Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
We recently brought home our first Livestock Guardian Dog: a Maremma Sheepdog we have named Stanley. Stanley is not a house pet, but an important part of all of our farm animal’s protection. Livestock Guardian Dogs are alternatives to hunting and patrolling for every predator on the farm, and they can save a farmer many headaches as long as they are properly trained.
We chose a Livestock Guardian Dog for a variety of reasons, knowing that we would have to add extra protection for our animals when we moved to our new, rural farm. We have always had dogs, and recently lost our last pet, so an LGD sounded desirable right away.
Our geese help to deter smaller predators from approaching our chicken flock, but geese can still be victims to larger aggressors. For this reason, and to help protect our goat herd and property, we knew we needed a serious guardian animal. Other options included a llama or donkey, but the bonds that LGDs form with their flock
Bringing Stanley home starts a long process of teaching him about the goats and other animals, obedience training, and general puppy care. While the training process is not the same as it would be for a house pet, it is equally if not more rigorous.
Livestock Guardian Dogs require firm and consistent training, as any new puppy would. They need to be taught that the animals around are for them to protect, not playthings or prey. This begins with giving them a safe space in the barn that is within view of the goats but doesn’t allow them to do more than touch noses.
Puppies naturally want to chase pretty much anything that will run away, so training an LGD pup requires a lot of patience and constant vigilance when they are out with their herd. We are keeping Stanley on a leash with the goats most of the time, allowing them to touch noses and mingle but quickly correcting him to sit if he starts to chase them. The goats, who started out wanting nothing to do with the puppy, have warmed up to being almost completely comfortable around him.
The Maremma Sheepdog will take two years to reach maturity, during which time they’ll require careful training and grow to be over a hundred pounds. Thus far, our little bundle of joy has been nothing but perfect, interested in the goats.
Every day, Stanley goes on numerous walks with us around our fields, getting to know the perimeters of his property. He will still master the basics of dog training like “sit” and “come” and learn how to walk well on a leash and not jump up, but he will always sleep in the barn with the goats. This might seem cruel, but Maremma’s thick coats mean they are rarely cold, especially when snuggled up with goats, and sleeping together helps him and his herd for their important bond.
We are looking forward to Stanley being a good friend and important part of our farm. Adding a Livestock Guardian Dog is sure to be a new adventure for our farm.
Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is rebuilding a 200-year-old homestead in rural Maine, using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living's site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.
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