By Carole West of GardenUp green
Choosing guard animals is one of the most important purchases for the homestead. There are several options, some you may haven’t even considered. I’m going to share which animals work to protect based on instinct and training. Let’s dive in and see which ones may meet the needs of your land.
Guard dogs are the common option homesteaders seek for protecting their livestock. Two of the most popular breeds are the Great Pyrenees, which are a white fluffy dog and the Anatolian Shepherd, pictured below.
This Anatolian is my neighbor’s dog; they use a male and female to protect a large herd of goats on a 20 acre homestead. These two dogs work as a team on a mission and they know their purpose.
It’s always a good idea to have two working dogs especially with large acreage because it allows one to rest while the other is on guard duty.
The Great Pyrenees works the same, these two breeds would live outdoors year round with their livestock, I wouldn’t recommend them as house dogs unless they approach retirement age.
The Pyrenees and Anatolian
The Pyrenees and Anatolian are very comfortable with goats and sheep; on occasion I’ve seen grown Pyrenees in the fields with younger cows.
Dogs are unique in that some have that natural instinct to protect. Others need additional training that begins from the time they’re a pup.
If you’re looking at using dogs to protect your livestock, it’s recommend beginning with a pup and purchase from a farm breeder. These dogs have normally been born right in the barn with livestock nearby and they’ve had bonding play time with that livestock.
This bonding will help them transition to their new homestead with the purpose to protect.
What about Mutts
On our homestead we use two dogs, they’re lovely mutts that protect our home and land with every bit of energy they have and they take it very serious; they’re not the focus for protecting our farm animals. However if the opportunity approached they would do it.
Our dogs have a great life, they’re more like family farm dogs which means they come and go all hours of the day and night, a dog door would be a great idea if you choose this option.
When you implement dogs on your homestead remember to consider the expense of food and care. Most dogs including the breeds I’ve mentioned have a 12 – 14 year life span so if you’re on a budget the expense these animals require could become a burden if you’re not prepared.
Let’s consider the other available options.
Sometimes Llamas get a bad rap and I get asked quite often, “Don’t they spit?” Where this can be true for some, we have not experienced any spitting llamas.
In the early days my husband raised Dexter cows; it was a neat experience. Before they arrived we purchased our first male llama.
After the farm was fenced the llama arrived two weeks prior to our cows. We wanted him to explore the pasture land and get a feel for the perimeter he would be protecting. One llama is sufficient for protecting a small herd of cows.
Male llamas are fun and have a corky personality but you cannot use them for guarding sheep or goats unless they’re gelded.
Llamas for Sheep and Goats
We use a female llama to protect our Jacob sheep; she has a small flock of seven ewes that keeps her content. She’s always on alert for predators; this includes everything from coyotes to squirrels.
When a threat is in the area the llama sends out a sound to alert the animals she protects. The sheep will group together as she runs toward the predator ready to kick. They can injure and sometime even kill coyotes and dogs.
If you plan to have a guard llama and dogs remember never to put them in the pasture together after dark or when the sun goes down. Our dogs are only allowed in the pasture during the day when we’re outside.
Caring for these animals includes sheering once a year, free choice minerals, clean water, pasture grazing and hay. Llamas are great foragers and they love to trim the trees. Shelters are not necessary but they won’t turn them down either. If you’re seeking to purchase a llama I highly recommend, North Texas Llamas. Jimmy is extremely helpful, knowledgeable and every llama we’ve owned came from him. Sometimes with the females you even get a bonus llama later on.
Emus are not commonly thought of as guard animals. We acquired our first emu through a rescue; we quickly discovered the benefit of having one roam our pasture so we recently added a couple more.
Emus are fantastic at chasing off all types of predators especially sky birds like, hawks and vultures.
There are different display signal an emu will perform when they see a nearby threat. These signals let you know that something negative is in the area.
* Fast pace running
* Loud hissing
* A display of jumping in conjunction with running
* Standing tall
* Shrinking down
These birds are relatively easy to care for, however they do sleep at night so you couldn’t depend on them for night watch. Using them in conjunction with a llama would be a better option.
Emus add a little interest to the homestead; you can also raise them for meat and oil.
Emu’s will need shelter when temperatures reach below 30 degrees and their diet consists of foraging for bugs, pasture grass, and daily feed. Water is also an important part of their diet. To learn more about emus visit my blog.
I’m not a big fan of donkeys unless they’re a foal; they look like a stuffed animal at that age.
To many times donkeys grow up with an attitude making them difficult to navigate around the homestead. They tend to bite and kick which is something I prefer to avoid.
They do have some advantages; donkeys can be housed to protect almost any farm animal. The most important thing to remember is you only need one. If you add more than one donkey in a pasture they will create their own herd and fail to protect your livestock.
A donkey requires access to a shelter, pasture grazing and hay. Regular hoof trimming and worming is also necessary which can get expensive.
Summing Up the Options
With all of these options it’s best to first think about what kind of farm animals you plan to raise, this will help you decide what type of guard animal will work best. Never jump into a purchase without doing additional research, I can’t say that enough. Read it’s so important to learn more!
With all animals there is a level of commitment and it’s your responsibility to care for that animal the best way possible. We all make mistakes but doing your research first and planning things out will save you time in the long run and your animals will be happier.
Remember this, the guard animal is just like your fence, it’s protecting your investment.
Homestead Series – Land Discovery
Homestead Series – Fence Out Predators
Carole West is the founder and writer of GardenUp Green. She’s been gardening since she was a small child, learning from her Italian grandmother. Carole shares her all natural gardening techniques and projects on GardenUp Green so that readers can learn, discover, and be inspired. Carole has been putting together patio gardens and backyard escapes and has even ventured into small scale farming. Her greatest reward comes from her family. Their love and understanding has helped her build an amazing and creative life! Check out GardenUp Green on Facebook, Hometalk, and Pinterest.
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