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.

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