Solve Predator Problems With Livestock Guardians

Readers share stories of how their brave homestead companions patrol pastures and keep predators at bay.

  • Livestock Guardian Dog
    Sarplaninacs, the dog breed shown here, are smart, strong-willed guardians requiring plenty of exercise and firm, confident masters. They are not suited to hot or humid climates due to their heavy coat, which makes them appear larger than they are.
    Illustration by Carolyn Guske
  • Guardian Donkeys
    With their sizeable ears, donkeys have outstanding hearing for detecting disturbances. Also, like other equines, they have an acute sense of smell. Donkeys' eyes are larger than those of a horse, furnishing this livestock guardian with a wide field of vision.
    Illustration by Carolyn Guske
  • Guardian Llamas
    While not as aggressive as dogs, guardian llamas have many advantages. Llamas don't bark or jump fences, usually bond quickly with livestock and don't require specialized foods, because they graze on pasture.
    Illustration by Carolyn Guske

  • Livestock Guardian Dog
  • Guardian Donkeys
  • Guardian Llamas

For years, Sara and Adam Bryda of BlueMoon-N-Farms in Massachusetts valiantly fought off an assortment of predators determined to chow down on the family’s goats, sheep, ducks and chickens. “The hawks were a nightmare, the foxes were chewing on the coops, and a bear was circling the fence lines,” Sara says. They tried lights, predator urine, taller fences and deeper wire, but to no avail.

Then, Trinity and Mara — a pair of female Great Pyrenees — entered the scene. Hawks? “Gone, they vanished overnight.” Foxes? “We still see their tracks now and then, but they mostly stay far, far away.” Bear? “It came by one night, and I heard an explosion of sound. I ran outside, but only saw it running away. Since then we haven’t had a bear issue,” Sara says. “The girls have kept these creatures away from the livestock when all other methods failed. I don’t know what I would do without them.”

Homesteaders like Sara are discovering the benefits of employing dogs, donkeys, llamas and other livestock guard animals. Fencing doesn’t always keep threats out, and many stock owners are reluctant to use poison or firearms. Looking after livestock can be especially problematic in regions where animal predators have shifted or expanded their ranges in response to changing climate or suburban sprawl. While no protection plan is foolproof, agricultural studies — and MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers — report that certain animals make extremely effective livestock guardians. As a bonus, this age-old arrangement is (usually) nonlethal to wildlife. To gain insight about the advantages and challenges of using animals for homestead security, we asked Mother Earth News readers to share their experiences. Here’s what they had to say.

Ancient Allies

Dogs — the most common farm defenders — have protected humans for thousands of years. Some researchers believe that modern livestock guardian dogs descended from breeds that accompanied nomadic shepherds in the Caucasus as early as the sixth century B.C. The job of these helpers is not to herd (as Border Collies do), but to bond and live with livestock, looking after them night and day. It takes a special dog; temperament varies with breed, but even within breeds, individual personalities make some dogs more suitable sentries than others. (For guides on selecting breeds, see Resources.)Effective stock guardians share three traits: attentiveness, loyalty and protectiveness.

Attentiveness. Demonstrated by walking and sleeping among the livestock, attentiveness reflects the tight bond that develops between a dog and its wards. Many readers shared incredible stories of this relationship. “I believe my Šarplaninacs know each one of my hundreds of sheep, and they always recognize a new one,” says Louise Liebenberg, a rancher in High Prairie, Alberta.

Loyalty. When first introduced to sheep or other livestock, the dog should be curious or submissive — not aggressive or predatory. A loyal dog respects all parts of its master’s farm, including other animals. Robyn Poyner of Purdy, Mo., who has kept a variety of guardian breeds for more than 20 years, looks for this trait when adding a new dog to her goat farm. Most of her working dogs are rescues, whose suitability for the work needs to be determined. Poyner introduces the newcomer gradually by confining the dog in a pen for the first week or two. “From there, it can see me interacting with the other dogs and goats,” she says. “When I bring over a goat, the dog should show interest or submission by lowering its head. It needs to know that it must protect what’s mine.”

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