Grit Blogs > Adventures in Rural Living

All in a Day's Work: Callie the Livestock Guardian Dog

Hi all! My name is Callie. I'm a Maremma Sheepdog - one of the breeds called livestock guardian dogs.

This is me when I was a puppy. Everyone thought I looked like a little lamb. Wasn't I just adorable?

Maremma puppy

Last month my brother Augie was interviewed for our mom’s GRIT blog. Now it is my turn to talk!

Augie told everyone a lot about livestock guardian dogs, but what I really want to tell you is what we do all day.

First, I have to tell you that my day is not like the day of every livestock guardian dog. That is because we all have different jobs, depending on where we live and who we live with.

Most LGDs (that’s short for livestock guardian dogs) have more animals than Augie and I have. They also have bigger animals than ours.

Sheep and goats are the most common friends of LGDs. Some LGDs have horses, cows, pigs, alpacas, or poultry. Usually the dogs live with the animals and stay in the pasture with them. Those that have several types of animals to watch over may make their rounds from pen to pen.

Some LGDs don’t even have any animals - they just have people to guard. Augie and I know a nice retired mama LGD who now has the job of watching the farm owners’ children. She goes with them wherever they are playing around their farm.

See, there are two main reasons people get LGDs to live at their farms. One is to live with livestock and guard them from predators - that’s what most LGDs do. The second reason is to guard the property and prevent intruders from entering it. Augie and I? We do both.

Our parents brought Augie and me home because coyotes, bears and cougars roam through their property. Our job is to make sure those wild animals don’t come in our four-acre fenced area. Dad and Mom wanted dogs with courage to relentlessly keep those big predators away, whether or not we had livestock at our farm.

So Augie and I came here to protect our property, the people that live and visit here, and whatever livestock is inside our fences.

Here's another picture of me ... how did they know I'd been snooping in the fire pit ashes? I thought I looked totally innocent!

Maremma puppy with ashes on nose

Before we arrived our parents got some chickens so we would have some livestock to guard. But we also bonded quickly to our human mom and dad. Don’t tell them, but we consider them our sheep.

Mom and Dad have eight grownup kids and thirteen grandkids. We’ve bonded with all of them, and now they are our sheep too.

There are some friends who come here a lot and others that have come only once. But we always remember them, even if we haven’t seen them for a long time. And when they are here, we will take care of them.

Sometimes new chickens come, and sometimes the ones we had will leave us. A few weeks ago Augie and I got some pigs to guard too. We are still getting used to them.

When I was little, I found some cool places to rest.

Maremma sheepdogs

Well, let me tell you about my day now! It’s hard to say when my day starts, because LGDs are really on duty 24/7. We dognap (I don’t know why someone named naps after the feline species) off and on but we are always ready to jump into action at a moment’s notice.

But let’s start with the morning. That's when Augie and I are usually the most tired. We have been very busy during the night, so we rest a lot in the morning. One or both of us gets up now and then to patrol our perimeters, peek in on our chickens and pigs, and say good morning to any of our people that are out and about.

We like to walk around with our dad and mom (always hoping for a pat on the head, a scratch behind the ears, or a belly rub). We bark at the free-range chickens that try to eat our kibble. We sniff the air if an aroma is drifting by, and we bark if we hear a strange car coming up the road.

Many times a day we do our patrol routine. We walk along the fence line and mark it, if you know what I mean. This lets other animals know that we are in charge here. We cross our fenced area through the orchard and around the garden.

When we came to our new home, Augie taught me how to patrol our fences. We both learned from our moms and other Maremmas, but Augie continued to teach me.

Older Maremma teaching puppy to patrol

We circle around the pig paddock and the chicken pen and make sure everyone’s doing fine. If there’s a problem, we take care of it if we can. When a chicken is feeling under the weather, we will lie next to it till it feels better. Sometimes a chicken just doesn’t get better and we wait for a person to come and take it away.

Augie and I walk all around the utility barn where our parents live. No, they are not animals, but their house is inside the barn. We have never been inside our family’s house. Sometimes we look in the window to check on them. Once in a while if the door is open we will stick our heads inside and look around, but Augie and I always keep our feet outside on the porch.

We walk through the barn and check it out. If there’s a mouse we can catch, we will do it. If we can’t catch it, we will bark at it. A lot. Sometimes a pen of baby chicks is in the barn and we say hello to them. I know they feel safer knowing we are there.

In between patrols, we like to rest some more. We also eat our kibble when our dad brings it, and we drink lots and lots of water. But sometimes we’re just not hungry for dog food because we dined on rodents during our patrol walks.

Our work load is light during the day, because most of the threatening predators sleep during the day. Occasionally some deer or wild turkeys get close to our fences, but we bark at them. We also bark at the neighbors’ cows.

Here we are, a couple of sentries patrolling our perimeter.

Maremma Sheepdogs on patrol

When evening comes, Augie and I are well-rested and ready for a busy night. This is when we really shine. Nights can be exhausting, but they’re very exhilarating.

First of all, we pick up our patrol schedule during the night. We make more frequent perimeter walks, and we stop and bark at any smell or sound outside.

Almost every night, a pack of coyotes walks across our property down below our fenced area. We are always vigilant, visible and audible so they know we are the bosses. They keep on going but sometimes they pause to test us. Not for long though - they get the message real quickly. No free chicken dinners at this farm!

Though the coyotes still cross our property, our family has not seen any sign of bears or cougars close to our fenced area since Augie and I have been here. That’s because we do our job so well!

After a long night of patrolling and barking, Augie and I are ready for a break. That’s when our morning begins - and the daily routine starts all over again.

LGDs that live with sheep and goats have a similar routine, but they do some other things that are really cool. Some of them get to help when babies are born! They will stay near the mamas and keep other animals away to give her privacy. An LGD will help keep the first baby warm and dry while the mama is delivering a second one. When the babies get older, the LGDs watch out for the little ones and even let them climb all over them. So they get to be midwives and nannies.

Here I am all grown up, a fine example of a livestock guardian dog.

Maremma Sheepdog female

If you’d like to know more about livestock guardians, you can read about us at our family’s blog Rural Living Today. Here is a post on Livestock Guardian Animals (LGDs, donkeys, and llamas). And this one is about the fine, intelligent, hard-working, brave, beautiful, wonderful, charming, dynamic, modest dogs like me: Livestock Guardian Dogs.

Thanks for stopping by! I have to go congratulate that hen that is singing her egg song. Why do they always want to tell the world that they laid an egg? Chickens!

marie james
5/19/2012 9:59:18 PM

Thanks, Dave--I didn't know anything about that! Will have to check it out. Hope you're having a nice spring at your place!


nebraska dave
5/19/2012 4:49:36 AM

Marie, congrats on being featured in the new GRIT Country, the digital companion to GRIT, it has more useful and valuable information on do-it-yourself projects, gardening, cooking, farm animals and more, in a short, interactive digital issue. Have a great day on the homestead.