Animals on Guard
These four-legged friends will keep your flocks safe from predators.
Maremma sheepdogs are a popular choice for sheep, goat, alpaca and llama owners.
When we decided to buy a small herd of Angora goats, there was one essential thing we didn’t consider – our herd would be vulnerable to predators. The woman we bought our goats from brought it up before we left her farm. “What will guard them from your area’s coyotes?” she asked. We pondered her question all the way home. As we let the goats out of the trailer and into the corral, we studied the distant woods. Suddenly our personal refuge seemed unsafe, and we didn’t sleep well that night. The next day brought an intact flock, but we also saw a coyote, in broad daylight, eyeing our animals from across the creek beside the pasture. Something had to be done. For us, herd safety arrived in the form of two llamas. They were free, healthy, and they have proven to be adequate guardians for our situation.
When choosing a guardian animal for your operation, keep in mind that no guard animal ensures complete safety for your herd or flock. Some guard species or breeds are specialists and best suited to protecting specific livestock breeds. And all animals have their own traits and personalities, so you might expect to apply a bit of trial and error to your efforts. Read the entries that follow for a glimpse of some good guardian animal options.
Good Guardian Dogs
Just because you’ve heard a dog will be a good guardian doesn’t mean you can expect it to instinctively know what to do. All guard dogs, despite strong instinct, need some training and socialization. Most should not be introduced to your flock or herd until they are between 8 and 12 weeks old. Until then, the dog can learn to know you and your family, which helps form a loyal bond. Guard dogs need a job. If they aren’t allowed to guard livestock, the dog will possessively guard property, you, your family, or other pets.
What makes a good guardian dog? They are generally large breeds that can intimidate a predator on looks alone. These dogs are often vocal and bark when anything appears suspicious or out of the ordinary. Their barking will accelerate as a threat grows larger. As a last resort, good guardian dogs will engage the predator directly. But, they tend to not be good inside pets. Most are good with children when properly introduced. Both males and females can protect equally well against bears, mountain lions, other dogs, coyotes, bobcats and wolves. They intimidate raccoons, skunks, possums, weasels and foxes.
Guardian dogs are used to protect cattle, sheep, goats, alpacas, miniature horses, llamas, poultry, rabbits, ponies and even ostriches. One dog can guard a large herd, but most large operations will want to employ two or more, as some predators will split the herd or flock to confuse the guardian.
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