Thursday, 30 October 2014

Old photo's and a new balance

I have already shared some of these pictures of our sarplaninac dog playing on the bales.
However, I wanted to share a few more, before winter sets in.

This time of year is always a big adjustment in the schedule.
The grazing season comes to an end.
All the animals are back home again.
 The feeding routine needs to be started.
It freezes at night,
and we have had the first snow.
The clock gets turned back,
and that, messes the most with my sense of order.

The rhythm of summer, changes,
and a new balance needs to be found.

But, before we move into the new equilibrium,
I wanted to share the joy.

Mali jumping for joy.

It is irresistible to not want to play together on the bales.

The ability to play on the bales has an advantage as it provides an excellent spot to overview all the sheep goings on.

There is always time,
 for some hugging

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Breeding time

Yep, it is that time of the year again for the rams.
After spending an entire summer languishing in their pasture,
safe from predators,
plenty of food and water,
it is now time for them to go to work.

A well developed, mature ram has larger testicles ( circumference)  than an Angus Bull.
He should be able to breed between 40-50 ewes in a breeding cycle.
Rams are all about quickie sex, 
no drawn out procedure as with dogs.

It is the time when the rams lose a significant portion of their body weight as it is hard work to service all the willing ewes.
To ensure they are not overly challenged,
we add in enough rams to go into the flock.
Not only does it prevent the rams becoming overworked,
it also ensures,
 that if a ram happens to be shooting blanks,
another ram is available to do the deed.

We start off with 4 and then every week add in another ram to help the initial ones.
This year we have an add one out..
we are letting a Blue Faced Leicester ram breed some ewes.
The black headed ones are Suffolk rams.
This year we have decided to use a raddle again,
it is harness you strap onto the ram.
Between, his front legs is a holder for a waxy crayon.
You place a colored crayon in the holder
 and when the ram mounts and breeds the ewe,
the crayon leaves a blue, red green or yellow smudge mark on her rump.

You have good smudges and bad ones..
This is a good one, a nice roundish mark indicating that the ram probably bred her correctly.

And, then this one..
well, the ram jumped and then slid off, or she moved away,
this ewe has just a few stripes rather than a good mark.

There are many reasons why people use a marking raddle.
We want  to track the number of ewes bred in the cycle,
 and to know how many ewes will be lambing at a certain time.

If you change the color after a full cycle ( 17 days), you can also see how many and which ewes got re-bred, as she will now have two colors on her rump.
Although not fool proof, it does give a good idea on how the breeding is going.

After, breeding time, we run the ewes through a chute and let the computer scanner note down who is bred.
It is just another tool in the sheep management tool box.

The rams do not really get the opportunity to have clandestine sex with one of these on.

Two of the rams in this group ( there are more).

Friday, 17 October 2014

The 2015 Calendars are in.

I just received the shipment of the
2015 Sarplaninac Livestock Guardian Dogs calendars today.
They are looking good.
I have included some older photo's
 as well, as some new ones taken this past year.
Every year, I discover a certain month that is under represented in photo's,
this year it was July,
somehow, I must have missed
the dog days of the summer!

These calendars are 12 x12 inches,
have nice large squares to be able to write things down.
I use my calendar to write down when the bulls and rams go into the herds for breeding,
when lambing and calving starts,
which bitches are in season, who got bred to who,
when due
dentist and all other daily tasks.

I save my calendars for years  to be able to look back,
 and remember what I did and when I did it.

So, the Calendars cost $25 each shipped anywhere in the world.
If you would like a calendar then please let me know through my email,
or  Facebook, the website (
or order here directly through  paypal.

Here is a sneak peak:

Friday, 10 October 2014

A slippery slope comparison between a GP and a Sarplaninac

So often the question arises;
what are some of the biggest differences between certain breeds of LGD?
These questions are tough to answer!
Not only is it  difficult to compare each breed,
but one really also needs to take into account;
  the experience level of the owner,
or the experience the owner has in working with LGD,
 or, even livestock knowledge.

Temperament is so difficult to define,
we could easily get lost  in the semantics, the words and definitions.
So finding the correct wording or even scale to define qualities such as aggression level, bonding, proximity to stock etc
adds another dimension to making a fair comparison.

Temperament consists of a balance of various traits, that defines the job a LGD needs to do.
For each person, that job varies.

 Each person works and raises their dogs in a different way,
some people find training a LGD a  little easier than others,
and this certainly affects how we view the dogs.

Our own bias makes comparing a difficult task as we lean in a certain direction or value a certain trait higher.

Understanding these factors, makes making comparisons a tricky business.

 Gross generalisations is of course,  not really the “right” thing to do,
for every generalisation one makes,
hundreds of exceptions will  be found.

Coppinger, in his early study of LGD tried to do a breed comparison,
the USDA is now  testing various breeds in an attempt to quantify certain characteristics of certain breeds to the task of protecting livestock from wolves.

