One Animal We Would NOT Farm Without

I love the chickens, I love the ducks even more, the geese are cool, the goats are necessary, the sheep are perfect but there’s one animal we wouldn’t do any of it without: a livestock guardian dog (LGD).

When we first had chickens, and lived in town, we built Ft. Knox to house them. In the books, I read how many predators chickens have. Everything wants to eat chicken! So we dug deep and buried our fencing. On the hen-house we attached 1/2″ wire because weasels can fit through the 1″ kind. No where did we use chicken wire because raccoons can tear right through it. All our latches were too difficult for a three-year old to open as this is the recommended test to keep raccoons out. Then we electrified a string of wire along the top of fence.

Later, I was reading permaculture articles about raising chickens and found a fantastic breakdown on the best way to raise them. It’s by Paul Wheaton and can be found here. It seems like he has tried everything and I love all the factors he’s considered. Vegetation, bugs, poop cleaning, poop hygiene, work, natural habitat, confinement, food cost. Then, near the end of his article, I read this: “But for now, let me just leave it at: if you have acreage, a livestock guardian breed of dog is the way to go. Everything becomes much easier and cheaper.” This really caught my attention, however, I did feel a little deflated at finding out that there was a much easier way to raise chickens. We had just spent roughly $1,300 on getting set up to keep the ones we had.

A year after reading this, when we found ourselves starting over on a small acreage, I told my husband that I wanted a LGD. He said as long as it wasn’t one of those giant white fluffy ones he was ok with it.

Some of you have read the story of Roman, our first LGD. If you haven’t, you can find it here.  I’ve had quite a few dogs so far in my life but I had never had one like Roman. There were many things that set him apart but his instincts were what fascinated me the most. He would position himself beside us or the goats in such a way that he could see all the avenues of approach that someone or something could take.  He wouldn’t let our Great Dane even look at his food but the chickens could eat all they wanted.  At 6 months old he ran off two dogs out of our yard.

When we lost him we discussed the purchase of another LGD. I was worried about the cost.  My husband asked, what would it cost to replace all of our animals?  He said that Roman was the heart of our farm. He pointed out how devastated we’d be at losing animals to predators.  Would we really have the desire to replace our livestock or would we end up giving up on the whole thing?

Three nights after losing Roman, something came after the ducks and we were awakened by their frantic noises. Two nights after that, we brought Bersa home.

It has been over a year now and Bersa has been wonderful. She did need some guidance at first. She chased chickens a little and she did catch one, injured her shoulder and then buried her alive. I found her before she suffocated but I had to put her down because of her injuries. It was upsetting at first but we knew that most of these dogs have an adjustment period. They almost all make mistakes and need training. It is not until they are 2 years old or so that they really hit their stride. We were able to catch Bersa in the act a couple of times in the beginning and after that she was almost perfect. She only made a few mistakes after that by giving in to some chasing.  I don’t think she made any more mistakes after she was a year and a half old.

Bersa is two now and I don’t know what we’d do without her. Here’s a recent picture:

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She’s a Kangal/Boerboel. If you are curious, you can read about them here.

When Roman died, we had no protection for our animals at all. We decided back then that we’d like to have two dogs. That way, if we lost one, our animals wouldn’t be in danger until we could find a replacement.

On July 5th we purchased another dog from Andrew Johnston. Here’s Hugo at 7 weeks old on the car ride home:

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Bersa and Hugo hit it off right away. She had absolutely no problems accepting him. I actually think she spoils him a little. I’ve never heard her snap or growl at him to put him in his place at all. He can get away with anything. He chews on her face and she just playfully knocks him over.

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It’s been really neat to see Bersa look out for Hugo, too. Our tomcat, Walter, was very upset at the arrival of Hugo. Walter stays away from him now but in the beginning, when Walter would puff up and hiss and get ready to strike Hugo, Bersa would come and run Walter off. Now, you need to know, Bersa and Walter are the best of friends. But Bersa will not stand for any violence. I’m pretty sure she picks up the cues from us. When Daniel’s sister was visiting with her 5 pound lap dog, Hugo was after her little dog so much that Daniel finally told him to leave it. After that, every time he’d go after her Bersa would run interference.

Our neighbors are surprised that we have never lost any animals to predators. We have everything out here, from coyotes to cougars. There are raccoon tracks all around our property but nothing ventures inside where Bersa roams.  The only animals that have gone missing were some ducks when they were swimming in the river.  Unfortunately for them, Bersa doesn’t swim and they were picked off by the bald eagles.  She did do her best by barking from shore, though.  Poor duckies.

We also really appreciate our LGD’s style of protection. Some use barking as a constant warning to keep other animals away. I’ve often heard of Great Pyrenees that bark all night. I never would have thought to look up what style the different breeds use to ward off predators so I’m really glad we didn’t end up with a kind like that.

