- Author: Dan Macon
Several years ago, I started a social media project I called Sheep 365. Every day for a full year, I posted a photo of something we were doing in our sheep operation. At first, I thought it would simply be a fun way to share my shepherding year with friends and family. I soon realized, however, that it could be a reasonably useful educational tool. I found that other small-scale producers were following along and asking questions. More importantly, perhaps, I found that I was able to share the ups and downs of livestock production with a public audience. I could talk about things like losing lambs to pneumonia or the importance of shearing sheep.
Last week, I attended the American Sheep Industry Association annual convention in Scottsdale, Arizona. During the Resource Management Council meeting, we had a lengthy conversation about public misperceptions about livestock guardian dogs. Oftentimes, it seems, the public doesn't understand the concept of a working dog - dogs are pets, and pets shouldn't sleep outside (or even be outside at all in inclement weather). These misperceptions could jeopardize our use of LGDs.
At the same time, I often get questions from producers who haven't used livestock guardian dogs. Where do I find a good dog? Should I buy an adult dog or a puppy? How do I make sure my dog will stay with my livestock? Will my liability insurance go up? How many dogs do I need?
Beginning on February 1, 2020, I am embarking on new social media project - 52 Weeks of Livestock Guardian Dogs. At least once a week for the coming year, I'll post something about livestock guardian dogs on my social media accounts (on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/FoothillSustainableRanching/, on my Instagram feed - @flyingmule, and on my Twitter feed - Sheepherder Scientist - @flyingmulefarm). Some of these posts will feature my own dogs; others will discuss the ways in which LGDs are used in other operations. There is also a significant and growing body of research about these dogs, which I hope to share during the course this project. Once a month, I'll also devote a blog post to the topic.
Speaking of research, empirical research regarding the effectiveness of LGDs is difficult to conduct. There are so many variables - the breed, age, sex, and reproductive status of the dogs; the environment they're working in; the predators in that environment and their dietary preferences; the time of year and stage of production - in other words, the answer to most research questions about LGDs seems to be, "It depends." For that reason, I also hope to start documenting case studies about LGDs in a variety of settings. These may not provide empirical data, but I hope they capture the range of uses and successes/failures inherent in using any livestock protection tool. I hope they'll provide producers with useful information!
In the meantime, I hope you'll share your questions - and your observations - about these dogs! Post your comments to this blog below, or post questions and comments on any of my social media accounts!