Since I haven't posted an update to my Livestock Guardian Dog Journal for four months, I thought an update on this project might be timely! We've been training a new dog to work during lambing (with some interesting observations about behavior). We've trained the new dog to respect 3-wire temporary fencing (as opposed to electro-net). And we've been collecting GPS and trail camera data on predator interactions. Lots to report!
GPS Collaring / Remote Sensing Project
We have been putting GPS sensors on two livestock guardian dogs that are with a flock of 82 sheep (bred ewes and open yearling ewes) west of Auburn. One of these dogs is a 10-year-old Anatolian shepherd neutered male; the other is a 2-year-old Anatolian x Maremma intact male. These collars record location every 5 minutes. We've also deployed seven trail cameras on the parameter of the sheep paddock to document wildlife, domestic animal and human activity in the proximity of the sheep. Our hope is that when we compare the time stamp on photos with the GPS locations of the dogs, we'll begin to understand what kinds of interactions the dogs have with predators and non-predators.
The habitat where the sheep are grazing is foothill oak woodland and open grassland. To date, the cameras have detected coyotes, foxes, deer, jackrabbits, skunks, raccoons, owls, and small birds - along with domestic dogs, walking/jogging/cycling humans and horseback riders. We're in the process of going through the GPS data to determine what the dogs were doing when these animals and people showed up in the cameras. Here are a few of the most interesting photos:
Learning to be a Lambing Dog
Our oldest dog, Reno, has been an outstanding dog at lambing. He keeps his distance from lambing ewes, is very patient with rambunctious lambs, and keeps afterbirth cleaned up (which can attract scavengers and predators). Since he's ten years old, we decided we need to try 2-year-old Bodie with the lambing ewes this year. We also hoped that Reno would teach him manners and respect - Bodie is still a bit immature behaviorally.
Our first lamb was born on February 22, and I was fortunate to arrive shortly after the birth. As has been typical, Reno was lying about 20 yards away from the ewe and lamb. Bodie met me at the pasture fence well away from them. After I had been there about 10 minutes watching the new lamb, Bodie joined us. I shot video of his interaction with the ewe and with Reno - you can view it at this link:
Training a New Lambing Dog (YouTube)
I suspect that some of Reno's protectiveness has to do with his love for eating afterbirth! That said, in the weeks since this interaction, Reno has enforced Bodie's respect for the sheep even when there isn't afterbirth available. And Bodie seems to have matured. He's more respectful of the sheep, less rambuctious in his behavior, and a better guardian dog in general.
Developing an LGD Puppy
Finally, an update on the Pyrenees x Akbash puppy we picked up in September. Elko is going to be a big dog - he's already as big as Bodie. Since pulling the rams from the flock in November, Elko has been with the rams learning manners. For several months, we kept him with Reno (which also helped on the manners front). Since we moved Reno to the lambing flock, Elko has been on his own. He's still definitely a puppy - we're not expecting him to provide much protection at this point, but he is learning to stay with his sheep.
Several weeks ago, we tried an experiment using a different type of fencing. We have found that most of our dogs will stay in 42-inch electro-net. However, we wanted to try training the sheep (and the dogs) to 3-strand poly-wire fencing. I installed a short stretch of fence at our home place and have watched Elko check it out and decide to stay on the proper side. Success!
Here's a relatively recent photo of Elko:
Stay tuned for more information on these topics! And just a note: last week, Reno became lame on a back leg. Our small animal veterinarian thinks he probably tore his ACL. At the moment, he's recuperating in the barn and watching over a trio of very annoying bottle lambs. Given the seriousness of his injury, he's probably permanently retired. He's been a great dog!
Modern electric fencing systems can be incredibly useful in a variety of settings. Single-wire portable systems can help producers manage grazing on irrigated pastures or crop stubble. Multiple-wire fences and electro-net systems are used to control sheep and goats in targeted grazing situations or on properties without permanent fencing. Multiple-wire systems can also be used to temporarily fence riparian areas and other key sites in rangeland settings. Finally, these systems can also help protect livestock from predators.
Unlike the physical barrier of a barbed wire or woven wire fence, electric fence is a psychological barrier. As such, animals need to be trained to respect electric fence - and we humans have to be trained to install, maintain, and use it correctly! And as with any management tool, efficiency is critical to making portable electric fencing systems work from a labor and cost perspective. At one time or another, we've used electric fencing in our own operation to contain sheep, goats, cattle, horses, mules, chickens and hogs.
On Thursday, November 9, we will be holding our first Electric Fencing Field Day at Robinson Ranch in Penn Valley, California, beginning at 8:30. You'll learn about the principles of electric fencing, get hands-on experience with a variety of fencing systems, and learn how to troubleshoot problems. Thanks to our co-sponsor, LiveWire Products, you'll have a chance to learn about the latest fencing technology!
For more information, or to register for this free workshop, click here! Or email me at email@example.com for more information!
About 12 years ago, we acquired our first livestock guardian dog from a ranch in eastern Yuba County. Scarlet, as we named her, came to us as a 6-month old Akbash-Pyrenees pup. We were neophytes in the world of livestock guardian dogs, so we immediate put Scarlet with our breeding flock. The following February, when the first lamb hit the ground, Scarlet promptly decided that the lamb was hers; she chased the ewe away and cleaned the lamb. As we learned, maternal instinct can be a powerful force - in sheep and in dogs. A few days of watching her closely and scolding her when she tried to mother a lamb seemed to fix the problem.
