Saturday, January 30, 2016

Spring & Barn Lambing: Perfect Time & Place to Start LGD Pups

Spring & Barn Lambing:
Perfect Time & Place to Start LGD Pups

© 2016 Brenda M. Negri
Cinco Deseos Ranch LGDs

For many sheep owners, the melting of snow and first sighting of a blooming crocus is accompanied by the bleats of newborn lambs.  Late winter and early spring is also a time when many operators invest in a new Livestock Guardian puppy to rear up with older dogs, or, as a first time purchase.  The operator lambing out his ewes in an enclosed building or barn, has a great opportunity to rear newly acquired LGD pups in a perfect setting. Here are some tips and ideas to help operators bring up confident and solid future flock guardian while taking advantage of their barn or enclosed building lambing set up.

First, the Basics

What is the goal?  To rear a stable minded, confident flock guardian pup who will provide flock protection when mature. How does the operator achieve that?

1.     If this is the operator’s first LGD experience, make certain to buy only a “real” LGD breed or LGD breeds crossed with other, legitimate LGD breeds. For those who are new to LGDs, here’s a partial list of recognized LGD breeds:

Great Pyrenees
Pyrenean Mastiff
Anatolian Shepherd
Spanish Mastiff
Polish Tatra
Turkish Kangal

The puppy buyer should do diligent homework on what breed possesses the temperament, guarding style, and traits they need or prefer, and which they find most suitable to their own operation.  What works for one farm, may be less desirable for another. 
2.     Pups should never leave their dam and litter before 8 weeks of age; between 10-12 weeks is recommended, as it has given the pup time to learn crucial development skills from its dam and littermates.
3.     It’s always preferable to buy from healthy, proven working parent stock from working bloodlines. 
4.     The operator should buy from a trusted breeder who produces healthy dogs of quality.  It may cost more in the beginning but will pay off in the end.  Regardless, the pup will have to be fed whether he’s junk or first rate; why not opt for the latter?
5.     Make sure the pup has had its first series of puppy shots – not just one – and has been dewormed several times before leaving home.  A vet check is also strongly encouraged once the pup arrives home.  If the breeder hems and haws on any health related questions you may have, or offers no references or guarantees, then keep looking.  Don’t settle for second rate.

Lambing Barn is Golden Opportunity

First of all, the benefits to lambing out in a barn for the producer are many:

         Confinement eliminates threats from predators
         All under one roof eases management & reduces effort
         Protection from the elements can lessen sickness, reduce loss
         Operational ease can reduce labor and lower costs

Those who lamb out their ewes in barns or enclosed buildings, have a golden opportunity for introducing young LGD pups to their future charges. Inside the building, lambing jugs are built which typically are small, portable pens where the ewe and her lamb(s) can safely stay, perhaps under a heat lamp, in a comfy straw bed for warmth.  Often there are holding areas for about-to-lamb ewes, and on larger operations, an area where the ewes and lambs are mingled after being removed from their jugs.

Because the ewes are restrained in their jugs or in small pens, this is a safe environment for a pup, and a great way introduce puppies to sheep.  Everyone is close in, out of the elements, under the operator’s gaze, and easily monitored and in a controlled environment.

If the new pup comes from a working home, the sounds and smells in the lambing barn will be familiar to the pup.  What will be different is: no mamma, and maybe no littermates! Buying sibling pups however reduces the shock of leaving his birthplace.  They have each other to “lean on” for the first few stressful weeks away from their birth home.  That is one less stressor for the pups, and a huge confidence builder (refer to my previous article, Sibling Success! Advantages of Littermate Guardian Dogs in the September/October Vol. 36, No. 5 issue of sheep! Magazine). 

We all recognize sheep have personalities.  Everyone has had that bottle- raised ewe with a sweet and calm nature.  If the operator has a couple of gentle, calmer ewes in their flock, these are the girls to position in the lambing barn, nearest the pups, they can be introduced to their lambs preferably first.  A patient ewe can instill respect and confidence in a pup, instead of frightening it by being too rough.

