Part II~Protecting Your Flock-LGDs
In my first post about guard animals for livestock, we explored protecting your flock of sheep with the use of miniature donkeys. Today, I have asked Hannah Smith of Vinegar Ridge Farm to talk with us about LGDs or Livestock Guardian Dogs. I first met the Smith family at the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival about 11 years ago. Their family had a booth there, selling their roving and wool yarn. The children were involved in showing their sheep and llamas. We had just purchased our first flock of sheep and were in the midst of homeschooling. This amazing family of six children, also homeschooled, were such an inspiration to our family. Each of their children were involved in some way in the farm. Their knowledge of all aspects of sheep farming never ceases to amaze me. Their farm sits surrounded by a stunning view of Lake Champlain, just outside of Burlington, Vermont. Hannah has graciously taken time from her busy schedule to tell us a little about using Livestock Guardian Dogs.
About Vinegar Ridge Farm
Vinegar Ridge Farm, located in Charlotte, VT, began (originally Smith Family Farm) around the year 2000, when our family became interested in fiber art and sheep. The flock started out with 2 Romney lambs and quickly grew from there. These days, the flock is made up of registered Border Leicesters (both white and black), registered Shetlands, and a few Southdowns, Lincolns, and crossbred ewes. About 4 years ago, we moved from one side of Charlotte where we didn’t have much trouble with predators to the other side of town, where we lost several sheep in the first couple years. We now use Livestock Guardian Dogs to protect our flock.
Why Livestock Guardian Dogs?
Llamas were a part of the farm for many years, but as the llamas got older and passed away, we realized that they were not able to protect the sheep the way that our new predator load required. We chose to go with Livestock Guardian Dogs as our new guardians. We felt that their method of protection suited our situation better than the other options. We acquired our first LGD, Mira, in 2013 from a small family farm in New York. Our second, Murphy, came later that year from a big sheep farm in Kentucky. December of 2014, our third LGD, Misha, arrived from Minnesota.
History of the Livestock Guardian Dog
Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs) have been in use as flock protectors for over 2000 years. Traditionally, they roamed the mountains and countryside with their flocks, but today they are being utilized more and more on small family farms.
Characteristics of LGDs
LGDs are a hardy and loyal group of dogs. They are amazingly gentle and yet fierce and will fight to the death to protect what is theirs. LGDs bond easily to their 4-legged charges as well as to their caretakers. They are very smart and can be stubborn when they make up their minds to do or not to do something. Most LGD breeds are naturally excellent with people, especially small children. LGDs do well – even thrive – in cold weather. Most of the LGD breeds have a long, thick double coat, but even the short-haired Anatolian Shepherd is able to withstand frigid temperatures.
LGDs work best in pairs, but can work alone. They patrol their territory and bark to warn nearby predators to stay away. A discerning LGD learns when it is necessary to bark and won’t bark constantly. They will take on a predator physically if they need to. They are also good at ridding the farm of nuisance creatures such as rats, mice, raccoons, skunks, and possums. A good LGD will even learn to watch the skies for birds of prey.
There are many breeds of LGDs around the world, but the most common breeds found in the United States are the Great Pyrenees, the Maremma, and the Anatolian Shepherd – the most popular being the Great Pyrenees.
The old school method for training LGDs was to throw them out with the flock at 8 weeks old and not to handle them, except for routine care. The thinking behind this was that allowing the dog to bond to people, as well as the flock, created a dog that was unable to do its job. However, shepherds have begun to realize that this method doesn’t work for dogs working on smaller acreage that will be around people on a regular basis. These dogs need to be comfortable being handled and spending time around people. They’ve also learned that proper training and socializing a working LGD does not ruin them as a guardian. While they will never win any obedience awards, LGDs should have certain level of training. “Come” (they usually think of this command as more of a suggestion rather than an order), “sit”, and “stay” or “wait” are useful commands for them to know. They should also be comfortable walking on a leash and riding in a car.It generally takes a LGD 2 years to become fully matured into a trustworthy guardian (most can be left unattended with their charges from a young age, but they may still exhibit inappropriate puppy behaviors like chasing from time to time). Most LGDs will go through a “poultry phase” where they play with and kill poultry. Most grow out of this, but some don’t – especially if they are not corrected as puppies.
These dogs do not require a heated home, in fact, most prefer sleeping on a snowbank to a bed by the fire. Their thick do
uble coat keeps them warm and dry in the most miserable weather. They do need a place to get out of the wind and rain, but nothing fancy.
Fencing is a must. Due to their nomadic nature, LGDs like to roam. They need a good fence to keep them in. Most can be successfully trained to an electric fence or portable netting. Some dogs can be accomplished escape artists and need more secure fencing.Surprisingly, given their large size, LGDs do not eat a lot. They eat more during the winter months, but will slow down, sometimes refusing to eat for several days in a row, during the summer months. It is best to keep a working LGD lean. A fat LGD is more likely to get injured and will suffer during the summer. LGDs require a significant amount of grooming to keep their coats free from mats and vegetation. Thankfully, most of them love the attention and belly rubs that go along with a grooming session.
Here are some things to think about when considering adding a Livestock Guardian Dog to your farm:
1. Do you have the set-up to safely contain a LGD?
2. Do you love dogs? These dogs are big and hairy and, yes, most of the time they smell. And they love to give hugs, especially when they have just been to the compost pile and are covered in who-knows-what.
3. What is your predator load? If you don’t have a big issue then you may not need a LGD. Livestock Guardian Dogs are amazing animals with a lot to offer, but they are not for everyone or every situation.
You can find the Smith family farm online at: