Friday, December 13, 2013

Cattle and Spanish Mastiffs: A Natural Combination When Done Right

The working Spanish Mastiff is used heavily in its native country of Spain to guard not only sheep, but cattle as well.   Selling the idea of using LGD's to protect cattle in the USA with larger cattle producers has often been a tough sell, however, these dogs can and will guard cattle if raised right.  The failure, if any, is usually on the part of the owner/operator, or in the way the breeder reared the pups up.

Spanish Mastiff pups in their heifers with adult dogs near by.
I happen to think the relaxed and more low key demeanor of the SM and also,
the Pyrenean Mastiff, makes these two breeds
superior choices for guarding cattle.

As with any LGD breed, and not just the SM, what matters is that the pup comes from proven, good working parent stock, and is raised from birth in a livestock environment.  Being raised up in a pack of LGDs makes for even more advanced, capable pups than those who are not.

The transition here at my ranch, from sheep to cattle, has been seamless and quick.  My heifers are not afraid of my dogs and welcome the pups into their area, curious but non-threatened, and the pups likewise, quickly realize cow time is good times…..and they are settling in fast.  The size of cattle always demands more respect from any LGD, and pups find out quick if they nip or act up, the heifers will reprimand them strongly.

Placid scene: Spanish Mastiffs bed down near their cattle, on guard.
Ready to defend, there is no constant fence running and barking or un-needed
activity, as other lighter, more hyper LGD breeds would exhibit.
Calm dogs = calm cattle.  Win/win for both, and the rancher.
In a larger operation covering more ground, combining Spanish Mastiffs with some lighter, faster breeds such as Kangal or Akbash, would be good choice for 
perimeter patrolling and enhanced coverage.

Pups coming out of pet stock that has no exposure to cattle, goats or sheep, cannot be expected to pick this up as fast, if even at all in some cases.  Therefore, its crucial for anyone looking for  true, working Spanish Mastiff pup, to get one from real working stock, not pseudo farm 'pets' or show ring conformation breeders.  Unfortunately in America, the gentrification of the SM has already begun and is in full swing, with backyard breeders now churning out litters of SM, who are not raised on stock, or around livestock at all, yet being mis-hyped by nefarious breeders as "working LGD pups".  Likewise, these pups go on to be mediocre if not poor LGD's, through no fault of their own, but due to that of unscrupulous breeders and puppy mills.  And worse yet, now those pups are having pups.  The cycle of degradation will only continue as the breed is gentrified and the working instinct bred out of it by slap dash pet breeders and puppy mills.

At 8 weeks of age, my "C" Litter of Spanish Mastiffs are now headed to their new homes over the next several weeks, some staying here through into January.  We've had an exceptionally harsh winter of 26 below temps and -41 wind chill factors.  Through out this, my pups have been raised in the barn with heat lamps, and out on the ice and in the cold and snow daily, and in and out of the sheep all day long.

On their 8 week old birthday, when let out of the barn, they surprised but did not entirely shock me by heading directly to my heifers, and asking to go into them…..

This comes from their supportive rearing here, where unlike some LGD breeders, nothing is ever forced or rushed, and the Pack leads the way for the pup's learning experiences.

I am not a fan of penning pups up with sheep and making them live with them 24/7 for days on end if not weeks, in what I refer to as 'forced bonding'.  It is a popular training and bonding exercise used by many in the US, and was promoted by the first LGD researchers as being the 'best way' to get pups to bond to stock.   I'm not saying it won't work, but I don't like it for several reasons.

First of all, I find it extremely limiting.  It prevents the pups from experiencing other things they need to experience in order to grow up into a well balanced, courageous, confident dog.  They may be bonded to sheep alright, but they are also sometimes scared out of their wits by loud noises, other dogs, and sometimes even people.  I don't consider this intelligent rearing of LGD's; to me, it is more of a shortcut for the owner.  The pup is narrow focused and has much less depth than a pup allowed to roam about, be in and out of stock as it wants in puppyhood, and getting enough exercise to blow off steam and playfulness that otherwise would be taken out on the stock.

Secondly, my way takes longer but plants more seeds of bonding and confidence in the end.  I have had enough customers tell me by now they swear my pups are more advanced than others they have bought who have been reared up in a 'forced bonding' situation.  But of course they'd be this way, not having been held back.

