We just bought land today! After four years of building a permaculture homestead on a 50x100 lot we are moving out to the country to 8 acres. My family is so happy and so ready for this move. We currently have three chickens and they are pets to the kids. I want to make sure we keep them safe.
Our chickens are used to hawks (at least with lots of tree cover) but where we're moving does not have tree cover except a small corner and a couple of walnut trees the the center. The neighbor also told us he gave up on keeping chickens because of coyotes so I'm pretty certain I want to get a Great Pyrenees. I know of them from Paul's chicken article and I've seen a couple from a distance at a farm I visited but that's the extent of my experience.
Where should I start? Do we wait until we move or should we get the dog sooner so that by the time we are in the place with the predator risk the dog already knows who s/he is protecting (or will it come naturally immediately)?
I would urge you to move to your land, get set up and do extensive research into livestock guardian dogs (LGD) before bringing one into your life. There are many things you will want to consider and learn in order to make your LGD experience a successful one for you and the dog.
Breed: There are many breeds of LGD from around the world, the Great Pyrenees is but one. There are many commonalities among the breeds, but each has its own characteristics. Some breeds use barking as the primary deterrent, others are more reserved. Some breeds have easy going personalities while others have a "hard", more reactive edge. Some of the breeds are quite aloof, others are more tuned into their humans. Some LGD breeds protect by staying close to livestock, others defend a larger territory and therefore tend to roam.
Training: Many people start with an LGD pup which will require 1-2 years (2 yrs for most breeds) of exposure, training and maturity before it will be ready to guard your livestock. Many hours of work and a positive approach to training is a must in order to build mutual trust and establish a partnership with these highly intelligent and sensitive dogs. The single most common cause of a failed relationship with an LGD is the mistaken belief that the new pup can start guarding from day one. The instincts are there but it is up to you to nurture and shape those instincts. This takes a lot of time on your part and a lot of maturity on the dogs part. Puppies play. Chickens squawk and run. Chickens can die in this game. Just as one would never suggest that a 5 year old child could be a responsible babysitter, so should we never expect a puppy to be ready to be a trustworthy guardian. Guarding poultry is the most demanding job, requiring the highest level of maturity from the dog. Acquiring a mature, well raised LGD rather than a pup is an option but not without its own set of challenges.
Behavior: LGDs bark. Some of the breeds bark a LOT and often bark more at night (when predators are active) than during the day. This can disturb your sleep and your neighbor's sleep. Please also note that the mindset and working style of an LGD are very different from the breeds of pet dogs we are commonly used to. LGDs have been bred for centuries to think for themselves and work independently of humans. This has resulted in dogs that will partner with people but will not always conform to our usual definition of obedience. It doesn't always matter to them what you as mere humans want in a particular moment. They have a job to do, so if they feel it is more important to do a perimeter check right now rather than come when you call, that is what they will do. This is not a fault, it is a feature.
Predator load: It is important to consider exactly what you will be asking of the dog. In general, LGDs work best in pairs. One dog should not be expected to take on a pack of coyotes or larger predators. Not a fair fight.
Fencing: A secure perimeter fence is a must for keeping the dog on your property.
I hope this gives you a starting point for more research into livestock guardian dogs. It is a serious commitment to learning and partnering when you bring these incredible dogs into your life. In the mean time, I would suggest building a secure chicken coop with a predator proof outdoor run for your chickens. Get to know the land and its inhabitants. You will soon know if it is safe to allow your chickens some free range time during the day when you are home. Locking them up securely at night and when you are not home goes a long way toward keeping them safe.
Good info Sue.
I would like to add that whichever breed you choose, get it from good parents.
By this, I mean DON'T get it from an obvious puppy-mill.
Try to find a local farm that already has LGDs, and does on-site breeding.
You want a working dog. Get it from working parents.
The mama will begin training from the moment that the pup becomes mobile.
She will train it NOT to chase/harass/intimidate the critters that it will become responsible for.
By association, the pup will learn that mama looks to the owners to determine what they want.
Mama has many duties that she will teach her pups about.
Never underestimate the power of a good mother.
Having a 'professional' mama teaching the pup will mean that you are getting a young dog that has the basic training needed to start his/her career. I feel that if the pup starts his career on a small urban lot, he won't 'get' the full grasp of what his duties will be. I feel that after his mother's initial training, he should go DIRECTLY to his new 'job site'. Much less confusion that way.
Thank you both so much! What you both said makes a lot of sense to me. There was a reason I've been following for years but this was my first post. It seems important to not just "wing it" with an LGD like I have done with building and planting etc.
So I guess I should just start asking around the area wherewearemoving? Does anyone on these forums happen to be in or near the eastern panhandle of WV?
I'm nowhere near there, but have 2 suggestions:
1) Start browsing the Farm/Garden section of the local Craig's Lists that serve those counties.
(Might even consider putting a want ad there...but be very cautious with the responders - there are people who would try to hook you up with a pit-bull/Chihuahua mix.)
2) Contact the county extension agents in surrounding counties.
Some of those guys/gals know everything going on in their districts.