I do believe the general rule of thumb is:
 if you look at the map of Europe and move from west to east,
the breeds tend to get harder the further East you go.

Why would this be?
Perhaps it has to do with the number of years that the wolf has been extirpated in certain countries!
It is only since the 1990’s that wolves have really started drifting from Italy back into the French Pyrenean Mountains,  with an estimated 2005 population of about 90.
Many of the Great Pyrenees dogs have not seen or faced a wolf for generations and generations in their home country.
Most have probably not even smelt a wolf or a bear,
the nurturing nature  has probably been selected for over aggressiveness toward predators,
simply due to the lack of predator pressure for many generations.

 Italy has been a stronghold for wolves in Europe when many other countries had extirpated them.
In 2006 the estimated population of wolves in Italy was about 500.
The Maremma would rate higher on my scale for protectiveness and aggression than the GP.

The Swiss Alps may be home to just a handful of wolves.
In Romania, further east the wolf population rises to 2500 animals and Russia with its huge land mass has
25 000-30 000 wolves,
and is home of the Ovcharkas.
Canada has estimated population 52,000-60,000 wolves,
and the USA has, in the lower 48: 5368 gray wolves and in Alaska 7 700- 11 200
( US Fish and Wildlife stats 2012).

I have not even taken into account any other predators such as the brown bear or lynx.
The predator density will  play a big role in the selection of aggression and ferocity of LGD.

I do believe, it is primarily, the wolf,
 that has shaped the evolution of our LGD.

So, here is the disclaimer before I make a generalised comparison between the Sarplaninac and the great Pyrenees Dog.
 All I say here is MY opinion, based on my own bias, experience and preconceived ideas.
This is made from my experience, with dogs I know
and does not reflect every Sarplaninac nor every Great Pyranees dog.
There is no statistical logic in any of my comparisons!

(It is also hard to make comparisons when you have a huge population of GPs
and a handful of working sarplaninacs). 

Nothing is intended to insult or be hurtful,
as I said, for every generalisation made,
 there are, always exceptions to the rule.

So this is what I think and I know it is a very slippery slope to go down..

What would be the biggest differences between a GP and a Sarplanianc?

In a random order:
Maybe a bit larger
Medium to large
Mostly white
Mostly grey
Nurturing to livestock
Aggression towards predators
Ease to train
Low to medium
Medium to high
Suspicion of strangers
Low to Med
Med to high
Easy to train to fences
Intelligence ( tricky)
Conflicts with predators/success rate:
I would put my money on a shar.
Low to Med
Rough with stock in training period
Health status
Med to high

So, these are just a few of the parameters I looked at ( I am sure there are a whole lot more...).

 I personally believe there are enough breeds to select from,
to find, the right breed for your operation.
I am not really a believer in cross breeding,
as I cannot understand the logic behind it,
given you have a choice and opportunity to various breeds.

If a certain breed is not suitable;
 due to its body type, or coat length or working style or aggression level,
then perhaps,
 the breed you are looking at,
 is not the right breed for you.

Cross breeding to tone up or tone down a breed is senseless.
Genetics is never 50%,
you never get that perfect blend of characteristics!

 If you are on a small holding, are dealing with low predator pressures, have young kids on a mixed small livestock operation a GP may be exactly what you need.

If you are on a range situation , you may prefer the Akbash.

Akbash in Canada
You may need more athleticism, so take a better look at an Anatolian.

If  your climate is hot and you prefer a shorter coat,
then a Kangal maybe the perfect fit for you.

Kangal dog that we imported to Canada clearing a fence, he rates high for athleticism!
If your predator load is higher and you need a little more force, combined with a closer bonding type of dog, then a Maremma may be the right choice for your operation.

High predator load, with possibilities for conflicts, then perhaps a higher drive Sarplanianc is the dog for you.

Dealing with domestic dogs as predators or with human thieves perhaps the CAS should be a consideration?

Availability is also an issue, perhaps only certain breeds  are readily available and you may just have to make do with what you have.

So many breeds, so many differences, so many choices!
Our Sarplanianc Fena

The choice of breed, depends on so many factors; how your operation is run, set up, size, livestock.
 Perhaps the most important  in your decision making process,
 is the affinity you have for a certain breed.
 If you do not like the breed to start with,
 the chances of you making it work will be less.

I like the medium size, the strong will, the balanced body, the grey rough coat, suitability to our climate and  the activity level of the sarplaninac.

Despite the sar being high drive, and having a higher aggression temperament,
 they are balanced and they know when to use it.

Within our operation, and predator pressure,
the sarplaninac is the “right” dog for us.
I am positive that  there are at least 5 other breeds that would suit us just fine,
but right now,
this is the breed for us.

Sarplaninac Lucy running off to ward of a coyote.
Each breed brings a unique balance of “skills” to the proverbial table,
and to the discerning buyer,
the right breed is "out there"!