Finally, I prefer to let the litter's dam and sire and the Pack, dictate to me when the pups are ready, and when they are, I always know it by the supportive role the other dogs take in the pup's progressive steps.  I feel this way is more natural.  I feel this way, the dog tells me when it is ready, not the other way around.  This is not about making things convenient for me.  It is about letting the dog show me when it is comfortable and ready to take the next step.

Raising dogs this way takes more time and patience to achieve the end results but I have found it is more than worthwhile doing it this way.  And now as my pups progress to cattle from sheep, and show such excitement at meeting them, it only further confirms that their way is indeed, the smart way.

I can't speak for any others in the USA, but I sure know MY Spanish Mastiff pups can leave here to guard sheep, cattle and goats, one as well as the other.  They will be healthy, of sound mind and body, keen and sharp and courageous, and like I tell them all when they leave here, they'll grow up to be "Straight and Strong and True".

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Numbers Game: Guardian Dog Pack Size Affects Success

The Numbers Game: Guardian Dog Pack Size Affects Success 

by Brenda M. Negri

Published in Sheep! Magazine
May/June 2013 pg 50

Copyright 2013 Brenda M. Negri and Sheep! Magazine
All rights reserved, no reproduction without express permission

When it comes to efficient predator control and livestock protection using LGD’s, real success usually comes from running the right number of Livestock Guardian Dogs for each situation. And sometimes its what you can’t see that indicates your livestock guardian dogs are working, and you are running them in the right numbers.

Kangal breeder Ed Bernell of Laurel, Montana, had filled his deer tags for the season when the call came from Montana Fish and Game asking how his hunting luck had run. Bernell gave them the required information and they chatted about hunting season.

And then came the question Ed wasn’t prepared to hear.

“Did you spot any sign of or did you see any wolves, during your hunt?” the agent asked.

Bernell recalls that he was taken aback by the question, then chuckled, and confidently replied “Of course not! There are no wolves around my area.”

He wasn’t prepared to hear what came next.

“Oh yes there are....” was the official’s blunt reply.

The official went on to report that not one, but several wolves had been sighted only four miles from Bernell’s 100 acre goat and sheep ranch situated on a high plateau, surrounded by large tracts of open land. Ranchers were reporting several wolves traveling through their ranches, wolf track sightings were increasing, and there was no doubt the wolves had now come over from the Yellowstone area and were moving in.

Bernell was perplexed. “I’ve never seen any!” was his reply to the official.

“But I do raise livestock guardian dogs. I have several here, mostly Kangals.”

“Then that may be why you haven’t seen or had any wolves in your area,” the official replied.

Bernell went on to share that this phone call caused him to re-think his strategy of running LGD’s. Prior to this, his main concern had always been coyotes and smaller predators. Faced with wolf packs however, Ed has since decided up his numbers of LGD’s that he runs, thus increasing his protection over his goat herd.

“I also try to get across to potential customers how important it is to run the right number of dogs to fend off wolves. People seem to think one or two LGD’s can do the trick. That is wrong. You must fight fire with fire.....and running more than just one or two LGD’s also increases the chances of your dogs surviving a wolf attack. It protects your LGD’s and your livestock.”

Running the appropriate number of guardian dogs will differ from one situation to the next. Factors that need to be considered include, but are not limited to:

Brush or tree cover
Line of sight
Size of area
Number of livestock
Predator load
Predator types
Stockman’s presence or lack of
Fencing or lack of fencing
Age, experience, health and types of LGD’s
Other non-lethal means used in addition to LGD’s

Wolf packs can range from as little as three to as many as twenty - or more. For most ranchers, running twenty LGD’s is fiscally not possible. However, many report success in repelling wolf attacks from cattle, sheep or goats using as small a pack as four to six dogs. One Canadian client of mine runs around eight to ten dogs in country that carries a heavy predator load, and reports no losses since turning to running LGD’s in a pack - along with the regular use of protective spike collars.

In most successful LGD pack situations there is a combination of breeds used, incorporating both perimeter patrolling dogs and those that prefer to lie in and stay closer to the stock.

My personal experience is that there does not exist a single LGD breed out there that can accomplish it all, or is the ‘ultimate answer’ when it comes to wolf predation, and that is why I breed and run a mixture of LGD breeds, from heavy, slower, powerful Spanish and Pyrenean Mastiffs to the swifter Kangal and Anatolian/Maremma crosses. I feel that each breed has something special to bring to the table, and if raised together from puppyhood in a pack, many breeds together can combine forces to be able to make most predators think twice on picking on their livestock.

