There are many types and breeds of livestock guardians out there and which is used is dependent upon individual hoestead needs.
Look out in pastures across America and you often see an assortment of livestock and usually mingling in or meandering around the livestock is some form or livestock guardian. For those of you that are new to homesteading you might not really know what a livestock guardian is or what the purpose of such an animal is. I know hte name kinda gives it away....it's an animal that guards your livestock. Sometimes it protects them and other times it just alerts them to danger. It really depends on the animal and it's instincts as to what it considers protection.
Live stock guardian needs are determined by several factors to include
- Type of livestock
- Size of homestead
- Number of animals to be guarded
- and of course personal preference
In some pastures you will see donkieys hanging around with goats and the goats will follow it around like lost little puppies. Donkieys are also used for sheep a lot of times. Sometimes the donkeys are full sized and other times they are miniture. From what I have been told miniture donkeys, while cute, are not great protectors in large pastures that have a big distance between pasture and home. Their size does not allow them the ability to protect against multiple preditors, such at coyotes or even a single wolf. For smaller preditors they may be fine.
We had considered a full size donkey for our goats but our property was just to small for a full size donkey. That and I found out that you have to be very careful with donkeys around baby goats and sheep. It seems they can not determine by the smell of kids and newborn goats and sheep what they are and there for consider them to be a threat and will kill the babies. I just knew with the size of our small homestead this would not work well.
There was also the consideration of feed when it came to donkeys for us. We have a 1 acre homestead which is sectioned off into 3 areas so there is not area to grow hay. That woudl mean we would have to buy hay and hay in our area is really hit and miss. Some years it's not to bad and other years the prices are crazy. When the pasture that the goats are in dries of in the middle of the winter then we feed them hay. But being as they are goats we do not have to buy them expensive alfalfa hay. A mix is perfectly fine with them and for them.
Next up for our consideration was several types of dogs. All around us for probably 50 miles or more you see pastures full of goats and the noble guardian dog. It is such a beautiful picture. And just think about how cuddly those big fluffy dogs are. They hang out in those pastures all day and all night and all ya have to do is feed them and make sure they have water. Right? Not really. I spent a lot of time research dog breeds for the job of pasture guardian. It seems the most popular in our area for guardian dogs is the Great Pyreneese. The are very large and formidable. But I have a special needs son and grand children so I wanted an guardian that would be protective for not eat the children. Again if we had 100 acres and the goats were off in some far off pasture this would not be an issue but they are not they are literally in my backyard. The Great Pyreneese is great with kids and people especially when started young and trained. They can be very rambuncious and annoying at times as they use their size to their advantage when they decide they want to play and you are not wanting to play. You have to be very firm with them from a very young age if you plan to have them around your family.
The Great Pyreneese also has a lot of hair. And I do mean a lot of hair. Their hair serves the purpose of protecting them from not only cold but from sunburn. Often you will see these huge masses of dog in pastures and they will be caked with burrs, sticks and who knows what else in their fur. And in the spring they shed so bad it looks like a yard full of puppies for all the fur.
Many people put them in large pastures and rarely interact with them. I just can't do that with any animal that I am responsible for. But Pyreneese need a lot of space to roam or very, very strict training not to roam. Their instinct is to search out food as their ancestors did. And boy when they go they go....
Great Pyeneese are great with kids when they are introduced to them while young ( and probably even later in life). I read that they would let kids (both the goats and people kind) eat out of their food bowls with them as they were used to their little wards eating out of their bowls. Other people said that because they were so willing to share food and what-not that it was a good idea to provide them with a separate area to put their food and give them a covered place to have some alone time if they need it.
So they sound like the perfect livestock guardian do they not? Well almost but not quite. They are great for alerting and they will chase off a preditor if they can but because they are so sweet natured (so to speak) they are not really competition for say more than one coyote and as coyotes travel in packs it's kind of a given. It was recommended to have a pair of them for this purpose. (the Pyreneese that is not the coyotes). We already had two dogs that were semi-retired due to age and temperment. Our border collie was just to old and fragile to keep up with goats anymore and our black lab preferred to taste test the chickens and goats rather than protect them. We didn't want 4 dogs to care for and we sure didn't want to get rid of our geriatric squad after all their years of wonderful service. So what to do?
Next breed of dog we looked at the the Anatolian Shepherd. They are large, muscular protective dogs that will fight to the death to protect their charges. They are also very beautiful dogs. They are so strong that their ancestors were used to hual ammunitions through the Anatolian mountain in past wars. Now you have to admit that is strong! But would all that strengh and agility be helpful in a backyard pasture full of miniture goats? It could.
Anatolians also like to go for long distances and have the natural instinct to search out their own food. They are good about not eating their charges though. The problem with with the added strength and bravery comes the loss of the gentleness you want with the children the guardian may be around.
