Training Our LGD (Livestock Guardian Dog)

Anya, our Anatolian Shepherd, came to us at about 10 months of age.  We were blessed that her previous owners had given her a good foundation of socialization with both people, and livestock, and had started her well on her way towards becoming an excellent Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD).

Almost all LGDs go through a stage between about 6 months and 1 year of age where they want to play with the livestock like they would play with another puppy or dog.  At this point most Anatolians are about 75-100 lbs, and this behavior is not only inappropriate for any size dog, but at that size it is also dangerous for the livestock.  During this stage it is really important that an LGD pup get consistent training to learn not to do this.  This is the stage Anya was at when we got her.

Phase 1 of training her through this stage was for her to live in a pen adjacent to the livestock pen.  She shared a fence with them, and could interact with them through the fence, but couldn’t play with them or hurt them.  It also gave her a chance to watch our experienced LGD, Tundra, as he cared for the livestock and learn from his behavior.  During this time we would go out and spend 1-2 hours each day training with her.  It is very important that they get regular and consistent training with humans during this stage.

For our daily training sessions, we would put the other LGD away, let her into the pen with us and the livestock and then give her a chance to interact with the livestock.  If she began to get playful with the sheep and goats I would give her the command to stop (“Anya, No!” – note the exclamation point means a firmness and seriousness in my voice and tone, it does not mean yelling.).  I was very happy to see that thanks to her previous owners’ work with her, most of the time she would stop immediately and come right and sit next to me.  I would then praise her and pet her and then let her go back to exploring and interacting.  If she hadn’t stopped when I asked her to then I would have put her on a long line leash so I could physically show her what I wanted her to do by pulling her away from the livestock.  All dogs are different, and other dogs will not necessarily react how Anya does.

We continued with her living adjacent to the livestock and we continued letting her be with them 1-2 hours a day BUT ONLY with Mtn Man or I present and watching.  She did great, and with more and more lambs being added it was fun to see her interact with them and be gentle.

Despite her good behavior with them, we would still never leave her with them alone at this age and stage in her life.  It would be setting her up for failure.

After about a month of phase 1 we felt she was ready for phase 2.  Phase 2 is to let her live with a grouchy/bossy/alpha sheep or goat that wont bully her, but also that wont put up with her playing with them or roughing them up.  At our farm the perfect choice was our old nanny goat, Gretchen.

We put Gretchen into the back barnyard with Anya during training time a few days in a row, while we stayed outside the fence and watched.  We were able to see a few interactions where Anya tried to play with Gretchen and wrestle her, and Gretchen did not tolerate it and went right in to head butting her.  Anya immediately backed off and stopped.  After seeing that a few times in a few days without us having to say or do anything we felt she was ready to live with Gretchen without humans present.  They did very well together, and Gretchen continues to put Anya in her place when she starts getting rough, and Anya continues to back down when Gretchen does that.

That is where we are at this point in the training.  Anya lives in the back barnyard with Gretchen the grouchy goat, which is adjacent to the main barnyard and shares a fence with it.  So she can still see the sheep, lambs, and the other LGD, but she still isn’t allowed to live alone with them.  And we continue to have our daily training time, where she gets to come into the main barnyard with the sheep and lambs and interact with them with Mtn Man or I present.  Sometimes we are in the barnyard with her and pet her and interact with her.  Other times I will sit in a chair just outside the barnyard and knit so that she can get the feeling of being alone with them in there, but I am still right there to correct her if she starts getting riled up.  Her need for verbal corrections has gotten fewer and farther between and she hasn’t really needed any verbal corrections for over a week now and is doing really well.

We plan to continue this same set-up through summer.  At some point we will add our grouchy older sheep, Fiona, in with her and Gretchen to get her living with a sheep, and with more than one livestock.  Then, this fall, when the lambs are at least 3/4 the size of the adult sheep, we will start letting her have longer and longer times living with the entire flock each day, and with less and less human help.  Our goal for her is that by early winter (December) – at which point she will be 18 months old – she will be able to safely live with the entire flock of adults and young adults all the time without humans.  Then, come next lambing season, we will need to go back to her only interacting with lambs with Mtn Man or I there until she proves that she can be completely trusted with them no matter what.  By then she will be about to turn 2 years old.  Most LGDs fully mature by about 2, and it isn’t until then, along with appropriate training, that they can be trusted with lambs and goat kids.