Sarplaninac is well equipped to deal with our Canadian winters.
While writing this, I realise,
 that there is a lot more to say about this topic
and a lot of information missing.

I think, I may revisit this topic sometime in the future.
Please feel free to share ideas and thoughts with me.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian Friends!

Thursday, 9 October 2014


Our family will be complete again for just 2 short days,
 when Jess returns from college for a quick Thanksgiving visit.
I am so excited and happy and proud.

I know that family is an important  for many mammal species;
not just for us humans.
The human family is not unique in the way it  provides;
care, support, safety, guidance and education  to its kids.

Killer whales and their family pods do,
the herd helps to raise an elephant baby,
wolf packs are made up of pop, mom and the kids,
coyotes are monogamous and raise their kids in a family unit,
and of course our dogs do to.

A dog pack can be made up of various non related members,
I do believe that the family unit has stronger ties and bonds.

When I look at this picture,
I can see the pride,
and the joy
 (almost) a smile on Vuk's face,
when he interacts with one of his kids.
The pup is respectful, playful and has a greater teacher to learn from.

I think, I feel the same way about our kids!!

Monday, 6 October 2014

Watching the dogs work

Sometimes, people will phone us to ask us if they can come and see the dogs working.
Most are somewhat disappointed as,
 what they usually see are the Sarplaninac's
laying at a feeder,
or, strolling around the pasture,
or sleeping under a tree,
if we are lucky they may even come and greet us
What most people want to see however is "action",
preferably one that involves the dogs "engaging" with a predator.
Some people even question if the dogs are really working,
since what they mostly see is a big dog sleeping under a tree.

However, most of the work that livestock guardians do is "underground"
they have more of a subtle and persuasive approach
to warn predators off.

I think that 80% of the work they do is non confrontational
(depending of course on region and predator load)

They lay down scent trails,
they patrol,
they bark,
they stake claim to their territory,
they are a pack,
a pack that includes livestock!

All of the above actions are a big part of their job,
and that is the power of what LGD do,
 as they can do this 24/7/365.

The dog's  presence, is already somewhat of deterrence to predators.

I see this daily, when the ewes and dogs enter the grazing area,
I see a coyote slip off a hay bale and move out of this area.
Sheep and dogs move in, and the predator moves out.
That is what keeps predators alive and respectful,
and the sheep safe.

So, watching the dog's work is not something action packed,
 as the encounters are often not seen.
It is a process,
it is a sum of many actions combined together,
the pack mentality,
the peeing,
the barking,
the proximity to the stock,
the willingness to confront,
the hazing,
the patrols
and, of course their dedication to their job.

This is why LGD are so successful in what they do.
They are a 24/7/365 security system.
Predators habituate to sounds and lights,
shepherds need to sleep and have days off,
and fences are not infallible.
The dogs, 
 are always on duty, even when they sleep.
They work for food, a kind word and a pat on their head.
Here are some photo's of the dogs working.
Do you see the dog patrolling?

Here it is again:

I zoomed in so that she is better visible.

Working together

Off to investigate new smells.

Heading out to check coyote trails

exploring, scent marking on the way

All is well,
until  a coyote howls,
then things change in a hurry..

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

and, the cows came home..

Due to a very hot and dry summer,
the pastures for the cows were running low,
the weather turned quickly 
and the beautiful fall days are making way for some colder ones.

Last weekend we decided it was time to bring the cows home.
As  we have good cows,
I did not expect it to be a big chore  to get them penned up and hauled away.
Roy and I saddled up, while Eric was the ground troop.

All went well,
and, as  expected it was fairly easy to get them penned up.

Except for one heifer...
This one heifer had the potential to ruin the day.
Every time we headed her towards the gate she would change her mind and dart off in another direction.
Roy blocked her, Eric blocked her and I blocked her.

Eventually, we got a little weary of her fun and games,
so I pushed a little harder than what  my "stress free cattle handling clinician" would have approved of,
 Blackie, got the message real quick and made the right choice.
She joined the herd in the pen.

So, we loosened the cinches, tied the horses and got into loading mode.
Five trips and a day later,
they cows were home.

As soon as we released them they recognized their home range,
off they went exploring their old stomping grounds.

At the end of the grazing season, the sheep ( in the distant background)
and the cows graze all the regrowth. 

The dogs came to see what was new,
and they too remembered the cows.

The whole summer the cows are pastured away from the ranch,
 the dogs do not see them all this time
and yet, when they return, the dogs have a quick look over,
and things settle back into the old routine.

This coming weekend, it is time to move the heifers home.
The cows coming home,
the geese flying south,
the gathering of the Sandhill cranes,
the leaves blowing off the trees and the first little bit of snow
is a reminder that winter is headed this way.
Gathering the sheep this evening with the first hint of blowing snow for this season.

It is a time where I feel a certain restlessness,
 a  touch apprehensive of what is to come,
and melancholic of what has been.

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