Tips for the care, management of animals to protect livestock
Predation of livestock has long been one of the main sources of conflict between humans and wildlife, resulting in control methods an attempt to reduce livestock losses.
Livestock guardian animals are a way for producers to bridge the gap.
Livestock guardians have been an effective form of predator control for farmers and ranchers globally for centuries.
Typically, most guardians oversee herds of goats and flocks of sheep and chickens, although they are not limited to these types of stock.
As with any animal who is required to perform a job well, there is training and management that will need to take place to set the dog, llama or donkey up for success. A well trained and well-kept guardian will provide years of dedicated service and peace of mind.
Livestock Guardian Dogs
Dogs are a popular choice as protectors. When selecting a livestock guardian dog (LGD), do not select a herding breed. Herding and guarding are two entirely different jobs. Herding dogs (such as Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Heelers) view livestock as something to move. Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherd, Akbash and Bulgarian Karakachan view livestock as part of their pack and protect them from predators and other threats. LGDs will stay very close to their stock, making them excellent travelers if herds or flocks are moved from pasture to pasture frequently. This is also an advantage should the animals escape a producer’s property; the dogs will go with them and continue to protect them.
A LGD will roam if not properly managed and trained, and a roaming LGD is not doing its job. Dogs that roam are also at risk to get injured or stolen, and often infringe upon neighbors and their property. Proper management requires a good fence to keep the dog(s) on their person’s farm. If the fence is not dog tight, chances are it is not sheep or goat tight, so invest in appropriate fence.
Producers should help their dog bond with their animals. This is best accomplished by enclosing the puppy or dog in a small area with at least a few of the livestock so both parties become accustomed to being together. A common complaint when a producer brings home a puppy is that the puppy chases the livestock. Livestock need trained to accept the puppy just as much as the puppy needs trained to accept the livestock, so placing them in close quarters allows the puppy to get to know his or her new charges by sight and smell, and the livestock to have time to accept that the puppy is not a threat. It also allows the producer the opportunity to correct the dog for any inappropriate behavior.
“Getting them to bond with ‘their’ animals is key. Make sure that if you have to bond them with larger animals, like a puppy with mature goats, put in a space where the dog can escape in case you have a goat or sheep that gets aggressive with them. They can really injure a puppy or make them so afraid that they won’t bond,” Dr. Elizabeth Walker, animal science professor at Missouri State University, explained.
Older, mature LGDs are wonderful trainers for a puppy. Walker said one of her favorite methods for training an LGD is to place a 4- to 6-month-old puppy with an experienced dog of about 3 to 4 years.
Many people assume because LGDs have natural guarding instincts, they will not have to train the puppy or dog. This is not a wise assumption to make, as it will set back both the producer and the dog.
Always reward the dog for performing a task well and for displaying desired behavior; correct what is inappropriate and guide them to a different action.
While each LGD breed shares a job, there are many specific traits and needs within each breed. Do ample breed research to ensure the right breed for the operation is chosen. Many producers have made the mistake of trying to treat a guardian dog like a pet or companion. This is one of the quickest ways to prevent them from bonding with livestock. While LGDs should absolutely be trained and accustomed to being handled by producers for grooming and veterinary care, their job and home is with the animals, not in the house.
Some producers might choose to utilize a donkey as a livestock guardian animal. Walker noted they can eat what sheep and goats do, which is a nice convenience.
If a producer has a coyote or stray/wild dog problem, a donkey might be a good choice as they tend towards aggression when it comes to canines. Donkeys cannot handle the same types of predators to livestock that LGDs can, such as mountain lions or bears, but they can deal some damage through kicks and bites to smaller predators.
Donkeys are territorial and are motivated to fight to protect their boundaries, rather than out of devotion to the livestock. They tend to live as part of the herd until a threat presents itself. Ideally, the best way to train a donkey is to raise it from a foal with the livestock, although it is possible for older jennies and gelded males to be acclimated to a new career as a guardian. Producers need to be very observant with guard donkeys.
“A donkey can work, but I have seen them be aggressive towards livestock and try to ‘play’ with them, which resulted in death of the livestock – especially the babies,” Walker cautioned.
If a producer chooses to invest in a donkey as a livestock guardian, they need to research and understand their care and training. Donkeys’ veterinary and maintenance needs differ from their companions and will also require training such as halter breaking so that they can be safely led and handled.
A llama has the potential to serve as both a livestock guardian and can be a fairly low-maintenance security system.
A llama is naturally social and if he is the only llama in the area, he will usually stay with his pasture mates.
After a careful introduction to each other, llamas usually bond fairly quickly to their companions. There is no need for the extended training period you might have with a LGD. Some stock are frightened or skittish around dogs but will accept a llama. Llamas are able to guard sheep, goats, cows with calves, deer, alpacas and poultry. Foxes, coyotes and dogs can be deterred with a llama or two, and they have close to the same nutritional and shelter requirements as sheep or goats, making them a convenient choice of guardian. Llamas also tend to be respectful of fencing better than other guardians might be. While they might not challenge a fence to escape, they do sometimes insert their head and necks through it, so a producer would need to be thoughtful with their fencing materials. Llamas have a calm demeanor, which is appealing to producers who have frequent visitors. They do require training and handling so they can be haltered, sheared, have their hooves trimmed and receive veterinary care. Llamas can also provide a product, not just a service. Many fiber artists appreciate their fleeces.
With training and management, livestock guardians can provide benefits for their charges and the producer. Researching different types and breeds, visiting with breeders and talking with folks who are successful with guardian animals will help get a producer’s guardian of choice off to a strong start on a lifetime of service.