We are so blessed to have found Anya, and we are enjoying helping her become the excellent LGD that we know she can be.  It is a lot of work to properly train an LGD through puppyhood, but once they are mature and properly trained they become a priceless addition to the farm.

Farm Dogs

If you have been following us long you know about our amazing farm dog, Tundra, and all his heroic stories.  He is truly awesome and such a blessing to us.  He has protected thousands of dollars worth of livestock over the years.  He is 12-years-old now, and literally priceless and irreplaceable in our eyes.  We would not be able to do what we do and have it come out as successfully as it has without a livestock guardian dog.  We have mountain lions, bears, bobcats, raccoons, and aerial predators all anxious to get a shot at an easy meal in our barnyard.  Last year we had 8 break-in attempts made by bears on the barn at night – all of which were stopped because of Tundra.  We hear stories from friends in our area losing their chickens and other livestock to predators EVERY year.  It is so very important that we have a dog to guard the livestock that we really cannot go without one.  But Tundra is over 12 now, and showing his age more and more.

So, two years ago, in our search for the perfect dog to follow in Tundra’s footsteps, we found the Old-Time Scotch Collie breed and purchased a male pup who we named Finley.

Finley was raised out in the barn and Tundra did a great job teaching him the ropes of how to guard the livestock.  He is super smart and completely capable of handling the job of guarding and living with the livestock.  The problem is that Finley doesn’t really WANT to guard the livestock.   And over time he started causing all sorts of trouble in the barnyard.  We tried many different training techniques to get Fin through what we thought was just a teenage puppy stage – but nothing worked.  Then Finley had his toe amputation incident, which put him indoors for 6 weeks healing.  During that time peace came back to the barnyard.  Tundra and all the livestock seemed much happier.  And Finley was definitely much happier – living with the humans and going to work with Mtn Man.  We realized that while his breed is a great farm-dog breed, it just isn’t in Finley’s heart to live with the livestock and no amount of forcing is going to change that.  He wants to be with humans, not livestock.

Maybe we picked the wrong pup – in that we picked the pup in the litter that was the most friendly and affectionate.  Maybe that was the wrong choice for a dog that would be expected to be a LGD living with the livestock.  But regardless, we are not going to try anymore to force him to be where he doesn’t want to be.  We have experienced a true LGD that loves his job and doesn’t want to be anywhere else (in our excellent farm dog Tundra).  And because of that great experience we are not willing to force a dog into that position that doesn’t really have the heart or desire for it.  A working dog doing what they were bred to do and what they LOVE is such a beautiful and wonderful thing.  And it is ruined when a dog that doesn’t love his job is forced to do it anyway.

So Finley changed roles on the farm, becoming Mtn Man’s constant shadow and work companion – which they are both very happy with.  But that left us with no livestock guardian dog for the barnyard once Tundra is gone.

We have been trying to figure out what to do.  We researched a bunch of breeds of LGD, and considered getting another OTSC.  From our research we believe that most breeds of LGD would be unhappy at our farm since the space is so small.  The barnyard is only about 1/4 acre and most LGDs are bred to roam large pastures with their livestock.  And we have known some very unhappy LGDs on small acreage like ours that bark constantly, pace, and dig.  We don’t want to keep a dog like that.  We want another dog like Tundra that loves where he lives and what he does and is completely content to lay up in a high spot and watch over his charges.  After talking with several breeders we found that one potential breed that might work and be happy at our farm would be the Anatolian Shepherd.

After a lot of waiting, and then an interesting turn of events, we found just the right Anatolian for our farm.

We named her Anya.  She is about 10-months-old and such a great addition to the farm family.  She is super laid back.  She seems very content – not showing any anxious behaviors and choosing most of the time to lay along the fence and watch over everything.

She is quite a bit larger than Tundra, and still growing.  That will make for a good-sized mountain farm dog.

So blessed to have another working LGD on the farm!

