Animals on Guard

These four-legged friends will keep your flocks safe from predators.


| January/February 2009



Maremma Sheepdog

Maremma sheepdogs are a popular choice for sheep, goat, alpaca and llama owners.

iStockphoto.com/Nicky Gordon

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.

Common Guardian Dogs

Maremma Sheepdog (Abruzzes, Italian Marremano)

Origin: Italy. Named after Maremma, Italy, where flocks of sheep abound. Historically, this breed was also used along the Apennine Mountain range, as well as in the Abruzzi Mountains.
Height: 23½ to 30 inches
Weight: 65 to 100 pounds
Life Expectancy: 11 to 14 years
Traits: The Maremma is a large dog that withstands winter well, due to its thick, typically white or cream-colored coat. This dog can be very affectionate with its owner and remains loyal. It is reserved with strangers and guards property well. The Maremma is highly intelligent and needs routine. It was introduced to the United States in the 1970s and is a popular choice for sheep, goat, alpaca and llama owners. The breed is popular in Sweden.
Cost: $350 to $750

kris
7/6/2015 10:00:24 AM

Our small farm has relied upon a BLM wild burro named Bubba, as a sheep flock and milk cow guard for many years. He is wonderful. His wild instincts are so helpful. He is the best method we have found of pasture rotation. If all the gates are open within the pastures he will rotate all the stock through each one every day. He does not like stray dogs, coyotes or mountain lions, but does tolerate our border collies working the flock. He also does not like humans he does not know - great amounts of braying and teeth showing. At the moment he is with our milk stock and a neighbor's horses to keep them free from dog and transient human issues. He is close to 16 years old now and still going strong. Love our Bubba!


melissa
7/6/2015 7:39:24 AM

As an Anatolian mom I cannot say enough good things about the breed. They are very laid back, great with children and he protects the whole farm (even our family). He is very cautious of strangers until he gets the okay from us. He is now good buddies with our UPS and FEdEx guys. After a year with my husband deployed and our farm at the end of a gravel road, he seemed to sense it. I never worried about our safety because Jake was always on watch. If any strange vehicle drives down our drive they turn around quickly if they don't belong here because of his size and deep bark. The truth is they are 100 + pounds of lap dog and all heart. They are a wonderful breed and a part of our family.


narble
3/13/2015 9:38:38 AM

These articles never mention the Norwegian Elkhound (they are not wolfhounds). They are an all-around dog and should always be mentioned. They were the Viking dog, later the farm dog, and are now the national dog of Norway, smart enough to be trained for special military deployment in their military. They require little training to be effective as a livestock dog as the traits that I will mention come quite naturally to this dog. We find our dogs without fail are quiet and gentle with kids, keep strangers on their toes and they protect their livestock. They will even on their own bring back cattle/horses (or chickens...not hurting them) if they somehow get out. We have known ours to take care of a bear, coyotes, raccoons (3 at one time), mink, snakes, rats and more without getting hurt. We have heard that they will take care of wild boar too, although we have not personally witnessed that. Ours has never been on the receiving end with a skunk or porcupine either, which is great! They have a double coat which keeps them warm (they are most happy when it is -30 to -40). It also helps keep them dry. They have high energy, so can cover a great distance in a short time, which is great for effective patrolling. They are also very territorial, focused and confident. They can strategize quickly too which helps keep them safe in a confrontation. They only bark when pointing out their territory to something or when they have something cornered. I would highly encourage anyone who is looking into livestock dogs to consider these. After having elkhounds and seeing what they can naturally do, we would never have any other breed.


beth
11/7/2014 10:31:41 AM

We have two guardians and wouldn't be without them. We started out with a pure Maremma. She taught us where the holes were in the fences and about their 1 mile radius territory. We then got a second for her to train -- a Maremma/Anatolian mix puppy. When the first died at 15, we got another mix puppy for #2 to train. All have been very good with the grand kids and family and we've seen them in action with various predators.


michelle dines
12/20/2008 1:00:37 PM

I would like to let people know that there are many Great Pyrenees in shelters and rescues all over the country. If you would like to add a Pyr to your household please look at the website www.nationalpyr.org There are so many of these dogs that would be great additions to farms and some have already worked as livestock guardians. I have a Great Pyrenees that I got from a rescue and she is a treasure. She guards me, my husband and our children and our pigs and chickens. She patrols the property and keeps the coyotes at bay. If anyone wants to contact me my e-mail address is ddines@twcny.rr.com - no junk mail or spam please!!






mother earth news fair

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Feb. 17-18, 2018
Belton, Texas

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, inspirational keynotes, and great food!

LEARN MORE