anatolian is most happy in close proximity to their sheep, the Pyr sets up their own safety perimeter in their minds. In our case with all 5 of our Pyrs over 25 years, this perimeter included the 100 acres of open land behind us, the half mile of private road, and all the neighbors' properties. During lambing time they stayed close to the barn until the smell of afterbirth dissipated then they were on far patrol again. While we didn't lose any stock, the occasional call to retrieve our dogs from as far away as 2 miles was annoying. And if they were patrolling that far what would happen when a predator snuck in behind them?! Our male Pyr got out and patrolled several miles in each direction in the small hours. He was in the yard in the morning so we thought we finally had a Pyr that remained on the property. This belief was shattered when we received a call from the police one night. Bravo had been hit by a car and killed. The officers said they usually saw him every night walking along the road in the same location.
This difference in guarding style might arise from the original use of these dogs when they followed their masters and flocks over vast distances from grazing location to grazing location. Since the dogs were continually on the move with the flocks, they had to develop a style of guarding that would drive predators out of the advance route of the flock and keep them away as the flock passed through their territory. Once you understand the original lifestyle of the early shepherds that bred these dogs it is easier to understand the guarding styles of the various breeds. The guardian dog will need annual vaccinations, protection from fleas and ticks, and if one of the heavy coated breeds annual grooming when it throws its winter coat.
LLamas have also been touted as good guardians. It is true that they don't like canids and will try to kill them. At one point many years ago, our valley suffered an influx of cougars. No fewer than 5 different cats were identified by Fish and Game coming out if the hills surrounding our valley which measures 30 miles by 15 miles. We decided that we needed other assistance in protecting our herd of dairy goats. A llama rescue was advertising guardian llamas for adoption. We were eager to experience this fascinating animal and adopted 2 llamas. One was a gelded male who had been a 4-H project. The other was a dark brown ungelded male. The 4-H llama was approachable while the other had to be herded into a stall to be caught and haltered. Once haltered they were both tractable. These were to be our cougar protection along with one Pyr and a Pyr puppy.
There were good points and bad points to the llamas. Their coats were in bad shape and I had to hire someone to shear them. They both hated dogs and tried to kill our new LGD puppy by stomping her to death. Our other dogs learned to keep well away from them. LLamas have long sharp claws on their feet - think raptor claws from Jurassic Park. Males also have large canine fangs. Most breeders pull these fangs when the crias are young. If you get a llama make sure this has been done since llamas will also use these fangs when they attack. Llamas also spit nasty smelling cud as a warning. This stuff can be as disgusting and pervading as skunk. LLamas' way of fighting is to rear up and slash with those feet at anything or anyone they don't like. Luckily, they seemed to like us. However, DH's cousin in Kansas who raised exotics for game farms was severely injured when his male llama attacked him. This was odd since he had raised him from a cria.
Another thing we learned several months after bringing our new cougar guardians home was that although they hated dogs and coyotes, llamas are the favored prey of cougar in their native land. Oh good, instead of adding protection to our property we had introduced cougar bait! The final problem to keeping an unaltered llama appeared when the unaltered llama tried to breed the goats. Luckily, I was in the barn and was able to drive him away from the doe he was attacking before she was seriously injured but this was unacceptable. I immediately caught and loaded him into the trailer for the trip to the vet to be neutered. Other than the attempted rape,I never noticed our llamas bonding with the sheep and goats. They kept a solitary lifestyle away from the flock. Eventually, the friendly 4-H llama died of old age and the younger one had no buddy so I rehomed him to a large ranch. If you go the llama route make sure your guardian is gelded and his canines have been removed. Llamas will need vaccinations, annual shearing and occasional claw trims.
Guardian donkeys have been discussed in these forums before. Donkeys do not like dogs or dog like creatures such as coyotes and wolves. Donkeys have a history of doing well with a flock of adult sheep and goats, but also have many disturbing stories of attacking and killing newborn lambs in the field. Whether this is because they don't recognize them as flock members is unclear. The type, size, and number of predators you have will determine the size and number of donkeys you will need. The cute little mini donkeys may not be large enough. You may need something the size of a small horse. Donkeys will also need vaccinations and regular hoof trims although not as often as horses.
We currently have a mule. She is a big mule, 16.3 h.h. and does not like dogs. Our Anatolians have learned to keep an eye on her in the field. When she was younger, she used to try to sneak up in them and bite them while they slept. Watching a large mule tip toe (tip hoof?) up to its quarry was amusing. We stopped keeping our horses in corrals and just tuned them onto our field years ago. Why shovel manure from stalls when the animals would spread it themselves! Josie had a strange cross species platonic love affair with our big ram. The horses had rejected her, but he was content to hang out with her. When the ewes first appeared on the field with their tiny lambs Josie the Mule did try to grab them. We promptly put the ewes back in the barn pen until the lambs were older. Later, when a couple little lambs escaped and ended up on the field Josie again went after them. This time the big ram positioned himself between the lambs and Josie. She tried to get past to grab a lamb, but Rambo kept getting in front of her. Finally, as she continued to go after the lambs Rambo hauled off and butted her in the chest. Surprised, Josie backed up and surveyed the situation. Decidng it must have been a love tap from her buddy she tried again to get past him. This time he was ready for her and having backed up really let her have it. We could hear the thud across the field. Mules are very smart. Josie decided he must mean that the lambs were off limits. She and Rambo turned and strolled away. Since then, Josie has accepted the presence of lambs on the field. I do want to emphasize that we do not let our ewes pasture lamb though so her exposure to lambs younger than 6-8 weeks is minimal.
Hope this helps.