Both of these breeds of dogs, being large breeds, can have problems with their hips as they get older. The Anatolian can have problems with their eyes and especially when you mix the breeds this can be an issue. A good knock on the head and you may find your dogs eyeball falling out. When you mix the breeds sometimes the eye sockets tend to be too large for the eyeball as the Anatolian has almond shaped eyes where the Pyreneese has rounded eyes. They do look beautiful for you have to be very careful if you notice that an eye socket looks large for an eye.
What to do? The answer for us was to go with a mixed breed of Anatolian Sherpherd/Great Pyreneese. You get the strength and bravery you want mixed in with alot of oversized cuddliness. This oversized cuddliness can grow to be up to 160 pounds for a male.
Many of our readers know about our bundle of cuddliness we call Burr aka Burrditty. There is an article about his rough beginning and how we came to make him a part of our family so I won't go into that detail. What I will say is that it took some training to make him the dog he is today. It wasn't just people training - it was goat training. He learned the hard way a few times when he was a pup that the mama goats don't like it when you play rough with their kids. They trained him while he was young and as an adult he knew the ground rules and even though he is bigger than them and he is their "guardian" he knows who is really the boss of the backyard. So while the goats trained him on backyard behaviour I trained him on house behaviour and people behaviour.
These dogs are very intuitive to their owners and they will play off of your emotions. If someone comes to the house while Burr is off duty and in the house he alerts and goes to the door. He will bark until I tell him it's ok and if I act friendly to the person at the door then he is fine. If I act uncomfortable then he will remain on guard until the person is gone.
Burr works on a shift schedule. He goes out in the evening at milking time and he comes in the house after milking time in the morning. So during the day he hangs out in the house . He mostly sleeps but occassionally he likes to play a little and some some attention with his goofy antics.
It is important that they do have some down time and time away from the goats. I know, I know I just told you that there are pastures everywhere where the guardians are out 24/7 with the goats. That is fine for some people but as they are in my backyard I would see him and feel sorry for him being out in the Texas sun on 110 degree days with no place to go and be away from the goats.
It was a beautiful spring day when I had gone out to milk in the morning. I usually take Burr in with me at this time but this day I was doing something and planned to take the stuff in the house and then go back out to get him. I went in the house and it took me about 30 minutes to take care of what I was doing and then I went back out to get Burr. In that 30 minutes something happened! I went to the gate and called to him but he was unable to stand. He cried out with pain and my heart broke. At that time he weighed about 120 pounds so I could not lift him alone and Ronnie was at work. I couldn't get him to the car to get him to the vet so I called my mother who suggested that I just leave him in the backyard and see if it gets better in a day or two. That was not a workable answer for me so I called my sister. She came right over and we used the cover I keep on the back seat of my car to get him onto and carries him on it to the car. We rushed him to the vet and they said at his young age they doubted it could be hip dysplaxia. They did X-rays and found that Burr has deformed hip sockets. It was probably caused by his early malnourishment.
But the question remained what happened in that 30 minutes that I went into the house? We don't know. We figure he was probably having one of his brave moments with the goats and Tsarina gave him a lesson. It was probably just a matter of time and Tsarina helped it along. Due to the malformed hip sockets there was not just putting it back in socket. It would require surgery. The one procedure would run between 1,200 - 1,600. If that one did not work then the other would be between 4,000 - 6,000. And that was per hip. There was no question we were going to do what it took to get Burr walking again. Would he ever be a livestock guardian again we didn't know but he had spent the last two years of his life faithfully guarding all of us and we were not going to forget it that easily.
They did a surgery that basically made Burrs back hip a free floating hip like his front leg. It has been 3 mothns now and he is walking again. Not only is he walking but he is starting to run and play again. He is going outside to the goats more and more for longer periods of time. When he first went back to the goats he seems to want to keep his distance like he knew he could not defend himself at that time. Now he goes in with the goats and he lets the whole world know that Burr is on duty. I supervise him still at this point becuase when he over does it he still limps and we do not want to mess up the progress we have gained. The Vet said his progress was great and he was expecting Burr to be at about 90 percent when all was said and done. He warned us that it could stil be 3 months or more before he was really ready to go back on duty and we understand that.
I have to wonder though. If Burr was one of the guradians in a pasture that doesn't see a human face everyday and sometimes maybe days or more what would have become of him. I know our livestock guardians play an important roll on the homestead and I know every homestead is different but we must always remember that they work for us and protect our herds and we need to be there to protect them when needed.....
Every homestead has joy and sadness as with all of life but it is in being prepared to deal with these times that make all the difference. Remember....We Live, We Love, We Laugh, We Learn....We Homestead!