Dig-Proof Dog Run Done Fast

We built an escape proof 16x4x4 dog run in about 30 minutes.  The trick was to use livestock panels secured by hog rings and pliers.

Since we had only ever had pet dogs, prior to getting the Livestock Guardian puppies, we did a lot of research on this genre of working dogs.  Many of the questions regularly asked on forums were about keeping the dogs contained to their pasture.  “How do I keep him from climbing over the fence?”  “How do I stop her from digging under the fence?”

Initially we looked at commercial dog runs but they are a) expensive b) small and c) generally have no floor so do not solve the digging out problem.  Eventually we figured there had to be a better way, and when planning the layout of the sheep and goat barn, we incorporated the dog run into it, making it the divider between the sheep and goat “stalls”.

We started by laying a panel on the ground.  To that were attached the side walls.

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The panels used for the sides have smaller gaps than the cattle panels.  Rather than 4×6 holes, each hole is only 6×2.  This means the puppy couldn’t squeeze through the holes in the panel, even when first brought home.  A regular cattle panel was then placed on top.  The “roof” panel secured the whole thing and turned it into a tube.  Finally a panel was cut to create the ends, each of which is secured in such a way it can swing open to become a gate, so that animals can enter from either end.

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The dog run served as a handy place to hang sheep and goat feeders.  More importantly, it allowed the puppies to interact with both sheep and goats safely, and allowed the stock to adjust to the idea of having dogs living among them.  As the ewes and lambs gave birth, the pups were able to see, smell and hear without causing any problems – and without being traumatized by protective new moms.

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The pups slept in their dog run every night until they were 6 & 8 months old.  Later it was used to prevent an unwanted pregnancy when Karina had her first heat cycle.  And in between it was used to separate kids at night so we could milk their moms in the morning.

Initially we thought the dog run would be a temporary addition to the barn, but it has been so useful as a separation pen that we have never dismantled it.

Cooper

Our 100th post!  Who knew we talked so much?

I blogged recently about the change of direction we are taking with our goats.  Having sold the meat breed goats, we still needed to get our dairy does bred and explored many options.  Not keen on getting another buck – they are stinky and frankly, our last one was a lovable butthead.  (Pronunciation guide: The first three syllables of “lovable butthead” are silent.)  We looked into artificial insemination (AI) but technicians are few and the ridiculously brief period of receptivity( 6-12 hours) ensures that even if you detect the heat, it will be finished before the AI tech can arrive.

I investigated learning how to do the AI myself, but courses are expensive and halfway across the country.  Then would be the challenge of keeping semen onsite ready to be thawed for that narrow window of opportunity – which could occur while we were sleeping!

My does are Oberhasli – a Swiss breed that we have since learned are somewhat rare in this country.  I have two friends each with registered Nubian does – another dairy breed – who were also without bucks.  You see where this is going…. a shared problem becomes a shared venture.  So, we agreed look for a registered, purebred Nubian with good conformation.  After looking for some time, we found the perfect candidate, named “4RS Minima Cooper”, but we instead purchased the large dalmatian dog seen below.

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And just in case you don’t think he looks tall in a picture by himself, here he is beside one of the Oberhasli does.

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So far he has been a perfect gentleman – gentle with the goats and respectful of people.

Kilo and Karina’s response to the new animal in the herd they guard was interesting and, ultimately satisfying.  Both initially barked and growled at the large, unfamiliar intruder.  Kilo, who is older, bigger, and calmer, rather quickly accepted my assurances that this animal was now one of their own and the two of them experimented a bit to see which of them would yield way to the other, but were amicable soon enough.  Karina, on the other hand, frankly didn’t agree with me; she barked at him intermittently for a couple of days, before grudgingly accepting that he belongs.  Now they both watch and protect him just as they do the other goats and sheep.

We are excited to see the kids born out of this combination!  Per the partnership agreement, Cooper will live at each farm approximately four months each year, servicing 2-3 does at each farm.  He is a lucky buck!

Karina

Kilo is growing like crazy and we see glimpses of his future potential as a livestock guardian from time to time.  He is now 4-½ months old and it will still be awhile before he is old/big enough to protect them.

