Sunday, July 8, 2007

What to buy -- or not

If you think parents always find themselves with unexpected expenses, try living on a farm. It's like I mentioned a year ago or so -- if you think it's bad having to keep a house clean, add a barn or two and a pasture to your responsibilities. Everything on a farm is like a family multiplied times three of four. And it's no different when it comes to buying things. With human kids, you have to buy shoes, clothes, musical instruments, and so on. With animals, you often find yourself needing to buy more animals, such as new males to breed the females to. I currently have a deposit down on a buckling (yet to be born) in Texas. I am also considering a new ram, because one of my ewes is related to all my rams. About a month ago, I finally bought a herding dog (puppy) after talking about it for a couple of years.

Porter is an English shepherd, one of the original breeds of "farm collies." He came from a sheep farm in Wisconsin, where his parents both herd sheep. He is a sweetie, but he is a puppy. He needs lots of attention and training at this point. My oldest daughter has agreed to take full responsibility for him, and she's doing a great job, even after three weeks.

Unlike our Anatolian shepherd, Porter will not live with the animals 24/7. Instead, his job will be to herd the sheep when we need to move them. That job has been getting harder and harder every year. Whoever said that sheep are dumb did not have Shetlands. They remember what we did last time to trick them into the barn, and they don't fall for the same thing twice. We are hoping that Porter will grow up to be a valuable asset to our farm and our family.

You may be wondering why the Anatolian shepherd can't help us with this. Well, the Anatolian breed has a misnomer of a name. It doesn't herd at all. It's just a guard dog. They hang out with the animals, bond with them, and protect them. And herding is all in the genetics. You have to have a dog with herding instincts to herd. English shepherds are herding dogs, and since they are not recognized by the AKC, it's probably easier to find dogs that still have those instincts. Once a dog is recognized by the AKC, it seems to be downhill from there, as people start breeding for the show ring and for pets. That's a problem with Great Pyrenees dogs. They were originally great livestock guardians in France, but they've become so popular as pets, the guarding of livestock has been bred out of them -- not intentionally bred out, but bred out by neglect. Like many people new to the farm, we tried GPs when we first moved out here, and we had a terrible experience. It's not impossible to find a good GP livestock guardian, but it's not easy. Like one lady said, most GPs today are just big marshmallows, and they make great pets.

Today's dinner from the farm: Chicken, zucchini and garlic!


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Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

Wow, LOTS of people seem to be getting English Shepherds now -- and I want one, too!

ivy said...

How will Anatolian shepherd react to your English shepherd? Will your ES be herded along w/ the AS? Or do you need to put AS in the barn so it does not feel it needs to defend the sheep?

ivy said...

"Will your ES be herding your AS with the sheep?"

Deborah said...

Ironically, the Anatolian was bought to guard the sheep; however, he hates them! So, he guards the goats. Then I bought a donkey to guard the sheep, and he killed one, so now he stands guard in a perimeter pasture where he doesn't have direct contact with animals. Seems no one likes my sheep. I hope the ES likes them! So far he seems to love everyone, but that's a puppy for you!

ivy said...

Would the 2 dogs socialize sometimes since they both live on your farm? And if so, would your AS behave like a canine? (or a sheep? or a goat?) I am very curious about what dynamic between them would be! This is quite fascinating!

Deborah said...

The Anatolian is quite the canine. That's the beauty of good genetics, and that's why there are specific breeds for guarding livestock. He is very protective of his goats the same way that a German shepherd would be protective of the police officer he works with. When they bond with the animals they are protecting, they are still very canine -- but they care for the animals.

One day last winter, my daughter went outside to do chores one evening, and the Anatolian was standing at the edge of the buck pen whining and barking at her and looking into the buck's shelter. He wouldn't stop barking until she went over there. And she saw what he was upset about. One of the bucks was sick and laying in the shelter. You hear stories like this all the time from people who have great livestock dogs -- they claim they are worth their weight in gold, and I agree.

If any kind of predator comes near -- or is unlucky enough to get through the electric fence -- the Anatolian will attack it. He's killed a number of raccoons and opossums, and he's only tangled with one coyote, but the coyote quickly realized it had no chance and took off almost instantly.

Currently, the Anatolian still views the English shepherd as an intruder. He growls at him when he approaches the fence, so we won't let them into the same pasture together. Hopefully at some point, he'll realize this new dog is here to stay. He completely accepts my standard poodle and really loves her (drools all over her!) because she's been here longer than he has, so he understands that she belongs. The way that the LGD brain works is that they know what belongs and what doesn't. If something doesn't belong, they try to get rid of it. Somehow, with goat kids though, he understands that they're supposed to be here, even though they're new. It's amazing.

ivy said...

Thanks, Deborah. This is some fun info. I am amazed about how your AS can understand complex relationships in his environment. Just amazing!


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