Sunday, 9 April 2017

Our Calf Catcher

We have great cows,
but occasionally one will be overcome with the "crazy momma cow syndrome", and she will do everything in her power to stop you touching her calf.

These antics keep you on your toes,  sometimes it entails diving behind a tree, or playing
 ring-a-rosies around a bale or even, if the tractor is handy, diving under to avoid being stomped on.
All good fun, until the day you get caught.

So, Eric ( he is an insurance agent) decided instead of doing disability insurance on me, he decided that a calf catcher would be the solution, as most of the time it is just me alone working with these new born calves and dealing with their moms.

The calf catcher is designed to catch the calf, contain it, so that you can safely work on the calf (tagging, vaccinating, castrating etc) without momma trying to kill you.

So, here are some pictures and videos to highlight how it works. This is our first design, and having used it a few times, I can see where a few improvements can be made. 

The front end.
The gate opens in the front and you can guide the calf in. Once the calf is in, stomp on the brakes and close the door.

 The gate works best with newborn calves, the quad just  chases older speedier calves away. As we tag within 2 days this works pretty well.

The other side.

The back side has a release gate. So, once you have done all you need to do with the calf, you can
"eject" him out the back, and he can go back to his momma.

This is the gate at the back that flaps open to release the baby beast.

The"box" area. Onece the calf is inside the catcher, you can place him in this back are to help confine him while you tag or vaccinate. It is also super handy if you need to transport baby and the mom. If the calf is in this box, the mom can see, hear and smell the baby and as you slowly drive off she will follow. We moved a cow and calf this way a quart mile from the calving pasture to the barn.

From the quad, you can step directly into the catch are, keeping you safe from the mom.

Here are a few video clips that Eric took of us using the catcher.




Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Calving time

It was a beautiful spring day, sun shining and most of the snow gone.
It was a lovely day to head outside and get some photo's taken.
This past winter I have not had much desire to take photo's but today I felt like it again.

The cows are calving, and cute calves are always fun to take pictures of.

Vuk has calving duty. He is amazing around the cows and knows how to calm a mad momma cow. He is calm and respectful and yet very watchful.
He takes no unwarranted chasing by the cows.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Part 2: Looking for the good signs

In last month’s article, I wrote about the behaviour of a “naughty” dog, I touched on what motivates the dog and listed some warning signs to watch out for. 

Remember, a warning sign is indicative to what is going on in his mind, sometimes a sharp “no” is enough to convince the dog that he should change his behaviour. To be successful in correcting a dog, the dog must be caught “in the act” but preferably, a warning before he acts. The signs are subtle, it could be the start of a “play bow”, or a hard stare, or a short quick movement directed at the stock. Correcting at that moment, will do wonders in stopping the immature dog’s behaviour. He will think you are a mind reader, and that is exactly what you want him to think! 

To get that timely correction, you must be able to observe and supervise the young dog. If he is stuck on the “back forty” with no supervision, you will have no influence on his behaviour and will be unable to correct unwanted behaviour. Adolescent dogs are best kept in a pasture with livestock that can be seen and monitored by you. Remember, your stock will give you indications if the dog is being trustworthy or not. 

Every time the dog gets to play and chase, it reinforces his desire to do so, it becomes harder and harder to correct. If you come to the pasture and see that he has rough housed your stock, the first thing to do is to tether or place him on a zipline, kennel him or remove him from that pasture. He needs to be stopped immediately and prevented from reinforcing his own behaviour. By removing him from the livestock, you know that he cannot get into any more trouble and the stock is safe.  Once he is on lockdown, you can form a plan of action on how to move forward. Most young dogs can be corrected for naughty behaviour, and many go on to became fantastic guardian dogs. 

I like to “change things up” with a naughty adolescent dog. This means change the dog’s life completely; moving him to a different pasture, or give him a larger area to work in, or place him in with another type of livestock, place him with a grumpy older dog, or a bigger flock, or on a zipline, or even for a while in the barn.  This change in environment, will take him out of his comfort zone and will force a change of behaviour and attitude.  This change can be like a reset for him. We have multiple groups and livestock in various pastures. We have a bull pen, a draft horse pen, a ram pen, we have various pastures adjoining where the flock grazes, we can place a dog with the cows or even in the barn where we always have some livestock inside.

