Who’s guarding the flock?
Predator management is an integral part of any sheep or goat enterprise. According to USDA statistics, predators — mostly coyotes and domestic dogs — accounted for 30 to 40 percent of sheep deaths and 25 percent of goat deaths in 2015.
There are numerous ways to manage predator risk. Like most problems, a multi-pronged approach is usually necessary. On our mostly smaller farms, predator control starts with a good fence. Livestock guardians can add another layer of protection. A good livestock guardian stays with the flock without disrupting it and represents a viable threat to predators.
There are three types of livestock guardian animals: dogs, llamas and donkeys. There are pros and cons to each and not all make suitable guardians. When choosing a guardian animal, it is important to match the characteristics of the guardian to the farm where it will work.
Livestock guardian dogs have been used for centuries, mostly in Europe and Asia, to protect livestock. Globally, there are more than 30 different breeds of dogs, used as guardians. Breeds most common to the U.S. include: Great Pyrenees, Akbash, Maremma, Komondor and Anatolian Shepherd. The Great Pyrenees is the most popular and probably best suited for small “residential” farms; it is the least aggressive.
One of the advantages to livestock guardian dogs is they can be effective against a variety of predators, including birds of prey. The individual is more important than the breed. Gender and neutering have also not been found to have an effect on guardian success.
The key to a good guardian dog is to start with a puppy that has been raised on a farm with sheep and/or goats. It is important that the pup be bonded to stock before they are 16 weeks old. Bad behaviors such as biting, chasing and wandering need to be corrected early. Guardian dogs need to be socialized, but probably not double as the family pet.
Donkeys and llamas can also be very effective guardians because they are herding animals that have a natural dislike of dogs or coyotes. They are best suited to smaller flocks and pastures. They have numerous advantages over dogs. They are longer lived and consume the same diets as sheep or goats. They don’t dig, bark or roam.
Size is important when selecting a guardian llama or donkey. Alpacas and miniature donkeys are generally likely to be less effective. They should be used singly, and geldings and females are preferred to intact males, which can be too aggressive.
Don’t forget the Sheep and Goat Workshop, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 11, at the Fairgrounds in Holton. Dr Allison Crane will present Preventative Vaccinations and Parasite Control. If the weather is questionable, call before you drive.