AgriLife Extension offers new livestock guardian dog publication

 

Renewed producer interest prompted the work

Writer: Steve Byrns, 325-653-4576,  

Contact: Dr. Reid Redden, 325-653-4576, Reid.Redden@ag.tamu.edu

Dr. John Tomecek, 325-653-4576,  tomecek@tamu.edu

Dr. John Walker, 325-653-4576, jwalker@ag.tamu.edu  

SAN ANGELO – “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” This oft used nod to the U.S. Postal Service could as easily describe the work ethic of good livestock guardian dogs, according to Texas A&M AgriLife officials at San Angelo.

Personnel from Texas A&M AgriLife Research and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service at San Angelo have completed the publication “Livestock Guardian Dogs.” The eight-page reference guide is available at  http://sanangelo.tamu.edu  under publications and as a publication on the AgriLife Bookstore at http://agrilifebookstore.org, publication EWF-028 9/15.

A pair of livestock guardian dogs stands ready to defend their flock as the sheep they protect seem oblivious to any possible threat. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Steve Byrns)

A pair of livestock guardian dogs stands ready to defend their flock as the sheep they protect seem oblivious to any possible threat. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Steve Byrns)

The publication complements ongoing field work with the dogs at ranches in Menard and Ozona managed by AgriLife Research at San Angelo.

“This publication is a guide for sheep and goat farmers and ranchers who are looking at using livestock guardian dogs to protect their sheep and goats from predation,” said Dr. Reid Redden, AgriLife Extension state sheep and goat specialist at the center.

Redden was joined in authoring the work by Dr. John Walker, AgriLife Research center director and Dr. John Tomecek, AgriLife Extension wildlife specialist.

Walker said the large rugged dogs, often topping 100 pounds, have been used for thousands of years for guarding flocks elsewhere in the world. But aside from some interest by U.S. producers in other states, the dogs are a largely untapped resource across much of West Texas, arguably the largest sheep and goat range production region in the nation. The AgriLife staff at San Angelo is working to change that paradigm.

Walker explained that once bonded to their flock, a good guardian stays out in the pasture with his wards year-round with very limited human interaction no matter what climatic conditions prevail and is well equipped to do so.

“This publication is for producers interested in using guardian dogs for the first time,” Redden said. “It’s also for those who may have had some previous troubles with guardian dogs protecting their flocks and herds against predators. The information presented will help both audiences get started on the right foot and maybe resolve some issues that they’ve seen in the past.”

Proper bonding of the dog with the livestock to be protected is paramount to success, Redden said.

“One of the issues with using guardian dogs is getting them properly bonded to a flock and also getting them adjusted in a manner that’s conducive to protection against predators; making sure they’re not leaving the property and not exhibiting behaviors that are counterproductive to controlling predators and maintaining the good health of the sheep and goats and themselves.”

Redden, who has used the dogs personally and professionally for more than a quarter century, is convinced they are a key element to maintaining or expanding sheep and goat numbers across their former West Texas ranges.  

“Livestock guardian dogs in my opinion are one of the best predator management tools available because they give a level of protection constantly, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year,” he said.

Redden said the dogs typically protect the stock in three ways; establishing a marked territory, warning the threat away, and finally attacking if necessary. They are very effective against other canids, particularly coyotes, which are the No. 1 enemy to most sheep and goat producers.

“Their presence is one of the best tools there is to manage predators, but there is management that goes along with the guardian dog as well,” he said. “As the publication outlines, you must get them properly bonded with livestock while they are young. Guardian dogs that are placed well and managed well are undeniably among the best long-term tools available to manage predators for sheep and goats.”

Redden said there is a renewed interest in livestock guardian dogs in West Texas where sheep and goat ranchers have formerly enjoyed “neighbor protection,” a buffer between them and heavy coyote populations.

“But, there’s fewer and fewer people raising sheep and goats now, so those remaining producers are having a difficult time managing predator populations to a level they can control,” he said. “They are looking at livestock guardian dogs to take over where traditional management practices are starting to fail.”

Tomecek said livestock are not the only species to benefit from good, well-placed, well- managed livestock guardian dogs. The predators themselves may actually benefit since comparatively few are killed, as the dogs usually present enough of a deterrent that the predators go elsewhere for an easier meal.

“Guarding livestock is all wildlife related,” Tomecek said. “When we think about managing predation the first thing you have to think about is the behavior of the predator you are trying to work with.

“The nice thing about livestock guardian dogs is that you are basically working within canine behavior. A coyote is a medium sized canine and you’ve got yourself a very large canine that works for you. So in essence it’s like putting a wolf out there that works for you and your livestock instead of against you. The coyote’s behavior is interrupted, that natural canine behavior that makes a canid of any species think twice before encroaching into another canid’s territory. The dogs exclude them. The livestock guardian dog shows them that there’s a larger animal out there and that the coyote is in dangerous territory.

“So that does two things: one, it helps you keep the predators away from your stock by interrupting that behavior. But the other wildlife side that we think about is the dog’s potential effect on non-predatory wildlife. While it is possible for some dogs to chase deer off or bother ground nesting gamebirds, we don’t typically see that’s the case with a well-placed, well-bonded dog. So in fact you have a lot of opportunities to protect wildlife on your ranch, by having a guardian dog out there keeping the same predators away that may also be negatively influencing wildlife, such as white-tailed deer.”

Tomecek said that in today’s world lethal control is becoming less popular with the general public And at the same time there are fewer operations left to actively use lethal methods. He also said it’s been documented that killing coyotes actually triggers the survivors to increase their reproduction rate to the point there may be more predators after lethal control was  implemented.

“Lethal control of coyotes, especially on a limited scale, can actually get to be less and less effective whereas the use of guardian dogs keying into that basic canine behavior shared among all canids will act as an exclusion and deterrent,” he said. “So with the right livestock guardian dog and proper management, you simply create a moving area of exclusion, of protection, around your livestock.

“As time goes by, I think we’re going to have to find more and more methods of nonlethal control to keep our livestock operations viable and so keep in line with the ethics and opinions of the public which increasingly is an urban audience. I think that livestock guardian dogs are an excellent opportunity to do that. We also need to learn more about how they influence and affect wildlife as well as livestock on the landscape, and that’s the purpose of this publication and the work supporting it.

“And akin to the U.S. Mail, nothing will stop a good livestock guardian dog from his appointed rounds.”

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