All these animals are used to dogs and not easily intimidated by them. My favorite spot for the adolescent dog who needs a lesson in humility, is in the bull, ram, and stud horse pasture.  These animals do not run, play, and bounce away from a dog, they do very little to encourage play behaviour and are big and strong enough to stand up to a young foolish dog.

As we are a “hands on” operation (meaning we touch and handle) our dogs, I will also expect/demand more compliance from a naughty dog. I will be stricter on everything I do with him. I require him to wait calmly while I set his food down, I will reinforce that more. If I need to open a gate, and do not want him to dive out of the gate, I will be strict on him backing off and only be allowed through the gate when invited. He will need to move around in calm manner. If he comes to greet me, he had better do it with respect and have a quiet approach. There will be no “holding” my hand in his mouth, or bumping into me, or super excited behaviour.  I normally reinforce this type of behaviour in a younger pup, but I will be stricter in enforcing calm and respectful behaviour with a naughty adolescent. 
So, being vigilant to warning signs, and acting directly, is perhaps the biggest factor to preventing unwanted behaviour. 

Changing things around, and preventing a continuation of bad behaviour for an extended time, supervision, demanding calm behaviour and, a timely correction do wonders to the attitude of a young naughty dog.

Looking for the good signs is also very important, they too reflect what is going on in the mind of the young dog. Good signs will tell you about the trustworthiness of the dog and its attentiveness to the livestock:

Some signs to watch out for are:
Calmness around the stock

A quiet demeanor, (head low, tail low)

Treading lightly around the stock (I wrote a blog about this and you can see it here:

Moving out of the way of the stock
soft eyes
Looking away ( so glancing away, to not intimidate the stock)

A lower tail carriage, with a soft slow wag when meeting or greeting a sheep
Ear carriage is relaxed
Laying next to the stock without being intrusive in the space of the stock

Butt sniffing and licking, 
some ear licking, as long as it is cleaning and not obsessive

Walking around the stock rather than barging through

Content and comfortable to hang out with the stock, stock is content and comfortable with the dog

“Reading stock”, if the sheep are uncomfortable with the dog too close, the dog will move away, or turn its back and give the sheep more space.

Following the stock out while grazing

Happy to return back to the stock, greets the sheep

 The dog and sheep have a trust relationship

Some dogs really value their own personal space and may not be super tight with the sheep and yet, are still attentive and trustworthy. Some sheep also prefer more space from the dog than others. All of them are individuals. A dog who has a bigger personal bubble, will simply give the sheep more space, he will still show all the good signs. A trustworthy and attentive dog does not necessarily have to be all cozy and snuggled up with the stock. 

The role the stock play in the development of the young dog, is also important to consider. I have seen rams trying to mount a dog, I have seen: some goats that will butt a young dog continuously, bouncy lambs and kids may encourage a dog who has more chase tendencies, flapping chickens are irresistible to some dogs and young dogs being bullied away from their food can all result in the dog showing inappropriate behaviour.
A young dog who is bullied away from his food might learn to lunge and bite the stock, a pup getting hurt by goats might become fearful and want to escape the pasture.  

Careful consideration of the age of the dog, its temperament and the type of livestock can play an important role in preventing problems. I am all for preventing potential problems before they start, and that requires me to be flexible in my approach and a willingness to facilitate the young livestock guardian dog during its journey to becoming a reliable adult.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Part 1: Warning signs, play behaviour, hunting sequences and the young LGD

This article appeared in the Shepherds Magazine

©Louise Liebenberg 2017

Let me paint a picture for you; the owner walks outside to go and check on the livestock, do chores, feed, and water.  As the owner approaches the area where the livestock and their now adolescent LGD reside, the owner see’s that the livestock have tufts of wool pulled out, the ear of a sheep is bloody, the stock is standing tightly in the corner of the pasture and are they are panting. Further away, the LGD is standing guard over one animal.  The owner looks around and immediately thinks that perhaps coyotes paid the flock a visit. The LGD comes up to meet him, the dog is a little excited but nothing really concerning. The owner is concerned for his flock, and while checking the animals over is somewhat relieved that at least the young dog was “guarding” or protecting the one animal further away. Except for the bloody ear and the few tufts of wool, everything is okay. 

