Our farm family contains a menagerie of animals, but nothing helps make it possible more so than our dogs. For our farm, we currently use two Livestock Guardian Dogs, also known as LGDs, and a herding dog.
When we first started our farm, we battled little critters eatting our garden produce and rodents trying to get access to our feed. These were nuisances, but managable to some extent with more fencing, netting and other passive preventative measures. However, as our litte flocks and herds began to grow as a result of our successful breeding programs, another problem introduced itself, larger and more persistent predators that were creating losses that more significantly impacted our financial bottom line.
First Came the Guineafowl
Some of our largest losses came from predatory birds, with hawks and owls presenting the largest problems, but the occasional eagle would also make an appearance looking for an easy meal. Our free ranging chickens took the first few hits, so we introduced guineafowl to help keep a watch on the skies. The guineas are excellent watchdogs, but they had one problem - the hawks would learn to attack them from in the trees and shadows where the birds didn't see them in time. The first couple of times, my position was, "This is nature and everything needs to eat." However, it soon became apparent that the predatory birds didn't always kill because they needed a meal, but often seemed to be killing for fun or sport. Unfortunately it became somwhat common at times to see the predatory birds attack, snapping off the heads of guineas and then leaving the remainder of the body behind. In addition, it all happens so fast, that even if you are in the field with the birds, there is little you can do.
The Livestock Guardian Dogs
The LGDs I had always been most familar with were the big, furry, mostly white Pyrenees, although there are many breeds of LGDs. There are two types of Pyrenees, as well as many other LGD breeds, the show lines and the work lines. For farms, you want to go strictly for the working lines. These dogs have been bred for literally thousands of years to watch livestock and much of their job is already in their nature. However, these dogs do learn from watching other dogs work, so another advantage of the working lines is to get pups from a working farm or ranch where they have already spent time with their parents in fields.
Our short term remedy for this was to keep all the birds inside their coops for a couple of weeks to train the predatory birds that the easy meal plan had been terminated, but this made our birds extremely unhappy, so we needed another solution. In addition, it was also nearing the time for our goat does to begin kidding and a newborn baby goat can easily be carried away by a large predatory bird. In addition, coyotes, feral hogs, skunks, foxes and other hungry, larger non-flying predators were also looking to feed themselves and their families. We employed goat panels with two more sets of wire fences with electric wire at the top surronding the kid pens, but if you've ever seen coyotes climb fences, you know this is far from a fool proof solution.
Electric tensil wire does work well with predators in the cat family as they are more sensitive to the shock and will respect it. Sitting up all night watching for predatories is not really a viable option for most people and using poisons should be avoided at all costs - not only is it a risk to animals you do want, it's a horrible death and can also negatively impact other wildlife. So, what to do? This is when we decided to give LGDs a try.
One note though is that with working LGDs, it is best to have at least two, if not more. There are many instances where a single LGD has been killed and eatten by a mountain lion and an aggresive pack of coyotes intent on getting to their target can be quite a bit to handle for a single dog. Therefore we started seeking a second rescue. It took a little while to find a fit, but eventually I received an email notifiying me of a rescue needing a home that sounded like it would be a good match for our family.
We didn't know much about her, but she was taken to a Pryenees rescue facility where the dog's rescurer was informed the dog was about two years old and definitely a Pry, even though the first time I say her she looked more like a retriever. We were assured she was just a small female for her two years of age. We introduced her to LGD #1 and they immediately hit it off, so we quickly decided she was a keeper, even if she was a little smaller than what we were hoping for. However, our "small" 70 pound female Pry grew, and grew and grew and then grew somemore. A few months later she was weighing at about 100 pounds. She learned how to watch for predatory birds from LGD #1 and was a natural with goats and sheep. Plus she was extremely gentle with children, although a little wary of men. We have never been sure if this was because of her past, or indicative of the breed.
The benefits offered by the LGDs were amazing. No more birds or larger livestock were lost again to predators. Even poisonous snakes were addressed, but somehow the benign ones are left alone - I have no clue how they understand the difference. They aren't herders and they aren't extremely active dogs. Mostly they nap or doze, but having an amazing hearing capability that allows them to hear things that other dogs never seem to notice. With the predatory birds, they also watch the skies as well as the ground and are amazing at making sure the birds move on the next easier target.
I have some great photos somewhere of the dogs work with the livestock. Once I find them, I'll post a follow-up.