Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Protect Your Poultry with Livestock Guardian Dogs

Protect Your Poultry
With Livestock Guardian Dogs
by
Brenda M. Negri

Copyright 2015 Countryside Magazine
November/December 2015
Photos courtesy of 
Barbara Judd, Froghaven Farm, WA





Free-ranging poultry is all the rage these days as cage-free eggs from “happier, healthier hens” bring premium market value, and undisputed health benefits for the consumer.  With this freedom however, comes risk: free-ranging fowl is a predator magnet, often drawing in foxes, raccoons, feral dog packs, coyotes, birds of prey, and in some areas even mountain lion, bear and wolves.  Many of these predators have a beneficial place in our ecosystem and are “here to stay”.  So what is the homesteader to do when they are attracted to your flock for their next meal?

Enter the Livestock Guardian Dog, or as they are commonly referred to as, LGDs.  These breeds from the Old Country are highly coveted for their instinct to guard livestock from depredation.  Breeds such as the Great Pyrenees, Kuvasz, Maremma, Pyrenean Mastiff, Anatolian, Spanish Mastiff, Polish Tatra and others, have for centuries protected sheep, cattle, horses, swine and goats in their native countries of Spain, Poland, Italy, France and Turkey.  Now a regular sight on many family farms, with proper selection, care and training, LGDs can also keep prized hens, guineas, turkeys and other fowl safe from predators.



Washington State hobby farmer and heritage Buckeye chicken producer Barbara Judd was a first time LGD prospective buyer and owner when she contacted me at my Cinco Deseos Ranch LGDs in Nevada, querying about the availability of pups.  My Italian import Pyrenean Mastiff female Atena had just produced a whopping 16 puppy litter out of my Great Pyrenees male, Peso.  In this colorful batch of pups were two small females I affectionately dubbed “the Pockets” whom Barbara immediately fell in love with and named Lucy and Patty.  When she explained to me what her goal was – rearing these pups to protect chickens – I cautioned her, as fowl is typically the most difficult to train LGDs on.  Clucking and flapping and fussing hens present a temptation few pups can resist chasing!  But luckily for Barbara, I’d started introducing this litter to my flock of 40 layers and roosters, so the prospect of her plan, although a challenge, was one I was up to and excited to see how the pups would fare.

