Monday, 16 January 2017

Importing of the Brabant horses

In 1996, there was promotional, beer wagon train, from the City of Antwerp in Belgium to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The trip constituted various teams of Brabant horses pulling primarily beer wagons and kegs.
 This was a promotional tour organised by the world-famous PALM beer brewery, whose symbol is the sorrel coloured brabant horses.
In that wagon train, pulling Palm beer kegs was a black team of Brabant horses, called Max and Carmen.

 Little did we know then, that we would end up becoming the owners of that team. Initially Max, the big trusty gelding came to us. He was used mostly for doing wagon rides in the nature area we lived in. This gelding was the epitome of cool headed, and easy going. Despite Eric and our friend Henry being clueless in how to harness up correctly, he stilled pulled the wagon despite the harness being upside down and inside out.
 Eric and Henry got the harnessing figured out and the decision was made to add another horse, we purchased the mare Carmen, who stood next to Max during the PALM tour.  Carmen had a little more fire in her soul, and although we bought her as broke, we soon realized that she was maybe Max’s partner in the trip, but it was more for the company than for the work she did. The lesson we learnt was never presume a horse is broke...

 She taught Eric and Henry, how to really work with a horse.
She went on to become a fantastic horse that was used for wagon rides, normal riding, she would plow and do land work and she pulled felled trees out of the bush.
This mare was more than we could ever ask for, and embedded in us,  a love for this draft breed.  We had various other Brabants in those years, but sold them all, when we decided to immigrate to Canada in 2008.
Initially, we thought of importing a few with us, but with the huge cost involved we decided against that, unsure if their would be any market here in Canada for them to warrant the expense to import them.

Since, 2008 we have been building up our ranch, we invested in the farm, in cattle and sheep and a barn. Our barn burnt down last year and we had a big set back in our ambitions for the ranch.
 Another year of building started.
Eric had mentioned several times that he really wanted to get back into the draft horses. He decided to buy an “American Belgium”, so Sugar came to live on our ranch. Although a nice mare, Eric still hankered for a “real” Brabant again (we used to live in the province of Brabant, NL, so some nostalgia comes into play as well).
 We decided to purchase a mare in Missouri, so Missy would make the trek up to Canada.
We agreed to lease a stud for three years, and so Expo joined Missy in the drive back to Canada.
This little group would be the start up,
 back into the world of  Brabant horses.



Following this, we purchased Jane and Lucy, two more American Belgium Horses. All, nice mares who would produce half Brabant foals.
Jane, Expo and Sugar.

Last year, Eric made the decision that he needed to kick start his purebred breeding program and the only way to ensure quality horses would be to import them himself.
He reached out to our old contacts and friends in the Netherlands to be on the look out for some good quality foals. In, October 2016 we traveled back to the Netherlands and Belgium to look at and select wean-lings to import to Canada.

We made the decision to travel around and look at all the available foals we could find that fit our criteria, before making any decisions on which we would purchase. We wanted to see the mothers of the foals as that would give us an indication on how the babies might turn out. We knew all the studs were proven studs, and were recognized as breeding studs by the pedigree organizations.

We saw some excellent quality foals at various breeders. Initially, we wanted to find a blue roan stud colt for ourselves, but became enamored with two stunning bay colts. The decision was made that these two colts, out of different studs would be part of the group of 4 that would come to Canada. We saw some really nice foals, went to watch some seeding, and spent some time looking at yearlings and two year old’s in various places, mostly young stud horses who would be brought to the shows to be evaluated for breeding soundness.

We spent a few days in Belgium looking at some foals there. The biggest issue in Belgium was that most of the foals had their tails cropped. Although illegal, it still happens. We would not have considered a cropped foal, so that left us with a smaller selection. We missed some correctness in some of the babies we saw and were not as “taken” with the foals we got to see. We soon made the decision to return and look at the horses in the Netherlands. 

While travelling around we made a point of visiting with the registry folks, and Eric drove up to the quarantine facility and shipping company to discuss the whole process.
We were initially told that we could import 4 on a pallet, but were later told that 5 foals would be fine to.
So, we decided to look for a fifth weanling to join the crew.

We also spent some time at a draft horse day,

And, we helped to collect some young studs off an island for the winter.

We visited a larger breeder with over 15 mares, but as we would not commit directly to buying any without first seeing what was available, the owner sold them the following day.  We did not want to be pressured into any rash decisions. 

From all the foals we had seen the decision was made to import the two bay colts, and a blue roan filly. We still needed to find two blue roan stud colts for the Kowalchuk family. Finding good blue roans was like looking for a needle in a haystack. We found a nice, somewhat taller type bay roan colt, that had different bloodlines to the horses we had already selected.  After sending photo’s up and down and many messages, it was decided that Tim would join the team.