I'd like to second what John said about getting a pup from working parents. That is a must. Look for a breeder with a track record and for one that keeps pups in the litter with mom until 12 weeks of age. That is crucial time for the pups to learn socialization and bite inhibition. They will be much more confident than a pup taken at 8 weeks. Also do not choose a pup that is a cross of LGD/non-LGD. Two breeds of LGD that have been crossed, such as Pyr/Akbash should be fine. Again, finding working parents with good temperament is the best predictor of how the pup will perform giving a good upbringing.
Sue's post above very nicely summarises everything we've uncovered during our research
We're getting them as soon as possible after the chickens arrive (about 600 to start). We're working on the assumption it'll take 2-3 years to have them suitably trained and will "wear" the lost stock in the interim and manage as best we can with fences and other measures. Once we have experienced dogs we can introduce younger pups to be trained in the same fashion over time so we always have varied ages on hand
FWIW - during our research we've considered:
- Anatolian Shepherd
- Great Pyrenees
For our needs we think the Anatolian is best, this is due to breed characteristics as well as the breeder we've found and their ability to assist us in training. In fact I think this last point is the major driving factor, not having owned LGD previously
The "non-dog" options aren't suitable in our case (wild dog defence)
We have been in WV for about two months and so far have kept our chickens and new chicks safe! The big chickens only free-range within an electric fence while we are around and the chicks only stay within a coop/run combo inside the electric fence. We have chased hawks away more than once. I have been amazed at how close some of them come when there are clearly people out and about. We have a very secure coop and run within the electric fence and this is working well for now.
Long term, I want to set up a system with four areas to shift the chickens through. We also want to add ducks and a small number of goats, cows and/or sheep.
I read Livestock Protection Dogs: Selection, Care, and Training by Orysia Dawydiak and David E. Sims. I feel that I have a much greater understanding of what it takes to select and train a LGD pup now. I have also talked with a couple of people in the area using LGDs and visited a nearby farm that has four working dogs. I also have recommendations for two sources of pups in the area.
Now that I've taken all that in I'm struggling to understand if and how an LGD would work in our situation. We have 8 acres. The farm I visited was 400 acres. The book I read only made one mention of farms from 1-20 acres (suggesting that a calmer pup would work better since they would probably be less likely to get bored and try to expand the territory, i.e. jump/dig the perimeter fence). Also, most of the dogs' work seems to be with sheep, which we may or may not get.
I'm really drawn to the Great Pyrs and feel confident that I would be able to train and socialize the dog. What I'm not grasping is how would it work in our situation --- if we are planning smaller chicken paddocks that are too small for an LGD to be inside of would we want to have a perimeter fence and have the dog free to patrol the whole 8 acres? What if we want to add a handful of larger stock and put them in somewhat larger (maybe 1 acre?) shifting paddocks? Can the dog stay outside the fencing for those but within the perimeter fence and be able to do his/her job?
Here is my preliminary site plan to help paint a picture of what we're thinking of doing:
Here in Spain people have Spanish Mastinos as their preferred LGDs and most people have smallis farms (we have 6,5 hectares ~ 16 acres, which is not uncommon). Most of the goat herders have their mastinos in the stable-area which are less than an acre. It is sequels well enough that the goats don't escape. The mastinos don't go with them during that day - where they use Collies or other shepherd dogs but stay in the stable area with chickens etc. It doesn't seem to be a problem with that breed.
I choose not to have any Livestock Guard Dogs even though I have a considerable amount of sheep, quite a bit of land, and live in Maine that has the biggest coyotes in the nation size wise.
I simply do not need them at this point. The cost of Livestock Guard Dogs is rather expensive when you calculate in the cost or having them in relation to what they are protecting and what I have for losses. A sheep is worth $150 after all, a chicken $10 and a duck $5. In 9 years of having sheep, I have lost 1 lamb to predation, and that was by a crow. A Livestock Guard Dog would not have prevented that. Instead I rely on good fences which not only keep my sheep in, they keep coyotes out. So for the money, that fence gets double duty and deducted over its 30 year life span, it is extremely cheap. If I am going to have to install a fence, I minds well make it a better one and just eliminate the hassles of having a livestock guard dog altogether.
I do not think realistically I can ward of predators with a gun, but I do have a wonderful relationship with my local hunters. Not only do they get my dead livestock for use as coyote bait, they are allowed and encouraged to hunt coyotes here. When I found out they had to take roads some 3 miles around in their hunting of coyotes, I took my bulldozer and built a road across my farm so they could get from spot a to spot b so much quicker, and for that they always start hunting for coyotes here first. Now I say coyotes because I do not allow deer hunting. That is because coyotes are rather lazy and only get what is easy. The more venison they dine on, the less interested they are in lamb. Add in an almost unpenetrable fence and they are limited to finding food elsewhere.
On my farm every animal has to earn its keep, so I honestly never envision myself having a livestock guard dog. I MIGHT (though I doubt it) have a livestock guard animal at some point, it would probably be a donkey. Not only do they eat similar feed as sheep, their long lives (50 years versus the 8 working years of a dog) makes them a lower cost in the long run.