Friday, November 25, 2011

Thinking outside the llama (er… box)

We use four guard llamas, scattered around our property, to protect our sheep from predators and they’ve been mostly successful over the years.  Unfortunately all of them are getting up in years (20+) and all are exhibiting varying degrees of arthritis.  In July we lost one of our retired ewes to coyotes at our upper barn in an area we considered to be predator safe both due to good fencing and because we have a guard llama on duty there.  We couldn’t find any obvious point of entry but shored up every possible place along the fence lines which might have been a possibility.  We also decided that maybe it was time to try more serious predator protection – a livestock guardian dog (LGD).

About that time our neighbor, Linda Lowell of Ayers Creek Ranch, who raises great Pyrenees/Maremma LGD’s, mentioned that one of the puppies she’d sold a year earlier wasn’t working out in his new home and his owners were looking to re-home him.  We’d heard good reports from other breeders who had purchased Linda’s puppies so we decided to give it a go.  


Sam wasn’t too sure about us when first we met but with some encouragement (and a dog cookie) he climbed in the back seat of our truck and we all headed home.  His people really loved him but their neighbors were complaining about barking and he wasn’t getting along with their house dogs.  They did tell us they’d take him back if he didn’t work out at our farm so that was comforting to know.

Once we got on the road he put his front feet on the console between Doug and me.  He stood there for a few minutes then decided to lay down on the console (feet still on back seat – he’s a big guy!).  He decided it was okay to be petted and he settled down for the rest of the trip home. When we got home we walked him into the sheep barn and I sat down next to him while Doug set up a pen for him in the corner of the barn.  We occasionally use our border collie Sue to herd the sheep but otherwise our sheep aren’t used to having dogs around so we decided to take it slow with the introduction.  Sam was really calm as the sheep slowly started coming up to check him out.  One of the ewes sniffed his nose, Sam sniffed back, then he licked the ewe's nose.  Pretty cute :)  Thinking all was well I went to the house to get a water bucket and some dog food.  While I was gone Doug said the same ewe decided to try to head butt him so Sam growled at her - she backed off and so did he.  Seemed like a good start!

After we put Sam in his new pen I sat in there with him for about an hour.  He laid down next to me and seemed very happy to be petted.  At one point he even laid across my lap.  A lap dog! 

That evening after we brought the ewes in to the barn for the night we took Sam out to the big pasture and let him explore things for a while.  When we walked him over to one of the water troughs, he jumped into it and took a long drink, then he did the same in the second trough.  When we put him back in his pen he seemed very content.  We heard the neighbor's dog bark a few times that night and our house dogs barked back, but we didn’t hear a peep out of Sam.  Good news since barking had been one of the problems at his former home. 

In hindsight, we probably went way more slowly with the introduction then was necessary but since Sam hadn’t been around sheep and the sheep hadn’t been around dogs we wanted to avoid a possible train wreck.  Consequently it was several weeks before we were comfortable leaving Sam unattended with the sheep.  At first we were concerned that Sam, in his playful exuberance, might hurt the sheep, but we quickly became more concerned that the sheep might hurt Sam since several of our adult Jacob ewes made it their personal mission to attack Sam whenever he turned his back.   Baaad sheep!

Sheep/dog relations remained somewhat strained until the adult ewes left Sam’s barn to move into their breeding groups.  At that point the 2011 ewe lambs moved to Sam’s barn and it was amazing how quickly they came to terms with Sam.  So, at this point we’ve all settled into a comfortable routine and I sleep better at night knowing that Sam is on duty watching over the sheep and our laying hens.  He’ll even go as far as to round up any stray sheep if he feels they’re getting too far from the barn or the rest of the flock.  He’s a very sweet, affectionate dog toward us, but boy howdy! I wouldn’t want to be a coyote or stray dog who wandered into his territory.  

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