Thursday, February 12, 2009
Living with livestock guardians
I have the pleasure of living with livestock guardian dogs. Ours is a working sheep and cattle ranch, so our dogs live with the sheep, but I generally raise a litter a year, so that means I am often living with puppies and socializing them to humans, buildings, etc. I raise the pups for other sheep producers in this region because our setup allows the pups to really bond well with young lambs, have their first predator encounters while they are young, and get big enough here before they go on the migratory sheep trail.
I team up with a friend who owns a large migratory range sheep outfit and needs to keep about 20-24 guard dogs guarding his herds at any one time. The toughest stud dogs win breeding rights to females, although every now and then we hand-pick pairings and move the pair to my place so they can be undisturbed. Once the female is pregnant, the male goes back to the sheep trail, while the female hangs out with my sheep, taking it easy. It’s guard dog vacation. The dogs are challenged by coyotes every day (and now and then a mountain lion, bear or wolf) but we have dead coyotes in our sheep pastures on a regular basis. We call coyote and red fox carcasses “puppy chewies” because they are scattered around puppy territory every summer. Most pups get their first ass-whipping, which makes them mad enough to make their first kill, before they lose their puppy teeth. From then on, they are pups with a mission.
We mostly raise Anatolians and Akbash, both Turkish breeds we love – we’ve even bred and raised the Kangal and Karabash types. We started with Great Pyrenees, but needed a more aggressive guardian breed here in western Wyoming, thus the move to Turkish breeds. The Turkish breeds don’t just hold the predator back from entering the sheep herd, but will run coyotes down and kill them.
My current puppies are 10-month olds from a breed we call Aziats. The dogs are officially Central Asian Ovtcharka or Central Asian Shepherds. In the countries of origin, the dogs are also called Alabai, Tobet, Sage Koochi, Sage Dahmarda, Aryan Dog, etc. Our pups are about 100 pounds currently, and still growing, so we’re betting they get in the 160-pound range, much larger than our other livestock guardian breeds.
Last summer, we purchased four Aziat pups – two for my migratory sheep buddy, and two for our ranch flock. We were told their pedigree six generations back by the breeder: In the early 1990's, an adult male was imported from Turkmenia to Russia and bred there to the dam, which was imported from Tajikistan (purchased as a pup from herder). A few years later, these dogs, with some of their progeny, were imported to the United States. The adult male involved in this story, Gjock, was tried as a fighting dog in Turkmenia, but apparently did not show much success.
The reason we agreed to try these dogs here in Wyoming is because they have been very successful in guarding sheep from wolves in other regions of the world. We’ve lost count, but we know six to eight of the livestock guard dog pups I’ve raised here on the ranch and then sent with other western producers ended up getting killed by wolves. We’ll see how well the Aziats work here.
The photos show the Aziats: Rant (the runt of the Aziat litter) with his sister Helga (dark face mask); as they play with the all-white Akbash, Rena (the runt of her litter two years ago).