Thursday, December 6, 2012

Critter Me This...

A farmer has 18 sheep ... all but 7 die ... how many has he left?Seven. All but seven died. Actually, the farmer still has 18 sheep. Some just smell better than others.
Ok, dumb riddle but it's true. Sheep aren't cheap and Christy will want the best for her cheesemaking. She's still doing the research but ewes in the top milking breeds can cost $200-$1500 each and if 11 are dead that is a quite a hit to the pocketbook. Sheep make tasty cheese, provide luxurious wool and are also delicious... particularly delicious to coyotes and mountain lions. And there are lots of coyotes and lions out at the ranch. My trusty 22-250 hand-loaded with (condor-safe) Barnes Varmint Grenade bullets travelling at over 4000 fps are bad medicine against the coyotes but I can't do anything about the highly protected lions and my gun is useless after dark when most of the problems will occur.
We need something to stay with the flock and protect it at all times, day or night, rain or shine. That something is a beast known as a Livestock Guardian Dog, or LGD. Ideally, our picture perfect setting would dictate that we have the "much cartoon heralded" (and Christy's favorite) Old English Sheepdog out there dropping anvils on Wile E. every time he jumps the fence with his knife and fork. I did research them but it turns out they are more herders than protectors and we already have Scout for that. They are also not as suited to the long hot summers with those long coats. Nope, we need a real LGD... and the Cadillac of LDGs is the Anatolian Shepherd.
Anatolian Shepherds are from the country of Anatolia, now known as Turkey. They have been bred for thousands of years to protect the flocks of the Anatolian Plateau, where summers are hot and winters are cold. They have a short length double coat that helps to regulate their core temp which is perfect for central California. They are also BIG and FAST. Males can be 150lbs+ and stand nearly 3 feet at the shoulder. They have long legs with athletic bodies and an instinct to protect. From my research, I'd say they are about the best there is at protecting a flock of sheep or herd of goats. They are fearless and attentive but have a low prey instinct so are much happier standing watch than running around chasing squirrels or rabbits. They don't herd either and generally just consider themselves part of the flock... Kind of like a male lion, they don't do much of anything until it is time to kick butt.
As you can see in the picture, they dwarf a German Shepherd and while maybe not quite as easily trainable, they will garner the same respect from any two-legged riff raff that might wander through the neighborhood. We don't anticipate needing a guard dog but having this big fella on the lookout for trouble is a nice bonus.
Another plus about Anatolians is that they are relatively long-lived for big dogs. While Great Danes and Mastiffs may be expected to stick around an average of 7 short years, Anatolian Shepherds can live 13-15.
There are also not very many breeders in the United States and the ones I have found are very picky about their stock, in an effort to keep problems like hip dysplasia out of the breed.
Prices run about $1000 for a guaranteed healthy non-breeding animal, a significant investment to be sure but it still could pay for itself in a single birthing season.
What about Scout chasing around trying to herd the sheep he is protecting you ask? I thought the same thing. I sure didn't want her getting the smackdown just for doing her job. It turns out these dogs have been bred to work around herding dogs and as long as they grow up together they should be fine. That's why I think it is important to start with a puppy. It takes an LGD about a year to grow into its job so that is something to consider in the initial Master Plan. 

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