A few days later, the owner once again notices the dog sort of “herding” the sheep together. Nothing concerning, just an observation. The owner wonders if the dog is herding the sheep to keep them safe.
A day later, the owner catches the young dog standing over the same individual animal, the sheep is separated from the others, is not hurt, but is wet from slobber from the dog. Another few days’ pass, and the owner comes to the livestock and see’s that all the wool has been plucked off that animal, it has scratch and bite marks, the sheep is badly hurt.  

The owner is in total disbelief as this dog has been so good, and why now, is the dog suddenly harassing the animals it is supposed to protect? Is the dog ruined for life? What is happening?

The scenario I have sketched has many variations, however most of what I have described are typical of a young adolescent dog harassing the livestock.  

Understanding this behaviour and, learning what the warning signs are, may help you stop this behaviour before it escalates and the dog becomes a stock killer. Just this past week, I spoke with someone who had a similar build up of events, the result was dead livestock, and the dog being shot. A tragedy that could have been prevented had the owner been more aware of what was going on.

Most LGD pups show excellent behaviour around the livestock; they sleep with the stock, are respectful and the young pup seems to be bonding well to the animals it will guard in the future. The owner is thinking that they have hit the jackpot regarding LGD, until the above scenario starts to play out. The owner is most times caught off guard and is devastated to find that the dog has turned “rogue”.

It is hard to say why this behaviour occurs with some LGD, it could be poor breeding, or it could be hormonal (the teenage phase), or be triggered by new animals being brought on to the farm, even a change of events (lambing time), sometimes we just do not know why the dog goes from being good one day to being rough with the stock the next day. Understanding the behaviour, and having the ability to recognize the warning signs may prevent damage to the livestock and by intervening earlier, may prevent the dog from escalating this behaviour.

Unfortunately, when this type of behaviour happens, it is unexpected. Most owners have missed some of the subtle “warning signs” indicating what is going on in the dog’s mind.  Some people are initially in denial, that their guardian dog would do such a thing, they discount the warning signs.
Unfortunately, some owners will dismiss the behaviour (he is just playing, he is guarding just the one animal, he is “hugging” the stock, he is herding them to safety), and this dismissal is the start of a cycle of problems. Most young LGD do not go from zero to killing stock overnight. The dog does give clear signals in his behaviour what is going on in his mind.

All stock worrying starts off as play behaviour. To understand play behaviour, we need to take a step back, and look at predatory behaviour. 

What is prey drive? Well, simply put it is the driving instinct in any predator to hunt down, catch and consume its prey. It is an instinct in every single predator, including our dogs. Dogs, with a high prey drive are easily stimulated to chase after and catch their prey. It is an instinct that is often used in the regular dog training world as it is highly rewarding for the dog to do. Usually the “prey” is a toy, ball, or a tug of war game. The reward for fetching the ball, or finding the “lost” person, is for the dog, getting to play ball. Dog trainers capitalize on this instinct to motivate and reward the dog.  For some other high drive breeds, this instinct is “modified” to become a useful tool, the border collie utilizes this same instinct to herd sheep. 

Prey drive is a not just a single action, it is a chain reaction, with the following elements; search (see, hear, smell), stalk, chase, bite hold, kill bite, dissection and then consuming. 

Watching nature films with lions hunting on the savannah, we see this sequence in action. With the border collie, we can clearly see the dog gathering the livestock, then it uses its “eye” to stalk, herding the stock to the handler (chase), and it will do hold type bites if needs be. For most border collies, the sequence is ended at this point. 
Selective breeding in border collies is focussed on optimizing this part of the sequence, to have a great working dog.  

As LGD are bred to have a very low prey drive, their reactivity to wanting to chase after things that are moving is low. Most LGD will watch you throw a ball away, but very few will be motivated to go and fetch it. 

To perfect the whole prey drive sequence, predator babies need to play. Through play they learn to initiate the game, they learn how to stalk, how to pounce, how to chase. Playing is very important in all predators, play teaches a myriad of lessons such as how social structure works, team work and of course, ultimately how to hunt. Play behaviour is the precursor to the prey drive sequence. 

One needs to understand how stimulating this behaviour is in predators,  it is the driving force for its survival (it needs to eat).  It is what is called a “self rewarding behaviour”, by doing these actions, it is rewarded by being able to eat.
Self rewarding behaviours are the hardest behaviours to change or modify.