The eventual outcome, neither of us saw coming.  Once Barbara took home her pups at about 10 weeks of age, she continued Patty and Lucy’s training.  She fine-tuned and in all honesty surpassed me in Chicken Guarding 101 for those pups.  What made it so incredible was the fact that she was a first time LGD owner with zero exposure to LGDs – breeds who are entirely different than pet breeds in their make up, instincts and behaviors.  She became a beacon of hope and a shining example of what a person can accomplish if they follow some basic rules.  I tapped into her expertise to share with readers, and following are some key points to follow and remember.

~~~~~~




Buy healthy, vaccinated and de-wormed LGD pups from proven, working parents.  Make sure parents are both recognized LGD breeds; crosses with non-LGD breeds are high risk and unpredictable.

Breeder track record and credibility are important for future support and advice. You want pups with early exposure to fowl before you take them home at 10 weeks or older.

Count on this process to take several weeks, into months. 

Plan on daily “Chicken 101” training for your pups.  Make it a “reward” time with positive reinforcement – Judd typically gave her pups a treat before every “class”, and soon, they were reminding her it was time for school.

Get the pups tired out with activity such as a perimeter walk of your barnyard or active play before you engage them in training.  This takes the “edge” off a rambunctious pup.

Use older, less flighty hens for training.  Keep chickens and pups in a small area while you sit with them. 

Aim for the pups to ignore the chickens.  If you catch them staring at chickens, turn their heads or put your hand briefly over their eyes.

Discipline any inappropriate behavior from the start with a consistent noise you make to show dissatisfaction.  Don’t tie a dead chicken around a pup’s neck as punishment: this is confusing to the pup and does not discourage or accomplish anything.

Make the chicken area a calm, quiet area.  This means no yapping pet dogs, no screaming toddlers during training time.  Keep distractions to a minimum.

Positive reinforce their good behavior by giving them big soup bones to chew on while they lay quietly in the coop area with their charges.

Do not force the class for a given period of time.  10-15 minute classes are best.

End on a positive note.  If the pups appear to be getting tired, irritated or annoyed, END the session BEFORE anything “awful” happens.

Don’t let misbehavior discourage you. Mistakes are part of the process.

Expect these to be somewhat intense but short training sessions where you are right there, not yards away.  This is YOU participating, hands on.  Take a chair, sit down, observe, correct, praise.

As the pups progress you will be able to extend the time they are inside with the chickens.  But do so slowly.  If you have a day of setbacks, give them the rest of the day off, and start fresh in the morning.

Weather changes can affect pups’ activity: if it’s been hot and suddenly turns cold, they may be more rambunctious. Keep that in mind when you train.

If you have pet dogs regularly harassing your fowl, don’t let them mingle with your LGDs as they’ll impart bad habits.  Keep the pet dogs away from the fowl at all times.

With consistency and patience, Barbara Judd has helped Patty and Lucy reach an impressive level of success as solid chicken guardians.  They now keep predators from her precious flock and she has never lost any fowl since bringing in her “dynamic duo”. 








Monday, October 26, 2015

Close Guarding LGDs vs. Far Ranging LGDs: What is best for YOU???

Welcome new readers.  2,990 of you were on this blog in just one day last week, a new record for me.  This blog is now averaging well over 600 hits a day - over 1,800 on some days - and I'm glad you found it.  Please share it on your Facebook, Twitter and Google accounts as much as you like.

As you've already figured out, I don't tip toe around tulips here; I shoot straight from the hip and cut through the politically correct crap being spewed about LGDs elsewhere.  Too many armchair "LGD experts" with minimal credentials or credibility have flooded the LGD world with a lot of very questionable if not downright terrible advice.  Too many people have been led down the wrong path by all this bad information.  Too many flash in the pan breeders are out there, people who can give zero support because they don't even know what the hell they are doing themselves let alone being able to help a customer.

Some people have made terrible choices in LGDs or mistakes, and they and the dogs are paying for it. Many people run out and get LGDs when they don't need one. 

I hope by sharing my experiences over these past years living in my large pack of LGDs on my ranch, I can expose you to a more successful and meaningful experience with your LGDs. By showing you how to understand them better, how you yourself must participate, how to make better choices in breeds or crosses for your set up, and importantly, further prodding you to always respect these great dogs as more than "disposable tools", I'm hopeful you can glean enough from this blog or my website, www.lgdnevada.com, to improve your LGD relationship.  

Of course, the main focus of this blog is also the breed I hold most dear, the magnificent Spanish Mastiff.  You will find my insights to the breed are unique in this country, and the Spanish Mastiffs I've bred and have working all over the USA have quickly become the new standard of excellence in the breed in America.  Again, thanks for finding and sharing this blog.  

Well, you are here to learn…so again, thanks for reading, and now back to class!

~~~~~~

There are a lot of LGD breeds out there to choose from.  They are not all the same.  Some are defined as "close guarding". Others, prefer to patrol perimeters.  Others, even farther ranging, are predisposed to go out, often 100's of yards, if not miles, and hunt down predators. 

The time to think about what "style" of guarding works best in your situation is before you get your LGDs.  It will take some honest introspection on your part, and perhaps resisting the "glamour" of exotic breeds for what really makes the most sense for YOU.  That means you say "no" to that litter of temptation if the breed would be a train wreck.

The huge commercial open range operator's needs are not the same as a small hobby farm, homestead or ranch under 40 or 60 acres, under fence.  Those smaller set ups would probably fare best with close guarding breeds who prefer to stay close to their livestock.



By "stay close", I mean lay near or within the stock at all times, not just checking in once a day.  I mean dogs who want to be near stock, all the time.  I mean, if something is threatening the flock, the dog stays near it or in it.  If something comes along, over at the fence line, they might investigate or go run it off - or, if you run a combo of perimeter ranging dogs with close guarding, your close guarding dogs will stay with the stock, and let the perimeter crew check out the possible threat.  That is one of the reasons why some people run a combo of guarding styles in their LGDs so that they are covered on all (or most) bases.  Maremmas are a popular close guarding breed in the US.

LGD crosses are everywhere.  I have bred some great ones.  However, I'll be the first to warn you, with crosses, its always a crap shoot what the dog will guard like, especially if someone takes super opposite breeds and crosses them.  You might have one or two pups be close guarding, and the rest far ranging, or ??  Or?  You'll never know, until they are grown.  Keep that in mind when you are trying to decide on what works best.