You have probably also noticed that although Bersa has a job on the farm we do treat her like a pet. You may have read that you shouldn’t allow your LGD to become too attached to you, that it will interfere with their bond with the livestock. We struggled a lot with this when we first got Roman. We read different opinions until we finally realized that our property is small enough for our dog to be able to do it all. Yes, our dogs hang out around the house but they can smell and hear everything that’s going on. I’ve seen Bersa patrol as well. She marks territory and keeps watch a great deal of the time. She also did really well when we locked her up with our three goats while she was in heat.  Within a week she had made a new friend so I don’t think her contact with us interfered at all with her ability to bond with stock.

Bersa and Finn

Something that might surprise you is that Roman, Bersa and Hugo are all mixed breed dogs. Personally, I love a good mutt. I think they benefit from the mix of genetics and often overcome a lot of the negative effects that inbreeding has on the purebreds.  One argument I’ve heard, though, is that you never know what you are getting. The difference with our dogs is that they were bred on purpose by someone who has a great deal of experience. You can read about Andrew Johnston’s dogs on his website olympicdogs.net.

While not all of you may have an Andrew Johnston nearby, I would highly recommend that you find out who is in your area that breeds LGDs. Find someone who is sensitive to the needs of people with livestock. You won’t go wrong with a person with a good reputation. If they are selling you a dog that is supposed to be good with animals and children and it isn’t then they’ll do whatever they can to make it right. They should also provide you with excellent health guarantees as well.

We are so impressed with these types of dogs that not only would we never farm without one, we never want to live without one either.

 

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This entry was posted in Chickens, Goats, Happenings, Livestock Guardian Dogs, Other Barnyard Birds, Sheep. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to One Animal We Would NOT Farm Without

  1. Beautifully written… enjoyed this blog sooo much~

  2. Mima says:

    Yes me too, I really enjoyed reading this one and am convinced to have one of these dogs. They are beautiful animals.

  3. Anton says:

    Im on red hot alert when i read about so much dog aggression. I consider the use of the Kangal, the Dogo and Boerboel to be absolutely pointless in a breeding programme that’s geared to family dogs that are also animal friendly. But in a livestock gaurdian breed its purely diabolical. I also consider what I’ve read to be the pinnacle of danger signs considering the breeders behaviour. Dogs behind electric fences, pellet guns and dog fights…….who would be so crazy to buy a dog from that man or place. Having read his site his understanding of the dog breeds involved is absolutely minimal. The only dog breed he uses that can be considered more or less not dog aggressive is the Dane and that breed is riddled with disease and other problems, at least more so than the other breeds combined.

    Expect trouble!!!!

    In principle Im not against cross breeding dogs to fine tune a working or even home companion dog but it’s got to be done well. What we see here is a very random use of breeds where the outcome is not 100% predictable, the only predictable thing is dog aggression, this is almost 100% predictable in these crosses. No one wants a boerboel who is aloof and lacks biddable qualities, believe me no one. No one wants a completely independent Kangal with the Boerboels muscle and no one wants the dog aggression of all three breeds and even worse the prey drive of a doggo.

    This is seriously screwing around with dog breeds in an irresponsible manner. While I can recommend a Boerboel even a Boerboel cross ridgeback for example I cannot recommend on any grounds the crosses done here. I cannot recommend using Danes at all for their health and mental health problems, dogos for their prey drive which is not suitable for anything. No sane dog person could. It would take more than one lifetime to smooth out the problems, to perfect the crosses into a palatable working breed. All he is doing is passing on the problems directly to his customers and not actually evolving a breed suitable for ownership or work. Not for one second is he doing that. Whatever bizarre concept he might have in his mind and led people to believe. Each one of these breeds finely tweaked or as is is an Olympic breed in itself for very defined purposes and reasons, but like should be used to like for a guardian breed not this, not this mess of conflicting mentalities that are bound to arise at some point in the dogs life. To make matters worse there is also the consolidation of the worst aspects of each breed.

    I feel people are buying into hype and glory only to find themselves with unmanageable disaster, I just had to say something. Any that strike it lucky with these crosses will be due to nothing else other than the lottery affect. One winner a thousand losers. You got a good one, pure luck of the draw. Doesnt mean your dog wouldn’t kill another dog, no, no way.

    This breeder Olympicdogs.com has produced some complete nightmares that have been a real tragedy for their owners and family. I couldn’t reccomend him to anyone not in a millio years.

    Consider each separate breed properly as a breed and think, do I want that in my life? Dont think a cross is going to somehow cancel anything out. In an F1 the best you can hope for is good health. For the rest you are going to get the worst of each breed and in duplicate even triplicate in some of these crosses!!!!

    I’ve never seen a more pointless breeding programme ever in my 50-years of working dog breeding which has been solely breeding working dogs 100% outside the AKCs of this world and within 100% open registers. Be warned.

    • You are certainly entitled to your opinion. Thank you for keeping it civil.

      • Anton says:

        There’s never a reason not to be civil in my opinion, no thanks at all.

        Thank you instead for your time. I consider it my civic duty.