Back to the original example, at some point the young LGD does become stimulated by the livestock, initially it might have started off with a play bow to the livestock. The dog wanting to initiate play with the stock. As sheep, generally do not respond to this, they might have moved away, triggering the young dog to maybe chase a little. This of course is fun and stimulates the dog, as this is a self rewarding behaviour,  the dog will often toss in a bark or two towards the livestock to get things moving. The dog then starts to escalate his game, to the point where he is showing elements of the prey drive sequence. He will stalk, corner, chase, nip, pull wool, separate his prey, harass. The escalation from a simple play bow to harassing or even wounding the livestock, can be very rapid, as the dog is getting self rewarded for what he is doing.

An owner may wake up one day and see the consequences of what started out as seemingly innocent play behaviour, to finding hurt and injured stock.

Here is a list of some of the warning signs.
Remember, warning signs are indicative of what is going on in the dog’s head. 

1. An overly  playful/immature dog, ( even older dogs)
2. The dog that play bows to the livestock, trying to initiate a game.
3. Dog likes to mouth your hand, and or the stock 
4. Chasing the livestock
5. Nipping at the legs.
6. Standing on, mounting the stock.
7. “Holding the stock” either with its paws or mouth.

This is not cute! Goat is wide eyed and stressed.

8. Herding or pushing the stock around.
9. Keeping them cornered, or in a group or not letting them move about freely.
10. Controlling/dominant behaviour, not allowing stock close to "resources, such as feeders, water etc)
11. Staring, stalking, hard focused looks, lower head and staring.
12. Pulling wool.
13. Scratching or pawing the stock.
14. Disrespectful or rude behaviour, barging through the stock, bumping them.
15. Stock that is tired, panting, restless, uncomfortable when the dog approaches.
16. Running and nipping at tails, and ears.
17. If the dog is excited, stimulated, hyper-attentive when the stock move around.
18. Separating one individual, standing over it, often the same animal.
19. Barking at the stock.
20. Humping the stock.

Thank you to Novelty Farms for allowing me to share these pictures.  I appreciate you allowing me to post these pictures as it is not often people want to show the bad things.
This dog never worked out as  a LGD.

Being attentive and giving a timely correction for any of these warning signs may mean the difference between a successful LGD or one who becomes a stock killer.

Part 2, will focus on the good behaviours!


Thursday, 16 February 2017

For sale

It is not very often that we have an adult dog for sale, but we do now and he is awesome.
Meco is a 2 year old, neutered male, looking for a flock/herd to guard.
He is great with sheep, cattle and horses.
He is a serious guardian dog and very protective of his stock and territory.
He is quite formidable.

Meco would do well on a flock or herd,  working alongside a few females.
He will not tolerate other mature males as guardian dog partners.
(This may change, as he is only recently neutered.)
He is good with cattle and would work as a cattle guardian dog too,
or even on a  mixed operation.

Meco is great with people, friendly and happy to see you.
He is well behaved and has basic manners such as walking on a leash, is used to been chained, and travels okay in a vehicle.

He is respectful of fences, and does not look to escape. He is content with the stock.

Meco comes with support from us to integrate him into a new job,
and, we are always available to help in any way we can.

For more information about Meco, please feel free to email me.
If on FB, please private message for more details.

This is a great dog and would be a great addition to a flock or cattle herd.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Not a "one size fits all" approach

I participate on various Livestock Guardian dog pages on Facebook,
after a number of years you see certain trends in the types of questions one see's.
Some questions  almost always coincide with certain seasons.
In spring you see a surge in questions about LGD behaviour around lambing,
in summer roaming becomes a hot topic, in fall the problems one see's are rise in predation problems.

Often, the problems are very similar, and it is the "easy solution" to give a quick standardized answer.
No-one is going to write a complete essay to answer a Facebook question (okay, I admit, I do occasionally) so the answers are often short form, direct and standardized.

Behind these standardized answers is a hidden danger.
These answers almost become rule, rather than suggestion.
They become the "norm" rather than a guideline.

So let me examine a couple of these standardized responses, and respond to what might lie behind the standardized answer.

The question would be along these lines... "my 9 month old LGD, chases the sheep and pulls wool".
The typical answer to this is:
. It takes at least 2 years before they are reliable, so you need to supervise them.

For sure, most LGD only mature around 2 years old,
 but that does not mean that they cannot be reliable before then.
The 2 years is a guideline to the maturation process, not the reliability of the dog.
In Portugal, some of the dogs only have a life expectancy of 2 years,
if they were not working full time before then,
there would be no use for LGD.