Great Pyrenees are a wonderful example of a breed that likes to patrol the boundaries of its pastures and check things out.  They also will roam if not fenced in…in some instances, quite far off.  My three Pyrs, Pinta, Peso and Petra, will regularly go to the back fields and fences to check out threats, while my closer guarding breeds, Spanish Mastiffs and Pyrenean Mastiffs, stay with the sheep and cattle.  Before my fences were tight, my Pyrenees went on saunters that often turned in to several miles.  Not good!  But once my fences were tight, those escapes came to an abrupt end.

The two more far ranging dogs I have are Pak (pictured above) and Pala, "the Mafia Brothers" - half Maremma and half Anatolian.  Now here is where crap shoot of cross breeding, "hybrid vigor" and guessing what parent the cross will take after, enters the scene.  

In both boys, the Anatolian father prevailed in guarding styles.  Although Pala resembles a gorgeous Maremma on steroids, neither he or brother Pak took after their more sedate, closer guarding and nurturing Maremma mother.  Instead, they took after their ball busting far ranging father, a huge pure white Anatolian I met when I picked the boys up from their large scale commercial, open range sheep outfit outside of Elko, Nevada.  Running on unfenced terrain with coyote, lion, bear  and yes, even wolves are coming into this area - the LGDs for this operation had to be tough and willing to confront danger and the producer who had herders with the dogs and flocks, wanted far ranging dogs.  The operators switched from running only Maremmas to bringing in an Anatolian and crossing it on the Maremmas.  They later bought two pups back from me - out of Pak, and a Kangal female I owned.  In short, they decided to go with far ranging dogs - Kangals are champions at far ranging - and were phasing out the Maremmas.

The only problem with doing this is that if all your dogs are off hunting down Mr. Bear or Wile E. Coyote, where does that put your sheep?  In harm's way, because there are no dogs staying with the sheep.  If they are all out chasing predators, that is not the answer, either.


Again, running a combo of guarding styles can work well for those of you running on enough acreage that will keep the far ranging breeds content.  Here's where the rubber meets the road.  Akbash, Anatolians, Kangals and other breeds like to explore and need ample space to remain content.  If they don't have enough room, they often make it by simply jumping over or digging under your fence lines.  So, if you are small acreage, your best bet is a close guarding breed - or, make sure your fences are tight and good to run a combo of guarding types.  

When LGDs were introduced to this country in the 1970's unfortunately the breeds picked by the "experts" - people we now realize were perhaps not the best choice - ran heavy on the 'far ranging' front.  Unfortunately the government didn't bring in Polish Tatras - a close guarding breed - or Spanish Mastiffs.  They started out with mostly turkish based breeds that are far ranging by nature.  Well all good and dandy for Mr. Big Open Range producer but the average family hobby farm, didn't need that kind of protection especially when it was usually over at the neighbor's or five miles away.


Breeds and Guarding Styles

Close Guarding

Polish Tatra (almost impossible to find in the US), Spanish Mastiff, Maremma, Pyrenean Mastiff

Farther Ranging

Great Pyrenees (perhaps not to the extreme of other breeds), Akbash, Anatolian, Kangal, Kuvasz, Komodor (some guard close but they can be extremely territorial)

I'm leaving out many of the exotic breeds because honestly, the jury seems to be still out on the actual 'guarding style' for many of them.  If you talk to breeders of these mostly Eastern Bloc countries' LGD breeds, just be sure to cut through the puppy sales pitch and hype, and don't be shy about getting second and third opinions on what the breed really guards like.  What most of them seem to share is a distinct need for ample socialization in order to be safely handled and used around people.

A quick recap:

Smaller (5-40) acreage under fence set ups would probably do best with closer guarding breeds, and perhaps running them with some far ranging breeds for maximum coverage in heavy predator load areas as long as the producer accepts the responsibility of keeping those far ranging dogs satisfied and content to stay home and not ten miles away.  Again, good fences make good neighbors - make sure your's are tall and tight!

Larger(40+) acres and open range/public lands operators probably do best with dogs who will travel and range farther out. However, within reason; the LGD who likes to be a mile away from his flock is no use to a good shepherd because he's left his sheep alone and unattended. Again, here's where the smart guys on open range use a combo of guarding types, both close and farther ranging.  Minimize your loss risks and dog up smart!