Adult Mentors & Outside the Barn Time

If the operator has an older, trustworthy LGD, the mentor dog can be in the barn with the pups during lambing.  After introducing the pups to the older dog, supervision may be necessary to make sure that the old dog accepts and tolerates the youngster.  Puppies mimic and follow adult leads.  They naturally take direction at this stage in their life, so a good teacher dog is a huge benefit. 

In a lambing barn, if the jugs are set up in rows, pups can be allowed to roam in the straw filled aisles, totally surrounded by sheep and lambs.  Yet they will not be vulnerable to an overly protective ewe who might head butt the pup and injure or even kill it.  This way, the pup still experiences that “total immersion” in stock that so many promote, but is allowed to be a puppy as well, to stretch its legs, to gambol and play with a littermate, to rest, all under the watchful eye of the mentor, older dog….and the shepherd!

Allowing pups to go outside of the lambing barn, explore the barnyard and property, is important to develop a well-rounded, confident LGD.  It’s recommended under supervision and/or with the older mentor dog(s).  Walking the property perimeters by the owner and adult LGDs showing the pups their boundaries is a great exercise for reinforcing the pup’s understanding of what is “his”.  Pups will learn to “mark” their territory by following the older dog’s lead, urinating in field corners to leave “sign” to predators to “stay out”.  These outside treks and time spent away from the sheep also accomplishes the following:

         Stimulation for pup’s psychological and emotional growth
         Boosts pup’s confidence and self-assurance
         Exercise necessary to develop muscles and coordination
         Burn off extra energy instead of taking it out on lambs
         Exposure to other livestock and animals other than just sheep
         Exposure to noises, traffic, visitors, ATV’s, tractors, crew, etc.

Watching Sheep, Watching Pups

How many people take the time to just sit in a chair in their lambing barn, and just revel in the miracles of birth going on about them?  Take a comfy chair, have a percolating pot of coffee nearby, and maybe the latest issue of sheep! Magazine, and sit down in your lambing barn, and enjoy your sheep!  By doing this, a pup can see his owner’s relaxed mood, and shared dedication to the flock.  This can send a very powerful signal to that puppy.  He will realize that the operator is part of the whole package as well, and this will strengthen his devotion and vigilance.  Young pups look to their new masters for direction, guidance, support and affection that they left behind with their mother and litter. 

Lambs are naturally curious and gentle by nature.  So are baby pups!  Encourage your pup’s good behavior around lambs by giving him a tasty bone or treat.  The operator can take this barn lambing opportunity to build his pups confidence and trust not just in the sheep but in himself, and the owner as well.  When a human sits down in a low stool or a chair around a dog sends a powerful calming signal to the animal.   European dog behaviorist, Turid Rugaas, has written a world-famous book on the subject of how humans can send calming signals to dogs by better understanding and mimicking their gestures and movements.  Rugaas’ book, On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, goes into great yet simple detail on how to achieve this. 

Rodney Kott, Extension Sheep Specialist at Montana State University also summed it up in his paper, Managing the Sheep Flock During the Lambing Season:

Perhaps one of the most important and least stressed management tools available to sheep producers is observation. A complete knowledge of sheep production is useless if producers do not have the ability, or more appropriately stated, do not take the time to recognize problems as they arise. A part of a producer's daily routine should include close observation of all ewes and lambs. You would be surprised at the amount of things you would see by spending just thirty minutes per day looking at your sheep. After a few weeks you would know your sheep very well. You would know how they normally act, move, play, eat, etc. You will be able to tell when they are not feeling well. This will give you a head start on identifying problems during lambing.

Bringing up an LGD pup in a lambing barn with its bustle of activity, smells and sights, not only promotes good shepherding and provides a safe venue for ewes and lambs, but also a safe and secure area to bring up a young LGD.  It adds to the operator’s comfort, something very few will argue against!  Great beginnings for pups can produce great, solid LGDs and that is what the operator should strive for.  Take advantage of lambing out your ewes in a barn, and use it for your LGD pup’s “preschool”!