Reliability is not age dependent, but rather the amount of experience or exposure a dog gets. "Experience/exposure" is simply, how often has the dog been exposed to a certain experience?

A LGD working on a 5 ewe operation, will only see and experience 5 births per year. Their exposure is very limited compared to a dog working on a 5000 ewe operation.
The dog seeing 5000 ewes lambing, in one season, will be "flooded" to all the smells, sight, and behavior of  the ewes, and has probably  eaten more than his fill of placentas, in that one short season. This dog, at just 1 year old, has been exposed to more births than the other dog will have in one thousand years.

 The dog on the large operation is likely to be reliable around birthing ewes due to this massive exposure,  while the dog with just 5 ewes, may never get enough exposure to be 100% reliable.

By stating the generalization that most dogs need 2 years before they are reliable, sort of, covers some of that exposure because, in all probability, it has  at least experienced 2 lambing times, 2 breeding cycles, 2 summers out on pasture, his brain and body is maturing and he should be fully functional at this age. It is the simplified answer.

Reliability is a combination of genetics, exposure, supervision and maturity.

Next, "you need to supervise them",
is a great quick answer but what does it actually mean?

Clarifying the "supervise" part is hard.
Some may think it means "training" them, others might feel that you have to be with the dog every moment, or even that you need to micromanage them.

Supervise can also be changing things up,  paying attention to the livestock and what they are telling you, it may mean a timeout in a kennel or tether, it could also be setting things up so you can catch a naughty dog in the act, in order to correct it.
Supervise means different things to different people.
The biggest danger with supervise, is that people do not allow the young dog time to bond to the stock, they are supervising to the point of micromanaging. Micromanaging does not allow the dog time to form a bond with the stock.
As long as the dog is doing well, and the livestock are content, then you do not have to do much more.
You certainly do not need to 'teach" it to bark at coyotes, nor do you need to sic the dog to chase one.

I like to think of supervision also as an awareness.
Being aware where the dog is "at" mentally.
If you are aware that he is in a play/chase stage, you might want to remove him from young stock and place him in with some rank billy goats.
 If you understand that he has never been around newborns, then having the awareness to take the time to introduce him to them while you are there,  be aware that some ewes may lamb a bit earlier, so avoid the young dog being "surprised" by a newborn in the pasture.
It is having the awareness of his age and what is appropriate behavior for that age and understanding also what the potential "issues" could be.
This knowledge goes a long way to avoid problems.

Somewhere, the idea has also entered into the consciousness of the LGD world that doing perimeter walks with the dog on the lead is essential, as it teaches the dog where the boundaries are.
 I am sure it has a function; to bond the dog to you,
 but in reality the dog should regard the "fluid" area where the flock is, as its perimeter.
In range operations, that have no fences, the dogs establish their own boundaries around the flocks.

  If you have a fenced pasture set up, it is not really necessary to walk this perimeter with your dog, unless you like walking, checking fences or enjoy doing this daily walk with your dog!
 It is not a "must do" in raising LGD,
 The young dog will do his own walks and checks, it is a part of his job description and one he is capable of doing alone.

Next up, roaming.

"Help, my dog is at the neighbors."
Answer: "all LGD roam".

Well, not all LGD roam.
Some do,  some don't, and others can not.
Roaming is often a result of poor fences, poor bonding and  simply an owner "allowing" it to happen.
The standardized response of "all LGD roam" makes an owner feel like it is beyond their control, when in fact, a good fence, a well placed hot wire, better bonding and selection of suitable LGD traits may be the more appropriate answer.

Of course, I am also guilty of these "quick and convenient"responses, I think for the person asking the question, it is good to think further on the responses they get and perhaps get more clarification on some answers.

I would also highly recommend that people  read more about raising LGD, in books you will often find the "long" answer, with better explanations and examples.
 I understand the need for the instant answer, but a some additional reading does give you more insight into understanding these dogs.

Here is a list of books that I would recommend:

Livestock Protection Dogs
by Orysia Dawydiak (Author), David E. Sims (Author)

Brave and Loyal
by Cat Urbigkit

Livestock Guardians: Using Dogs, Donkeys, and Llamas to Protect Your Herd

by Jan Dohner

Farm Dogs: A Comprehensive Breed Guide to 93 Guardians, Herders, Terriers, and Other Canine Working Partners
by Jan Dohner

and, a PDF from Australia:

or my blog...

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