Monday, October 19, 2015

Mastin Espanol: The Close Guarding King of Livestock Guardian Dogs





I have an LGD consulting service where I help people out with issues concerning their LGDs.  Its been fun and quite successful in that I've helped people resolve problems or better yet, stopped them from making mistakes.

Here are some redacted (to honor confidentiality) samples and stories of what I've fielded lately.  I wish in some of these cases I could say I was making them up…sadly, I didn't have to.  These are all too real:

"Thanks for helping get the word out that my LGDs were missing in Grass Valley (Nevada).  I finally found my Anatolian LGDs.  Trucker picked them up. They were 20 miles south, on the highway…"

"Reaching out to you for help, we switched over to Caucasians (sic) Shepherds (CAS) because our Great Pyrenees did not seem to be assertive enough in running off predators. I heard CAS were more aggressive.  Now, ____ and ____ are TOO aggressive….snapping at neighbors, pacing our fences day and night, and they seem to always be dissatisfied with something.  We are afraid of a lawsuit…."

"My neighbor has three Anatolians.  One of them is incredibly unstable and a dishonest dog.  It grabbed the senior Anatolian by the neck in a death grip the other day and tried to kill it."

"I'm hoping you can help me.  My farm in _____ raises _____ sheep.  Having a huge issue with my guardian dogs not staying on the farm. They are Akbash…. They don't seem to be able to or want to, stay put.  They also attack the sheep and chew on lambs after supposedly being raised on sheep."

"I love my Kangal, only problem is he easily clears our 6 ft. fence.  He is gone.  Again."

"Having issues with my Sarplaninac.  We heard the breed needed a lot of socialization.  So we did that.  But he is dangerously standoffish with strangers and we cannot turn our backs on him if someone is here to visit…. This is not acceptable behavior. We socialized this dog a lot as a pup. Help!"

"_______'s herder had to shoot eight Akbash.  They left our sheep band went into the cattle feedlot, and started killing calves…"

…..

Notice the reoccurring theme here: the breed/breeds do not stay where they are supposed to, and/or exhibit excessive bloodlust and/or aggression.

…..

As the ever-behind the curve USDA Wildlife Services continues to hype their latest excuse for buying round trip tickets to Eastern Europe and Turkey for some of their pet LGD breeders and "experts", under the guise of experimenting with exotic "new LGD breeds" in America, one thing consistently becomes clear: no one at the higher echelons of mostly self-appointed "LGD experts" out there, especially in our government, seems to know what the hell they are doing.

And you, the American sheepman, cattle rancher, homesteader and farmer, are the sap who pays for it.

Training of American farmer and rancher LGD owners is never spoken of in this country.  But then there's no free tickets to exotic locales involved with that mundane chore.  Too much work and effort.  So you are left on your own to cobble together information out of half-truth and Internet blather plastered all over Facebook groups by people with dubious backgrounds and no experience.

Instead of helping LGD owners with education, instead, exotic, usually Eastern Bloc or Turkish LGD breeds have been, and currently are, being pushed on the American farmer as being the "cure all" for his predator ills by the USDA.

Kangals.  Cao de Gado Transmontanos.  Akbash.  Komodors.  Sarplaninacs.  Bulgarian Karakachans.  Anatolians.  And the bogus fighting breed, "Boz Shepherds".

Promoters of these mostly Eastern Bloc and Turkish breeds are usually also front and center bashing a much more popular and over-all highly dependable, stable and gentle breed - the most popular LGD breed in America, the trusted Great Pyrenees.  Another breed they will often bash for being "too soft" is the Maremma.  Both the Maremma and the Pyrenees are frequently criticized by these people as being "not aggressive enough" or "insufficient" by those hyping Sarplaninacs, Caucasian Ovcharkas, Kangals and other "exotic"and more high strung, hyper and/or aggressive LGD breeds.

…..



Ironically, in all my consulting, I only rarely get a query about an issue concerning Maremmas or Great Pyrenees, and I don't get any complaints from people about Spanish Mastiffs.

Spanish Mastiffs don't jump over six foot fences.

The well bred ones (like mine) are extremely stable, self-confident and trustworthy.

Spanish Mastiffs don't make a habit of killing other LGDs.

Spanish Mastiffs don't disappear and take 20 mile hikes when you turn your back.

They don't bark excessively.

