When someone asks if we have pets, I’ll talk about our high maintenance house cat and even mention our affectionate barn cats. But it’s usually a few minutes later I’ll remember to mention my two dogs, Moly and Ruby. I often call the dogs my two best employees, because that better describes them than pets.
Moly and Ruby are both Great Pyrenes, a breed that falls into a group of dogs labeled livestock guardian dogs (LGDs), also a type of “working dog,” similar in nature to police canines, service dogs or herding dogs. The dogs work best in pairs and live with our livestock 24/7. It’s fascinating to watch our dogs work together. The other day while I was checking the pasture, Ruby was laying with the goats on a patch of old hay from their winter feeder. Moly nowhere to be seen. I called for her and a few minutes later she barreled full speed over the pasture ridge. She had been patrolling the north pasture but came back at my call. This is typical LGD behavior, where one dog will stay with the herd, while the other patrols the rest of the pasture. If one dog senses a threat or a disruption, it will bark for the other dog to join them or return to the herd. Rather than attacking, the dogs provide protection in the form of keeping predators at bay. On our farm predators include other dogs, coyotes, bear, wolves, eagles, hawks and even unfamiliar people.
When we have visitors on the farm, I’ll give them a heads up about the dogs and mention that they don’t behave like other breeds of dogs. They won’t come running up to be pet, nor want much, or any attention from people. The dogs are most comfortable with livestock, and that’s due to the breed’s characteristics and the fact that they’ve lived with goats since birth. Both Moly and Ruby live with the goats 24/7, 365 days a year. They don’t come in the house, we don’t take them on walks (except when we were doing some basic training) or take them on trips. In fact, I will schedule veterinarian farm calls for annual checkups to minimize stress on the dogs. The dogs are feed daily while we check the livestock and they always have access to shelter and water.
Aside from dogs, farms may choose to use other forms of livestock guardian animals, including llamas and donkeys. We’ve used a donkey in the past, but the particular one didn’t work out so he returned to my father-in-law’s farm. The dogs are more appealing for us since they do a better job protecting young livestock from areal predators.
The threat of predators killing livestock is very real, especially in northern Wisconsin. I know farmers who’ve lost calves and sheep to wolves and bear. On our farm we’ve taken measure to protect our goats with Moly and Ruby, our livestock guardian dogs, but also made a substantial investment in high quality woven wire fencing, which includes a strand of electric at the top to keep critters from climbing or jumping in and a strand of barbed wire at the bottom to deter digging under the fence. While we haven’t lost any animals, I know the likelihood of it happening is very possible
If you’re interested in learning more about guardian animals, here are some more resources:
I own and manage Cylon Rolling Acres in northwestern Wisconsin. On my farm I raise Boer - Kiko meat goats on pasture.
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Cylon (pronounced Si-lon) is the name of our township in St. Croix County, Wisconsin. Sorry fans, our farm is not named after the robots of Battlestar Galactica.