Meanwhile……livestock guardians work best in pairs.  And male/female pairs generally get along together better than male/male or female/female pairs.  We had always planned to get Kilo a partner, thinking we’d do it when he was about two years old.  However that would mean raising him up and having him work alone for a considerable period before adding another puppy and then waiting for HER to be old enough to be a reliable partner.  So the plan changed.

A few days ago HWA and I spent an entire day on the road to pick up this little girl – Karina:

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Like Kilo, Karina is a Bulgarian Karakachan and she is 12 weeks old but being female and 7 weeks younger than Kilo, is substantially smaller.

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She came from a breeder who doesn’t handle his pups.  At all.  Consequently she was very shy initially but is coming out of her shell very quickly and seems thrilled to have a human of her very own.  To get her used to us and bond with Kilo, we are doing pasture walks three times a day and having her sleep with Kilo in his dog run (see next post for details on that).  So far, she has spent her entire time with us in the barn or pasture.

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We are looking forward to watching these two pups grow into their future roles as our livestock guardians.

Kilo the Karakachan

Despite spending a vast amount on fencing to keep our sheep and goats IN, we haven’t been successful in keeping predators OUT.  We considered the loss of a lamb within the first few weeks to be a fluke caused by a gap in the fence left by fencing contractors.  Having closed the gap we had no further cause for concern for two years, so had grown complacent, until this spring when coyotes dug under the fence, resulting in the loss of twin lambs.

The attack was disconcerting because although we easily found the spot they’d dug under and reinforced it, what’s to prevent them digging at another spot?  And with the investment in the Royal White sheep, keeping them safe became even more important.

For years people have been telling us we should consider donkeys, llamas or dogs as Livestock Guardians.  Donkeys’ braying and reports of their trying to mate the sheep made them unappealing.  Llamas’ need to be sheared and reports of their trying to mate the sheep also made them unappealing.  And dogs?  We resisted them for several reasons:

  1. They are another animal that requires care and feeding.
  2. Many breeds of LGD bark.  A lot.
  3. They are another animal that requires care and feeding.
  4. Many LGD’s roam.
  5. They are another animal that requires care and feeding.

However due to the emotional devastation that follows the loss of an animal to predators, and the financial investment in the Royal White Sheep, we reconsidered.  But we decided there had to be alternatives to Great Pyrenees – the big, fluffy white dogs most commonly used as guardians in this area, so we set about finding them.

What we learned was surprising: there are many different breeds of Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD), each coming from a different area of Europe or Asia, and each therefore having been bred with different qualities.  Exotic sounding names like Sarplaninac, Ovcharka, Karakachan, Akbash, Tornjak, Tibetan Mastiff and Central Asian Shepherd.  Dogs from Bosnia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Tibet.

After learning of the strengths and weaknesses of each breed, we felt that the Karakachan would be the best match for us.  Unlike Great Pyrenees, who bark to alert potential predators of their presence, Karakachan tend to bark only when they detect an actual threat.  And, rather than roam to expand their territory, they tend to bond more closely to their stock and therefore stay closer to them.  When a threat is detected, they will gather the stock behind them, while facing off the threat.

Ideally, LGDs work better in pairs.  A pair will trade off the work load, with one sleeping while the other keeps watch.  When there is a threat, one will stay with the stock while the other confronts the predator.  However in cases where it is only possible to have one dog, Karakachans work better as a sole guardian than do some of the other breeds.

Enter Kilo, the Karakachan Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD).  Deciding on a Karakachan was the easy part; finding one was the challenge.  However thanks to the Internet, we were able to locate a litter in West Virginia, and committed to a pup – then 3 days old. Here he is at five weeks old:

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At six weeks he weighed over 12 pounds.  At eight weeks his litter mates started leaving for their new farms.  And finally, at nine weeks, Kilo farewelled his mother to start on his long journey westward.  The first leg involved a 13-hour drive to Arkansas – along with one brother.  The second leg started when I arrived in Arkansas to collect him and drive him the remaining 7 hours home.

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The next few months will be a steep learning curve for Kilo and for us.  Kilo will need to gain the trust of the sheep and goats – currently far larger than he is.  He will live with them and bond to them.  Meanwhile we will be learning how to incorporate a guardian into our daily routines.  I’m sure there will be challenges along the way but feel that sleep will come easier – especially when we have young kids and lambs – than it does now with the constant worry about their welfare.