On our last day, we got a lead to two blue roan stud colts, that may, or may not be for sale. We went to see the first one, a lovely colt, but in our opinion still too young to be weaned from the mare and be transported half way across the world.

The last colt, was one from a breeder who had decided to keep him for the Stallion accreditation and show. We were welcome to come and see him but they were still not sure if they would be willing to part with him. We drove to the people, had a great visit and went to look at this colt. He was exactly what we were looking for, a good foundation type mother, excellent sire and he was lovely. He had the right color, the correct build and after some convincing was for sale for a fair and reasonable price. He was the final foal to join the others and we were super excited for him.

So, we had Jaco and Fanny for ourselves,



Tim and Crist for the Kowalchuk family

and Jacco, for the Campbell family in Saskatechewan.

The import process could now begin.
Part 2 will follow.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

20 lessons you can learn from the Guardian dogs

1. Take time to meet new friends

2. Whisper sweet things in each other's ear.

3. Don't bite off more than you can chew.

4. Affection goes a long way.

5. Team work

6. Don't be afraid of big things.

7. Sometimes, realign yourself, and make sure everyone is facing in the same direction.

8. Have fun.

9. Go with a purpose. 

10. Have each other's back.

11. Nothing beats a good conversation.

12. Bask in the sun rays

13. Hang out with good friends.

14. Look beyond the gate.

15. Look out for each other.

16. Take care of those less fortunate.

17. There is always a reason to smile.

18. Aim high

19. Lead the way

20. Appreciate  the beauty around you.

Wishing everyone a great new year.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The dilemma of “hands on or hands off” raising.

This article was published by the Shepherds Magazine
Copyright: Louise Liebenberg 2016

As a child we played a game at school, were the kids formed a long line and the teacher whispered a sentence into the ear of the first child. That child would then turn and whisper it into the ear of the second child, and so it went all the way down the line. The last child had the task of saying out allowed what the original message was. It was always very funny as the message became distorted and often ended up not being anything like the original message.

It would seem that somewhere along the line, the message about how to raise LGD got a bit lost and distorted from the original introductions of LGD into North America. When LGD were introduced in the 1970’s to sheep keepers in the USA, a large scale study was undertaken by the Hampshire College under the guidance of Ray and Lorna Coppinger. Their job was to import LGD from Europe, distribute these dogs to sheep keepers and monitor these dogs over an extend time. This is too date, the largest and had the longest running time, study conducted on LGD. It spanned 10 years and well over 1000 dogs were monitored and "scored". Almost every, more recent study, always references the studies conducted by the Coppingers. 

Coppinger has always been blamed for promoting the “hands off” rearing practice. Reading through many older publications, I did not find anywhere in that original study that it advocated that the pup should be reared with no human contact at all. Somehow, somewhere the message become distorted to the point that no handling became the norm. This idea is still perpetuated three decades later, and the ramifications of this distorted message are felt within the livestock guardian dog world.

What was written by the Coppinger was that “minimal human contact” was recommended in order to allow the pup to form the sheep-dog bond. Nowhere in the old 1990’s USDA publication does it say that LGD should not be handled at all. 

Coppinger did state that some dog/human interaction was required and that some petting was appropriate. (

In more recent publications they still advocate “minimal human contact” is the best way to raise them.  (

Somewhere the “minimal contact”, evolved, the message went from little contact to no contact, hands off rearing. 
Hands off rearing become very much the norm under the sheep keepers, resulting often in semi feral dogs, distrustful of people, difficult to catch and impossible to handle. 

The idea that a LGD is raised in a vacuum without any human interaction is perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions with these dogs. Wherever you look in Europe, (where these LGD breeds originate), no where do you see a pup raised in isolation with the stock. The kids will play with pups, the dogs are often tethered in the villages during the winter months and in some cultures the dogs are even honored and celebrated for the work they do in keeping the livestock safe. 

Shepherd in Macedonia

In the Balkans, the sarplaninac dog who killed a wolf, would be paraded through town with flowers around its neck. The Turkish celebrate their dogs in big festivals with the dogs wearing ornately decorated collars, and in Italy the sheepdog of Abruzzo is not only the guardian of sheep but also “custodians of the ancient traditions”. ( 

Photo of a painting from a restaurant in Macedonia. 

These dogs live a hard life, as do the shepherds, and to outsiders, it may seem a harsh existence, but the shepherds value and revere these dogs. While visiting Macedonia last year, I saw the gentle scratches behind an old dog’s ear, the shepherd’s pride in their dogs and the kids playing with a pup. These dogs were never raised hands off, 
but they also did not get to sleep on the couch! 

(Credit: Google images) 

In the late 1970s, the larger US sheep operations were the ones mostly utilizing these LGD breeds, grazing large tracts of land with thousands of sheep. Since then, there has been a shift, with more hobby farms and homesteaders keeping small livestock. 