Sunday Homestead Update – Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

We had quite a cold snap this last week – taking us down to -20F at night, and single digits during the day.  It meant a lot of extra work keeping the stock watered and warm, but everyone pulled through well except our old farm dog, Tundra.  He got a limp on his back leg in the middle of the cold snap – so we brought him in to the mud room for a while to keep warm and heal a bit.  It was clearly originating from his knee, but it wasn’t anything obvious.  When the temperature rose up to about 35F (heat wave!!) the limp disappeared.  Whether it was temperature related or just healing time, we are not sure.  I am guessing it is arthritis or something and the ridiculously frigid temps made it sore.  Either way, he is back on the job.

And, of course, in the middle of all this cold weather we all caught a cold bug.  So we spent most of the week laying around sniffing, coughing, and sneezing.  But we kept a nice fire going and were comfy and cozy just like our kitties.

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The Ever-changing Adventure

Things in our sheep flock have changed a bit.  We are going to raise up our own breeding ram now, which means not only do we need to finish the ram shed and pen for him to live in, but we also need to acquire him.  We decided the best way to do this would be to buy a couple of well-bred pregnant ewes that are unrelated to our ewes and hope we get a ram lamb out of one of them.  Once we pick our ram we will sell his dam and any sisters so that we have a good breeding group set up of unrelated sheep.

Our first new ewe arrived this week – along with all our other ewes coming home from the breeder.  Meet Agnes:

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She is a moorit CVM ewe bred to a CVM ram and due in March/April.  She is 5 years old and thus an experienced lamber who has had twins and triplets.  Two of our other three ewes, Violet and Fiona, are hopefully pregnant too, bred to a BFL ram and a CVM ram.  We will be confirming their pregnancies in January.  Our last ewe, Toffee, did not get bred this year.  She was too small to safely breed, so we want to give her another year of growth before we breed her.  We will be adding another bred CVM ewe to the flock later this week.  With four out of five of the ewes pregnant we are likely to have anywhere from 6-8 lambs born this year.  Granted, we aren’t counting our chickens before they are hatched, or our lambs before they are born.  🙂

The goats seemed very happy with the return of the sheep.  Fiona, is the matriarch of the flock and I don’t think the goats liked having her gone and having to think for themselves.  They are happily following Fiona’s lead again.  The flerd is all back together!

Silly me, I wanted a picture of the flerd but they are all so friendly they kept following me around.  So I put out a little hay to get them to stay away from me so I could stand back and take a photo.  Well…when you throw hay on the ground and stand back all you get to photograph is their backs with their noses to the ground.  Violet and Fiona were shorn while at the breeder and we need to get jackets back on them to protect their wool.  Here’s the flerd:

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Christmas Crafting

We are all working on making Christmas presents for each other.  I am knitting all of mine, the girls are crocheting many of theirs and there is also a lot of woodworking going on.  It is fun to have secrets and surprises in the works for everyone.  I can’t wait to share all the things I knit – but that will have to wait until after Christmas.

Livestock Record Book

While I was laying around sick I worked on my Livestock Record Book (I’m not good at just vegging out – even when I am sick).  I haven’t kept very good records this year, nor used the notebook much at all.  Previous years I have used it constantly and kept perfect records.  But with all that happened in our family and health it just didn’t happen.  I would like to change that in 2017 and get back into keeping detailed records.  It feels really good when I can look back and know exactly what we produced and what we spent, as well as being able to know exactly what it takes to keep the livestock productive.  So I have been working on printing out all the forms and paperwork for the notebook to start fresh in 2017.

Freak Accident

Freak Accident

Warning, there is a graphic photo of an injury in this post.

One of our farm dogs, Finley, had a freak accident on Sunday.  Of course, these things always happen on weekends when the vet office is closed, right?  Thankfully, our small town vet leaves his home number on the voicemail so you can call him in an emergency after hours.

Our temporary livestock panel sections of the barnyard fence have welded wire attached to them with zip ties.

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Finley is quite the escape artist and has figured out that if he pushes hard enough, or bounces against it enough, he can break the zip ties.  Then he pushes, or even pulls (depending on which side of the fence the wire is on) the wire open enough so he can squeeze out.  Each time that he does this, Mtn Man has been replacing the plastic zip ties with steel zip ties hoping he can’t break those.  In some places the wire has been pretty well bent and deformed by Finley, but Mtn Man has been able to bend it back for the most part and use the steel zip ties to hold the gaps where needed.  A few times, Finley has been injured in his escape attempts, just a scratch here or there from the wire as he squeezed out spaces way to small for his size.  But nothing ever that needed anything but some cleaning and salve.