The ultimate goal is to dissuade the wolves from choosing an ‘easy meal’, and ultimately, making them go elsewhere to hunt. Ideally, there is little if any confrontation between the two thus saving the rancher the heartache of injured or killed LGD’s, and serving the conservationist’s goal of preserving the predators and not resorting to lethal measures.

Running LGD’s in a large pack is an art, and part science tempered with some luck. Not all dogs work or meld well in a pack situation. And, if they were not raised amongst a pack of dogs as pups, it can take some time to transition a pup or young dog into a pack hierarchy.

As someone who breeds LGD’s full time and runs an adult and adolescent pack of twenty to twenty two dogs at any given time, not including litters, I can vouch for the amount of work it takes and dedication on the part of the owner. The rancher or farmer must be extremely confident in their dog handling abilities or they won’t last long in this endeavor. Those not comfortable around very large or giant LGD breeds with a reputation for thinking on their own, will probably not succeed, or at best, have limited success running a large pack of LGD’s, and would perhaps be better off trying to incorporate other non-lethal means into their retinue of protection options for their livestock.

Successes are out there. Ed Bernell in Montana is one such case; also in Montana a cattle rancher reports great success using four Komodor/Akbash cross LGD’s who live with the cattle full time; the Lockhart Ranch of Debden, Saskatchewan is another using a large pack of LGD’s to protect sheep and cattle; since I began running LGDs in a large pack here the coyotes and lion have stayed clear of the area surrounding my ranch, and my dogs have killed stray dogs attempting to attack either my livestock or my neighbor’s.

In a recent Farm Show Magazine article contributing editor Jim Ruen did a small write up on my dogs called “Pack Raised Dogs Fight Harder”. Indeed, I have noticed that pups coming up through the ranks of a large dog pack are by nature, exposed to more conflict and play fighting than they would otherwise. From puppyhood, they learn how to tackle one another and defend themselves, as they’d need to as adults if attacked by feral dogs, wolves or lion. I liken this to the ‘school of hard knocks’ you often hear people refer to, and just like with people, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

In that regard, I note many of my clients tell me time and again, my pack raised pups seem to be more savvy, confident and capable at earlier ages than pups they have bought from non-pack raised environments, and again, I attribute this not so much to my upbringing, but to the lessons the pup has learned from my large pack.

Repelling predators is more than just picking the right color or breed of LGD; much more. More often with LGD’s its a numbers game, combined with the use of other strategies of non-lethal measures, and as always, participation and willingness to think out of the box on the part of the stockman.

Three "Old World" LGD breeds that can help amp up your non-lethal predator control include:

The Kangal: Swift, intense, primitive, intelligent and capable of covering a lot of territory, this ancient Turkish breed is an excellent choice for experienced LGD handlers in big predator country. Their courage in confrontations with predators is legendary, as is their endurance and strength.

Spanish Mastiffs: Native to Spain, the heavyweights of the LGD world have enormous strength and power; although slower than lighter breeds, they stay close to their livestock and are extremely formidable in a fight. A complex breed, they are somewhat aloof, steady and trustworthy with their owner but usually highly suspicious of strangers.

Pyrenean Mastiffs: Another Spanish breed, related to but larger than its French relative, the Great Pyrenees, this docile appearing giant has tremendous courage, tenacity and a fierce protective instinct, and is extremely intelligent. They are very people-friendly as a whole and make a great LGD for smaller family farmsteads with more human presence.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The First Double Bred Abelgas Litter born in the USA

My "C" Litter of Spanish Mastiffs was born October 17th.  The pups are now just a tad over three weeks of age and in the barn between my hen house and the sheep.

Furiano de Puerto Canencia (Baruc de Puerto Canencia x Yeza de Abelgas) x Tioda de Abelgas 

Out of 13 pups, 10 have made it (one stillborn, one faded at one week and mama accidentally laid on one).   They are active, keen and advanced for their young ages.  Their straw bedding is interlaced with tufts of sheep wool so they are used to the smell of the sheep.  They will be getting their first exposure and introduction to the sheep this coming week, and the chickens as well.