This weekend, we experienced the opposite relationship. Our youngest daughter has her own small flock of sheep that she breeds for fair lambs. This fall, she's taken in a number of additional ewes from folks that want lambs from her ram. These sheep are in a pasture adjacent to the paddock where Elko (our LGD pup) is living. Emma also has several ewe lambs from this year that she recently sold; we're working on arrangements for the buyers (who are in Twin Falls, Idaho) to pick them up. The oldest of these ewe lambs came into heat this weekend, and her maternal instincts kicked in. Yesterday, we noticed that she was taking a keen interest in Elko. As we watched her, we realized that she was treating Elko like her lamb. She'd paw at him to get him to stand up (which ewes will do if they want their lambs to nurse). She licked him vigorously like she was trying to clean afterbirth off him. And she'd knicker at him like a ewe will do to call her newborn lamb.
Elko was intimidated by her behavior. He'd yelp if she backed him into a corner, and he'd nip at her if her licking became too aggressive. We decided that it would be best to separate them; we put the ewe lamb into a different paddock. Elko seems to be fine with the rest of the sheep in his pen.
I'm curious if others have observed this kind of behavior! What have you done when something like this has happened?
Demonstrating these attributes is equally difficult, though for different reasons. Measuring the efficacy of LGDs (or any nonlethal tool) is challenging because we can't measure what doesn't happen. I have no way of knowing how many lambs were not killed by predators because of a specific tool. Furthermore, my situation (in terms of habitat, sheep behavior, dog behavior and predator behavior) may be very different than my neighbor's. Similarly, demonstrating behavior is difficult in any kind of real-world setting. Watching a dog napping at midday is not very interesting for most of us. In the 12 years we've used LGDs in our sheep operation, I've never observed any direct interaction with a predator.
In light of these difficulties, I've started forming a plan for obtaining information that will help producers (and others) understand how LGDs work in different environments, as well as the economic and management considerations involved in using LGDs. With help from colleagues at UC Davis, UC Cooperative Extension, and other universities, I'm building GPS collars that will allow us to record LGD and sheep movement remotely. We'll also use game cameras to see if we can detect predator (or other wildlife) presence in the vicinity of the dogs. After I test these systems in our own sheep enterprise, I intend to work with other producers representing a variety of environments and management systems. My hope is that we'll be able to observe these dogs at work, as well as their interactions with sheep, using GPS in a variety of settings.
The second element of this project will provide a case study in the development and use of a specific dog. Earlier this week, I acquired an eleven-week-old male Pyrenees x Akbash puppy from Dr. Fred Groverman, a sheep producer in Petaluma. While Elko (as we've named him) will eventually go to work in our flock, I will document the training, management and expense involved in purchasing, developing and deploying a LGD pup. My intent with this part of the project is to regularly post information about Elko's development (both successes and challenges). I'll also post short videos on a regular basis to document his development and behavior.
Many of us refer to LGDs as livestock protection "tools." As biological (rather than mechanical) tools, however, using a LGD effectively is much more complicated than using a hammer! I'm hopeful this project will help all of us gain a better understanding of how these dogs work!
If you've raised sheep or goats, you've doubtless seen symptoms of internal parasites. In our own sheep, these symptoms include diarrhea, general lethargy, anemia, and bottle jaw. If you've been in the business of raising sheep and goats for any length of time, you'll also know that dewormer resistance (that is, parasites that develop resistance to specific dewormers) is an increasingly difficult challenge. Thanks to a great webinar put on by the American Sheep Industry's Let's Grow Committee, I recently discovered a new resource for managing internal parasites in small ruminants. The American Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control has an outstanding website - check it out at www.wormx.info!
We've long used the FAMACHA(c) system to identify anemic animals in our flock - anemia is a symptom of infection with Haemonchus contortus (barber pole worm). By using the FAMACHA(c) system, we can target infected animals only with our deworming treatments. According to Dr. Ray Kaplan of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, proper use of the FAMACHA(c) system "will significantly slow the development of resistance to dewormers which is becomign an extremely important concern in small ruminant production." Click here for more information on the FAMACHA(c) system.
The FAMACAH(c) system, however, doesn't tell the whole story about parasitic infection. Fecal egg counts can be used to more closely monitor the level of parasitism in your herd or flock. We've not done this systematically with our sheep, but I think we'll start! Here's more information.
At one time, our veterinarian recommended rotating deworming products to reduce the likelihood of developing resistance. Today, rotation will not prevent resistance from worsening. Instead, experts now recommend that dewormers be used together at the same time in combination. Another article by Dr. Kaplan indicates that using combinations of dewormers gives each drug an additive effect, which means fewer resitant worms survive the treatment. Click here to read the full article. Be sure to read the "Precautions and issues to consider" section!
Finally, someone told me when we first started raising sheep that chicory contained a compound that was helpful in controlling internal parasites. It turns out that there may be something to this! An experiment conducted in Ohio in 2009-2010 investigated non-traditional forages (including chicory) as a strategy for reducing parasite burden in lambs. The researchers found that lambs grazed chicory showed statistically lower fecal egg counts. They acknowledge that "grazing forage chicory is not an effective parasite control strategy in and of itself," but that it might have potential as one tool within a multi-tool approach. Click here for more information on chicory. It may be worth seeking funding for conducting a similar trial in California - contact me if you're interested in researching this topic!
Finally, here a few more helpful links:
Sheep Agriculture (with links to ASI webinars)
US Lamb Resource Center: great information on managing lambs