According to the 2004 article “Trends in the U.S. Sheep Industry by Keithly G. Jones; 
“the proportion of small farmers with sheep operations is on the rise”  (

With this shift in the sheep industry, also comes a shift in the use and utilization of LGD. With the homesteaders and hobby farms there is often no history or experience of working with livestock or even with the guardian dogs. For many “newbies” it is tough to figure out how to go about raising their dog to be a successful LGD, where on the one hand some people are advocating for hands off rearing, publications say “minimal handling” and those, (like me) who advocate for a well socialized/handled working dog. 
Conflicting information, for the newbie, often results in insecurity on how to move forward with a young pup. Perhaps a good starting point would be for the livestock owner to define exactly what role he/she expects the dogs to play on the farm. 

Some people do not necessarily even understand exactly what job a LGD actually does, and will often confuse the roles of a general farm dog, with that of a herding dog and that of a livestock guardian dog. Understanding these differences is crucial to knowing what dog is required on the small farm. A new book by Janet Vorwald Dohner called “Farm Dogs: A Comprehensive Breed Guide to 93 Guardians, Herders, Terriers, and Other Canine Working Partners” might be a good place to start. ( Available on Amazon)

The first place to start with a young LGD is understanding the importance of allowing the young pup to form a sheep/dog bond. This is really critical, as it forms the basis from which the dog will grow up and understand its role as protector of the stock.

For many, the idea prevails that they need to “train” their LGD pup to do the job it was bred for. Working with LGD is not so much a “training”, instead, it can be seen as a process. A process where the instinct of the pup is allowed to develop, is cultured and molded. You do not “train” a LGD to go out and bark at coyotes, you do not tell it what it needs to bark at, nor train it to go out and attack an approaching predator. 
The guardian dog is one of the few breeds that must be trusted to make certain judgement calls, the dogs needs to have the freedom to make these decisions on their own. Unlike a police dog, that is taught to bite and attack on command, a guardian dog needs to make the “call” whether to simply bark and posture, or if it needs to engage the predator. The LGD is ineffective if it needs to wait on a signal or command from the owner to go out and protect the stock. 

For the dog to accomplish this, he needs to rely on his instincts, the bond he has with the stock and his understanding of the livestock’s behavior. 

This process of learning, involves allowing the pup to develop a bond with the livestock it will be protecting when it is older. The pup needs to spend the most part (preferably 24/7) of its day in with the stock so that it can learn everything about the livestock. The pup needs to learn when a sheep stomps it foot, the pup needs to back off, when the sheep gather together something might have startled them, the pup needs the time to “learn” all about sheep behavior. It is this time where it will learn that sheep are an integral part of his life. 

It is imperative for a young LGD to build the sheep/dog bond so that it is happy and content to live with the stock. 

Having said this, it sounds pretty much like I am advocating for “hands off rearing”, but no, I believe that human interaction with the guardian dogs is vitally important for the well being of the dog and for the family who live and work on the farm. There is no danger of ruining the young LGD by petting, loving or playing with it, but there must be some boundaries to this; in order to get the perfect mix of a well socialized dog who is respectful and friendly to the family, 
and one who is bonded to the livestock. 

Too achieve this, all interaction needs to be at the stock, if the pup is allowed to come up to the house for treats and petting, it will ditch the sheep and take up residence at the house. The pup needs to understand that all good things happens at the livestock. I always teach my young dogs some basic manners. This is the training part, and these lessons takes place AT the livestock and IN the pasture the livestock are in.

I teach them to walk nicely on a lead, not jump up, to sit, not to barge through open gates, be tied, hop in and out a stock trailer, to be groomed and nails trimmed etc. This all happens out in the field with the stock. The kids can go to the pups and pet them AT THE STOCK. I will work with the young dog for 10 minutes at a time, a few times a day. I always spend some time petting and visiting with the pup when I am doing chores or checking the livestock. My dogs are super sociable to me and our family, accepting of people who are with us and yet they know their job is to stay with a guard the stock, and will warn strangers to stay away.

During this process, your main job is to supervise. Intervening with a well timed correction for unwanted behavior, a reprimand and some guidance goes a long way in ensuring the LGD pup grows up to be a calm, respectful hardworking guardian dog. 

So, to recap; 

The young guardian dog needs time to form a bond with the livestock, he needs to spend the most part of the day with the livestock he is supposed to be guarding. The goal is not to micromanage every move he makes; he needs to spend a large portion of the day in with the stock. It is imperative to also build the human/ dog bond but, within certain parameters. Dogs can certainly form bonds with both the livestock and humans, however initially the dog needs to understand that the stock should be his main priority. Allowing this bond to form, does not mean you cannot supervise or correct unwanted behavior. The supervision and guidance, is what molds his behavior to ensure the young dog becomes a successful LGD. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...