For true, purebred working Spanish Mastiff bloodlines, I don't think it can get much better than this.  Both Furiano and "LaReina" are outstanding guardians, calm, never overly aggressive, tough and serious.   Furiano, a staggering 36" tall, is a popular dog with all of my guests.  He is affectionate with children and of steady mind and sound body.  Although both dogs have plenty of loose skin, they are both fit and well proportioned and travel well with ease.  They both possess classically beautiful heads and profiles.

And both parents, although not hip tested yet (their official OFA testing is on my bucket list for 2014) they both come from multi-generations of HD free rated brood stock.

I am proud to say that Abelgas Kennel breeder Gregorio Fidalgo Tejdor in Spain is very pleased with the great looks of this promising litter.

Below, daddy checks in on his pups.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

My Third Spanish Mastiff Litter is Due in Mid October

Furiano de Puerto Canencia (Baruc de Puerto Canencia x Yeza de Abelgas) has been successfully bred to Tioda de Abelgas for a mid October Litter "C".  These should be amazing pups!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Argenta in her Sheep

Daddy's girl, showing great potential at just under four months of age.  Furiano de Puerto Canencia x Zaca Tornado Erben "A" Litter.  The calm, serious but kind and nurturing demeanor of this great breed is refreshing and a welcome switch from LGD breeds that are always seemingly 'on' and hyper, barking or charging around constantly and overreacting.  I like to call the SM "The Thinking Man's LGD" because they themselves are so intelligent and discerning, even at a young age, if brought up properly.

How these pups are raised makes it or breaks any breed of LGD.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Spanish Mastiff Pups in my Sheep

At 8 1/2 weeks, showing steady interest, calm demeanors and confidence when in the sheep.  Being raised in a huge pack has given these pups a leg up on others who don't get this wonderful experience and the unique opportunity to learn from elder dogs and up and coming, doting adolescents like my half Spanish Mastiff girls Rose and Pilar.

My pups are never pressed, hurried or forced upon the sheep.  I take longer perhaps than others to bring them into what will be their full life ahead.  But by taking it in steps and not rushing, I have found the pups have sounder minds, exhibit far more confidence and enjoyment out of guarding.

At present, I own the most Spanish Mastiffs of anyone in the USA and own the most imports of anyone.  Down the road in the near future, I hope to bring over another pup from Spain - from Abelgas, of course.

I am holding back three pups from these two litters I have here now for future breedings.  Two more litters are planned this year out of Furiano and La Reina and Pia.

I can't say enough good about this breed and think its suffered from unpopularity in this country due mostly to the show-focused breeders (namely Lois Jordan, puppy mill Anne Latimer Goetz and others) who have corrupted the breed's reputation here in trying to AKC recognize it and pushing show conformation standards on it, while ignoring the guarding instinct.  Ah, but that's all being pushed aside now as someone who really seriously cares about these dogs being used for their original purpose is breeding them now...yup, and that someone be moi.

These dogs are truly unique and different than Akbash, Pyrenees, Kangals, and other popular LGD breeds.  But they have their own charm, and strengths.  Not for everyone, but for those who are the right match - nothing else will suffice.....

And meanwhile, the stalwart survivors of the mega-B litter (16 - an American record for the breed matching the record in Europe) are 5 weeks old, in the barn next to the sheep, and getting their sea legs and gumption to explore more and more.  Many are turning brindle like their sire, Xanto, and one is a dapper 'Boston Terrier' marked, stunning male going to a customer who owns one of my "Oops" SM cross pups from 2012 litters.  I'll be holding back a female from this Tornado Erben / Abelgas cross.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Spanish Mastiff Litter "B" - First Abelgas Pups Born in the USA

We had a C-section to get the remaining pups out of intrepid Loba.  Final tally after a start of 16: 8 females and two males.  Mother settled in now and doing fine...pups fat and sassy and she has plenty of milk.  These dogs will be very powerful guardians, and I probably will hold back a female from this litter.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

First Purebred Spanish Mastiff Litter to be Born in Nevada....

Zaca outdid herself........she had 12 pups (the last female expired in the birth sac) - we have 11, hefty, healthy, stunning pups in deep, rich solid colors and rare brindles.  7 males, 4 females.....  And hats off to daddy Furiano who is obviously a very virile and healthy young stud dog.

Finally, America: a purebred litter out of working Spanish Mastiffs.  I look forward to lots of these guys proving themselves out there in predator control.

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