        It appears many dogs have not found the right home in this set up, where both dog and owner has had to bear truly tragic consequences of some of these crosses.

        I also do see and recognise here at least that the Boerboel in the cross has been catered for by still being fully a family companion, this could have ended up so wrong on all levels had it not been so, both on a welfare issue and just plain dangerously so. This is what happens when you cross highly tuned working dogs 50/50 with little thought for compatibility or consequences. Its difficult enough finding yourself with the exact desired adults to use of both never mind what lies behind them. Part of the line used I am 100% conversant with and can only describe their use as reckless in this combination as far as dog aggression is concerned.

        The breeder themselves describes one of the product of the cross as schizophrenic and it’s not difficult to see why.

        For what it’s worth LGDs were in fact used in the Boerboel background as early as the early eighties. This was a very careful introduction and any issues have long since been bred through, though. Same sex dog aggression is still something of a problem in some parings especially but not exclusively in alfa bitches, something that didn’t only come from LGDs. Each breed introduced was only used once in a specific line but which then came together with all the other lines to create or consolidate what was left of the Boerboel gene pool before it’s national rescue as a breed. Some lines discontinued because of problems etc. This involved many many hundreds even dare I say thousands of dogs and many breeders across a large country. Such dedication (ongoing) and scale is almost impossible in a one man band.

        Truly understanding a breed is critical.

        For owners it has to be said that they should read the breeders web site very very carefully and often this means between the lines because they have some ideas that are simply not compatible with any of area of dog ownership in our society today. They must also not disregard any negative experiences in their enthusiasm, at their peril.

        Working dog owners will of course know better.

  4. joshua hodges says:

    I have one of Andrew Johnston’s dogs as well. He is 62.5% boerboel, 12.5% kangal, 12.5% Dogo argentino, and 12.5% great Dane. He is 105 pounds at 7 months old and is great with our kids and our two much smaller (toy size) female dogs. Even our cats don’t mind him when he isn’t trying to burn off his puppy energy. As far as all of the negative reviews on this breeder, check his site and you will discover that most if not all of them come from a concerted effort to slander his program in cyberspace (not actual customers). It sounds like you have 2 great dogs!

    • Yes, horray for good, healthy dogs not inbred and ruined 🙂
      BTW, I’d love to see a photo of your pup. You can send it to redcabinfarm@gmail.com if you’d like. Hugo has the exact same breeding as your pup and I wouldn’t doubt if they maybe have the same parents, too.

    • Anton says:

      Yah this a problem. Pedigree dogs, especially pedigree show dogs are so messed up by inbreeding, genetic diseases, closed registries……blah blah that people do make the dangerous and often naive leap that everything cross bred is going to be good. But things aren’t that simple.

      Cross a working corgi with a game pitbull and most likely you will get a very healthy F1 cross, however it’s still likely to rip out the throat of the first dog it sees. Is this better than the corgi or even the pitbull? Hell no! Is this better than an outcross pure show corgi, hell no. Corgi cross cattle dog might do it, yes, even a corgi cross Border collie…….

      Joshua I would watch your dog very carefully. At seven months he is still a puppy, at 105Lbs at 9-months it sounds like he got more weight than he needs, than is functional for frame. he should only fill out if he was Boerboel at three, a Dane not at all and a Dogo already. He is in danger of early joint problems especially cruciate and elbow. But Boerboels for one have a switch that kicks in after a few years sometimes at late as three but it’s usually around two (this is not at all all dependant on environment either) when they suddenly start becoming hyper protective (desirable) and in some cases (depending on line) dog aggressive, territorial, possessive. With Dogo argentino in there you need to be extra vigilant as this could also mean heightened prey drive. Don’t think you can “train” it out. This is hardwiring it comes with the breed. While the Boerboel has low “prey” drive in general this is not the case with the Dogo. Introducing Dogo is perhaps the worse blunder here, as fabulous as they are there is no point.

      I honestly fail to see the value in these crosses at all quite frankly. They are of no use as homestead guardians, and they are of no use as livestock guardians, and they are of no use as pets. What is the use exactly? A confused and possibly dangerously confused dog.

      I would consider introducing more athleticism in a Boerboel but the rest………the Dane is limp, dim, skin and neurotic bone of absolutely no value genetically. An Australian boerhound might be a better bet even, but no where up front in the cross for the purposes of a guardian breed. Danes cross Boerboels are wrecks of degenerative diseases, life span of a canary……..tweet tweet etc

      Sad to say but these dogs also appear to be ending up in the wrong homes anyway. The wrong homes the wrong crosses and there is only one result, disaster. Pounds are full of breeding calamities, not without reason either. But if anyone wants an unpredictable, high prey driven, unmanageable though thoroughly impressive dog, in heavens name just save one from a shelter, you will be doing good in the process. You can call it what ever you like, Cynisca of Sparta, Theagenes of Thasos, Milo of Croton…… it will be every much an “Olympian” as anything you could ever buy.

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