Sunday, I let Finley out of the barn, he ran over and jumped up against the fence, then started screaming and limping back to me.  I looked down and saw a bunch of blood on his back leg near the dew claw.  We took him inside and examined his leg.  Most dogs do not have an actual digit of bone in their rear dew claws, it is quite rare.  But Finley has a full digit in his, including all the toe bones.  He had sliced it half off, including through the bone, and it was dangling off.  We knew with the broken and exposed bone he would have to go to the vet because of the very high chance of serious infection.

Once at the vet’s office he was sedated and the area was shaved and cleaned.  Since he was in the barnyard when it happened the wound had quite a bit of hay and gunk in it.  Then the vet amputated up to the next joint in the digit, removed the broken dangling part, and sewed it all back up.

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It was clear that the wound was a slice wound, not a tear.  The edge of the skin, as well as the bone, was very cleanly cut, not raggedly torn.  We had no idea what could have possibly been sharp enough to do that.  When we got home and had a chance to investigate it became clear.  We found one of the zip ties that had been horizontally closing a gap in the fence was bent and had some of Finley’s hair stuck in it.

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It is crazy to think that his leg came down exactly right on that 1 1/2 inch section of the fence, in a way that there was enough pressure, the tie was sharp enough, and it hit in just the right spot to cut that digit off.  What a freak accident.

Despite the fact that it was such a small chance of it happening, we are rethinking how to deal with these fences because we don’t want anymore emergency injuries from those steel zip ties.  Finley hasn’t ever escaped the permanent fence – it would be nice if we could just finish replacing it all with permanent fence.  But when you live in the Rockies, fencing is a big deal because everywhere to try to put a post hole you hit rock.

Finley will move indoors for the next 10 days or so while we wait for it to heal and the stitches to be taken out.

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Sunday Homestead Update

Fall has officially arrived in the Rockies. We can hear elk bugling now, which signals the start of their mating season. The male elk bugle to attract females and tell other males they are big and bad. You can see and hear elk bugling by searching “elk bugling rmnp.” It is the sound that fills our fall days and nights here at Willow Creek Farm, and we love it.

Fall means putting up the harvest from our gardens, hunting and butchering to put up meat in our freezers, and getting everything prepared for winter.  It is also a great time to work on outdoor building projects around the farm because the weather is ideal.  It is a beautiful and productive time of year and my very favorite season in the Rockies.

We are continuing with our harvesting of the beans and carrots and canning/freezing them.  As our first frost closes in we are preparing to harvest all the tomatoes.  And we have been working on finishing the smokehouse and root cellar this last week as well (more on that later this week).

Bear Visit

We had a bear visit the barnyard this week.  It was about 3:30 am and we heard our farm dog, Finley, alarm barking from inside the sheep stall in the barn.  Mtn Man headed out with his flashlight and thankfully, as soon as he stepped out the door, the bear high-tailed it over the barnyard fence and off into the woods.  From the tracks and fur we found the next morning it seems he had been drinking out of the water trough and there was some minimal damage to the barn, on the sliding stall door that goes into the Mama Hen Pen, which was empty at the time.  Thankfully, Finley’s barking deterred him from trying to mess with the sheep stall door.  But the chicken coop is on the other end of the barn, and that is where we have previously had trouble with bears trying to break in.

Ollie

I haven’t updated on Oliver in awhile.  For those who don’t know, Oliver is my English Angora rabbit.  He lives inside the house.  He is a fiber-producing livestock animal for us, but he is also a beloved pet.

In my opinion, he is currently in the cutest stage of hair growth between being fully sheared and full length fiber.  He is about 3/4 of the way to his next shearing and I just love this length.  So adorable!

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I have been collecting his fiber for two years now.  Now that we have our own wool processing equipment, I have been able to start working with his wool and learning to mix it with the sheep’s wool to make soft, but strong yarn.

Looking forward to another beautiful autumn week on the farm.