Selecting guardian animals requires research, thought
PULASKI, Va. — The right guardian animal can be an important asset on a livestock farm.
Selecting the right animal for the job requires a lot of research and thought, a panel of three guardian animal owners said at a recent meeting of the New River Sheep and Goat club.
The panel included Cindy Colb, a physical therapist from Hiwassee, Va., who does therapy work on animals and has Karakachans, a Bulgarian livestock guardian dog breed; Bill Shaffner, a goat and sheep farmer from Independence, Va., who uses dogs and donkeys to guard his animals and Jennifer McClellen, a livestock producer from Riner, Va., who uses llamas as guard animals
All three panelists agreed that guardian animals cannot be treated as pets and need to be part of the flock or herd they are protecting. Also, neither should they be confused with working livestock dogs that are used to drive livestock.
While most puppies are ready to leave their mother at eight weeks of age Colb advised getting the puppy when it is 10 to 12 weeks old. She said they need puppy food until they are 18 to 24 months old when their growth plates close.
She cautioned against choosing the cutest friendliest puppy in the litter.
“You want one that stands back and watches,” she said.
Using an electrified wire at the bottom of a fence a good way to keep the puppy where it belongs, she said. It needs to be leash-trained but not treated as a pet, she added.
“With a puppy, it takes time to trust,” Colb said. “They have to know their boundaries.”
She said good guardian dogs are known for their “intelligent disobedience.”
“The dogs become anxious when people handle their animals,”
Shaffener said he and his daughter use Great Pyrenees dogs and Jerusalem donkeys as herd guardians. He runs between 150 to 160 head of sheep and 100 goats.
Letting pups and foals think they are part of the flock is a good way to go, he said.
“That is the main thing with dogs and donkeys,” he said. “Let them bond.”
He bought three donkeys to start and raised three more, keeping one and selling the other two.
Shaffener said he recommends using a female donkey, called a jenny, to keep the coyotes and other predators away.
He said the males or jacks are too aggressive and could pose a threat to lambs and kids. He reported that red wolves may threaten his animals as they are known to be in neighboring North Carolina.
“I’ve seen two cougars,” he added.
McClellen said she chose llamas because if their natural tendencies and her own preferences.
She said in a group of llamas, it is instinct for the largest llama to take the role of guardian. When they are put into a flock of sheep or goats they are the largest animal and assume the role of guardian.
She added she did not want to have to feed her guardian as she would have with a dog and she did not want to have to train a dog. The llamas eat forage in the field with their charges and naturally know their job.
McClellan acquired her first llama in 2007 after starting her farm. The llama, Lilly, now reins as Princess of the Barn, McClellan said, guarding flock of 20 sheep.
Two other llamas work in the fields. One protects a flock of 50 while the other takes care of 40.
McClellen said when she buys a llama she wants one that is halter broke to be able to handle for monthly deworming treatment. She said that the most dangerous thing a llama faces is the meningeal worm. They pick up these parasites from deer droppings in the field.
This pest can cause spine and brain damage to the llamas.
Llamas sometimes also need dental work or hoofs trimmed.
McClellen said she buys her llamas from a nearby breeder in Blacksburg. She is grateful that the breeder helps her pick good natured llamas that do not spit.
She said her guardians can have a life span of more than 20 years.
They do not tolerate heat very well, McClellen said, adding she shears them in the spring for the fiber and sells it to a fiber mill.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925