They are a magnanimous breed that can exhibit mercy, a trait some LGD breeds wouldn't know about if it hit them over the head.

Spanish Mastiffs stay in and close to livestock, not five miles away chasing down imagined threats.

They exhibit, perhaps more than any other breed I've been around, unique discernment.  A regal presence.  An innate presence of self - of who they are - and they don't have to shout, snarl or kill something to prove it.

Spanish Mastiffs are incredibly stable. They lack blood thirst.  Although an adult male SM could easily kill most LGD breeds half its size, they exhibit mercy and discernment.

A customer of mine with two huge (200 pounds each) SM litter mates tells me of the occasion when a family member's Great Dane decided to take on one of her SM boys.  Although the Spanish Mastiff could have easily killed the Dane, it allowed it to pester and attack him.  It tolerated it.  Only at the end, did he finally grab the dog and flip it over and end the spat.  The owner was able to break them up.  No dog was hurt more than a few scratches.  A less merciful breed would have killed the Dane, or run up one hell of a vet bill.

Spanish Mastiffs seem to be above mere 'bloodlust'.   Above the indiscriminate actions of some other LGD breeds who will "blank out" and push things to the end in a blind frenzy.  Spanish Mastiffs don't do that.  And if they are cornered, and pressed, they will prevail usually, but they give "the other guy" the chance to back out.  Graciously.

In other words, much less risky than a less discerning breed of LGD with bloodlust.

Because the Spanish Mastiff has not been ruined (yet) by show ribbon breeders, psuedo-guardian dog breeders, or puppy mills, there exists a purity of guarding instinct within the breed.  Unlike some exotic Eastern Bloc country LGD breeds famous for being used by the military and police, the Spanish Mastiff has not been tainted by such use. Unlike some Turkish breeds that are heavily fought in dog fights in Turkey, the Spanish Mastiff has not been used for that.

The breed remains true to its original functionality.   They have not been corrupted and ruined from generations of bad breeding in Spain.

Excess aggression is not what is required to be a good livestock guardian dog. Brains, discernment, courage, heart, stability in temperament and a solid foundation and core are what matter the most.

…..

When someone tells me that Sarplaninacs are noted sometimes for herding kids around, and when I get a consulting query about one such as referenced in the beginning of this post, that raises a big red flag.  It tells me that breed has prey drive in it.  And LGDs should not have prey drive.

Strike one.

Sheep?  What sheep?  A Sarplaninac being trained for the
Yugoslavian People's Army.  Depending on who's talking about them, either a mostly
military-trained and bred breed with an extremely 'iffy' temperament, or a bear eating flock protector.  Either way, you have to wonder if this breed is what the average American farmer can handle or really needs on most smaller farms with light predator loads.  They are quite small compared to a Spanish Mastiff, so what chance does one really stand against our larger variety of wolves…?

When I have a Kangal (and I did have several) who tries to kill one of my Great Pyrenees in a spat that was basically over nothing, I know I have a problem.  Strike two.

When I hear about a Kangal actually killing two Pyrenees in Canada, I know THEY have an even bigger problem than me.

Strike three.



The elegant and complex Kangal.  Been here, done this, don't do it anymore.
If you run livestock on open range, or on 100+ acres - great breed. On a 5-40 acre patch of grass?  
Forget it.  The Kangal is a tough, smart but somewhat fragile when it comes to its emotions, fighting and guardian breed, that can blow up into a nightmare when ill-bred, ill-reared or placed in the wrong hands.  Unfortunately too many snob show breeders in America are doing just that: ruining them.
So now they - and the closely related Anatolian - are getting dumped in rescues and shelters by the droves as hobby farmers realize too late, they got in over their heads.  More and more reports of "unstable" and "neurotic" Anatolians surface.  Inexperienced, junk breeders are to blame….

When I hear countless complaints about roaming Anatolians and Akbash who are mauling lambs and escaping every time a farmer turns his back, I know that this is another example of farmers using the wrong LGD breeds, and expecting the impossible out of breeds that were developed to work on much bigger, unfenced terrains than the average American farmer or rancher can provide for them.

Game over.

Meanwhile, the true purebred working Spanish Mastiff remains one of the best close guarding LGD breeds out there.  If not THE best.  I mean, mine are.  But of course, I'm slightly prejudiced.

Next, Close Guarding LGDs vs. Far Ranging LGDs: What Is Best for YOU?