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On a ranch in any part of the country the need of protecting ones livestock – be it in goats, sheep or another breed of livestock – from predators is a major concern. Be it during the year – or during their most vulnerable time- kidding season. Protection is needed from the air – in the form of birds of prey – or land – in the form of anything from pack dogs, coyotes to mountain lions and bears.
A guardian animal – is just that – a guardian – this differs from a “guard”; a guardian does protect and guard – the major difference is in how it is done. The guardian bonds to its charges – and protects out of a love for what it is protecting – while it protects – it will also nurture and care for its charges.
There are many animals – that are used as guardians. When investigating the differing animals – we looked into llamas and donkeys – which are very popular. The main reason we decided to look into a Guardian Dog and away from llamas or donkeys is the basic principal that they are prey themselves. Even if we could get them bonded to the stock – be able to trust them not to injure their charges accidentally – we looked to the fact that no mater where we lived we wanted to be able to turn our animals out and not worry about packs dogs or any predators – even if it were bears – harming our stock. Some of the additional points that directed us away from llamas or donkeys were during our research we found that they did their best job on small pastures – without cover – and with smaller herds. Even on ranches that used them they still had many loses due to utilizing them on large rugged terrains. These points moved us to look into the different LGD – Livestock Guardian Dog – Breeds.
Choosing a Livestock Guardian Dog
In researching we found there are several breeds utilized as LGD’s – for example the Akbash and Anatolian of Turkey, Caucasian Mountain Dog of Germany, Maremma of Italy, Komondor of Hungary and Great Pyrenees of France. In doing our research our criteria was – strong bond to livestock – able to withstand warm summers and cold winters – strong nurturing instinct – low injury to livestock being guarded by guardian dog and high success rate in keeping predators at bay. One strong point was we needed to be able to trust our LGD’s when we had individuals visiting our ranch. We wanted one that would protect – but not make it impossible to show our stock.
In a 1986 survey it displayed what we wanted in the Pyr – for example in assessing 437 Pyrs they were shown to be very effective against predators, they injured livestock from 50 to 75% of the time less than the other breeds – which in this study – due to the number of Pyrs in the study – the Pyr was only reported to injure the livestock once.
By Jeffery S Green and Roger A Woodruff
Data collected from 399 livestock producers.
*With the exception of "number of dogs", all numbers are percentages.
**Hybrids are a combination of 2 or more Guardian breeds.
Our Guardian Angels- The Great Pyrenees
In the research we found our Guardian Angels in the Great Pyrenees. We have had the Pyr, as it is called for short, in our lives for over 20 years. Our first pair we purchased not for goats or sheep – but as guardians for our registered cats. It was during this time – that we learned what we did and did not want in our Pyrs from a mentor(s) who had been involved with the breed for from 30- 50 years, as even within the breed you can find differing dispositions. When we obtained our ranch over 30 years ago and we obtained Pyrs from differing lines to incorporate into our ranch as time has gone on, we have brought in new bloodlines that would meld with our core. What we have found, and the success we have had we will share here; as time permits we will add more.
During our time with the Pyr we have had the predators here – attempt to harm our stock. We have had large pack dogs come to our fence line – only to be driven back by our Pyrs. We have had hawks, owls and black birds make attempts on our property – only to have the Pyr push them out. We have had coyotes sneak into the kidding pen – which would have caused a total loss of our Nubian kids – only to be forcefully met by our Pyrs. Our Pyrs stay with our stock all day -every day of the year – the stock bonds as much to the Pyr as the Pyr does to the stock.
Another important point at our ranch; kidding or lambing season. We have been very pleased with the instincts of our Pyrs, some data and individuals have stated that they do not count on their Pyrs until they are at least a 18 to 24 months - such a sad rumor to cover for (*IOO) poorly bred dogs, who has the time to wait 2 years to COUNT on their dogs? We have found in our Pyrs they start to spread their wings by 5 weeks, taking their guardian job very seriously; they sometimes demand to work, as you get to know the Pry – you know when they demand you can’t say no. This has been the case especially during last kidding or lambing seasons.
One season, we had 3 pups from a litter that were with our Nubians and Angoras. When our kidding season began, they were 3 months. During the kidding season, they delivered our Nubians and Angoras, and we were even able to catch some candid pictures of the deliveries. They delivered the kids during the whole season, which ended when they were 7 months. 13 Nubians and 7 Angoras were delivered - during these deliveries– they watched over and protected the babies – delivered them, and cared for the does. The kids were so comfortable with the Pyrs; as you can see, multiple times, (*on the pics page and throughout the site) one newborns have to nursed on our Pyrs.
Another popular theory is that “ONE is enough”. One of the most important factors is one is NOT enough. Two major factors cause me to state this. First, you will have the argument made that they were bred to take on lions, tigers, bears or wolves; they were bred to handle LARGE predators… This is true – most LGD breeds were bred with this in mind – BUT they were also run as packs of 3 or more; no single LGD can be expected to handle these predator issues alone. In addition to this, the shepherd would travel with the stock and/or the stock would be close to the villages. In today’s changing times the LGD is expected to work, many times, alone. I have seen posts by individuals, one even stating she lost her single Pyr in a battle – a battle with multiple dogs in a pack. Keeping in mind how they originally were intended to work – how can you expect a single Pyr to handle a pack of dogs or coyotes – or a mountain lion –or bear? They are a warrior – and they are at war – for the very lives of their charges. Would you send a single soldier into the battle? If you did - how could you blame him if he lost the battle? You have to make the battle field –a level field of battle or even one weighted in the favor the livestock – that would enable a win. Predators don’t play fair – they are playing for their next meal – and the will do anything to win – as it means their life…So to only allow for success – it has to be looked at what kind of land, predators and how many charges are involved; beginning with two LGD’s and moving up from there.
The next and to me the far most important reason one is not enough is the way they look at their job. To them it is not a job – it is a way of life – they are a body guard – and they literally do it out of love for their charges. If there is only one – be it on ½ or ¾ of an acre – or more – if they are the only guardian then they will not stop. The heart of the Pyr does not allow it to stop. This puts a tremendous stress on the body of the LGD. This is requiring them to work – non stop – 24 hours a day – 7 days a week – 365 days a year without rest. When they work – even if to your eyes it looks as if they are asleep, they really never are – never completely slip into that deep state of peaceful rest – one ear is always listening…always waiting…. Think about it…How can they rest peacefully, when at any moment something might come from above, over a fence, through the underbrush and injure or kill one of its charges? How would you sleep – if you knew a child in your care might be injured or killed – and you lived without bars or windows? Now, think if you had someone to work with you – to share the care of the child? What if you had 2 others or more? You could split it into shifts – then you could sleep – really rest. That is what life a single Pry is - -never sleeping – never knowing when the strike will come – ever vigilant. This is what causes the most strain, and most losses of single LGD’s, sadly too early. Sleep – peaceful sleep is necessary to all humans and animals, and it is necessary to the LGD – for a long and healthy life.
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