If You Raise Goats, You'll Probably Need A Guard Dog

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If you raise commercial goats for any length of time the day will come that you will wish you owned one or more livestock guardian dogs (LGD's).

That day arrived for me less than a month after I acquired my first goats. I started out with five spanish does and a buck. At the time I still lived in Sherman, TX about an hour north of Dallas, TX and almost 5 hours from my herd in San Angelo, TX. I came out about once a month to check on things, and the first visit after I acquired my herd I discovered that stray dogs had killed five of the six goats. The one remaining goat had taken up residence on the side of a 30 foot tall sheer cliff overlooking the river where no dog in its right mind would go after her. She was the only goat to survive my initial foray into goat production.

I decided not to purchase anymore animals until I relocated to San Angelo a few months later, and when I did there were three Great Pyrenees on the trailer with the new herd. A mature female and two pups. I had to leave the day after the dogs and goats arrived for a three week long business trip to Auckland, New Zealand, and left my wife, Marla, to take care of things. A couple of days later she was out at the ranch feeding the dogs when Winnie, the mature female, took off up the hill. A short time later Marla heard the sounds of a dog fight, then some yelping, and finally two large red dogs came racing by with Winnie on their heels. She got Winnie stopped, and the offenders took off across the river. That was the last we saw of those two, and the end of our stray dog problems at that property.

I get a lot of calls and emails about LGD's, possibly more than I get about goats. Some of these calls are pretty amazing.

My favorites are the people who call up asking why their dogs are killing their goats. My first question for these folks is, "what type of dog do you have?" More often than not the offender isn't even a LGD breed. If you let your hunting or herding dog, or worse one of each, have access to your herd unsupervised you are going to wind up with dead goats most of the time. Inevitably the caller follows up their question before I have a chance to answer with the comment that they have already shot the dog(s). I'm always tempted to ask why they shot a dog that was just doing what it was bred to do, instead of the idiot that gave the dog access to the goats. Of course, if they had done that I wouldn't have gotten the phone call in the first place.

For the record the most common LGD breeds in this country are the: Akbash, Anatolian Shepherd, Great Pyrenees, Komondor, Kuvasz, Maremma, and Tibetan Mastiff. There are other breeds, but these are by far the most common. You can find a wealth of information about these and the rarer LGD breeds at the Livestock Guardian Dog Association website http://www.lgd.org/ and the websites linked to that site. If your family pet isn't listed as a LGD breed, don't let it out in the goat pasture unless you are there to supervise it. The owner of every dog I have ever caught killing livestock has always said the same thing, "my dog would never kill a goat (sheep, cow, etc.)." They can and as soon as you aren't looking they will, and when it happens it won't be the dog's fault. That's why I've never sent a bill for the dead goats to the now deceased dog's estate, I always send it to the irresponsible former dog owner. As an aside, in most cases the dog owner's insurance will pay, and drop him like a hot rock if he acquires another dog.

If it turns out that the caller does own a LGD that is killing goats my next question is, "what are you feeding the dog?" I am shocked by the number of people who think they don't have to feed their LGD's. They think the dog can survive on rabbits and other prey they catch. If you were a hungry dog in a pasture which would you choose for dinner; wild rabbits that can outrun you and get through the fence to escape, or tame kid goats that don't even try to get away? This is a no-brainer even for a dog. Assuming the dog could catch enough to eat everyday, who/what is watching the goats while the dog is out hunting for dinner? Again the caller has usually already shot the dog instead of improving the human gene pool by committing suicide.

Alternatively, the caller answers that they are feeding the dog the cheapest dog food they can find at the local Discount Barn. It may not look like it, but I guarantee you that guarding a herd out in a pasture is hard work. That cheap dog food is not going to provide a working dog with adequate nutrition to do its job, and in some cases the dog will decide to supplement its diet with members of your herd. Trust me it is a lot cheaper to feed the dog the good stuff than to feed it goats, then hot lead, and then have to buy another dog.

If none of the above apply my next question is, "which goats is the dog killing?" If it turns out that it is kidding season and the dog is eating newborn kids, more than likely the dog isn't killing the goats at all. My best dog, Klondike, has eaten every stillborn kid for several years, as well as, all of the placentas in his pasture. He wouldn't even think of harming a live kid, but his instinct is to get rid of the dead ones and the placentas because such things attract predators. Before you go putting a bullet in your dog's head make sure that the dog isn't just performing clean-up duty.

If the above questions haven't solved the mystery, then it is possible that the caller has a LGD that just isn't suited to guarding livestock. I have a couple of dogs that do a great job guarding adults and older kids, but you would have to be nuts to let them near kids under about 35 lbs. Rather than shooting these two dogs I have assigned them to guard the buck pen and to keep the deer away from my fruit trees. When the kids are older I will even let them guard the does out in the pasture. These two don't intentionally kill goats, but when you have a 100 lb plus dog playing with a 10 lb kid bad things tend to happen, and they don't happen to the dog. In extreme cases you may come across a dog that kills all sizes and types of goats, in which case your only choices are to kill the dog or convert it to a pet if its temperament is suited to that function.

Another common call I get is from people who can't figure out how to feed their dog because the goats steal the dog's food. There are a couple of simple remedies for this. I go to the ranch every day and feed the dogs. To keep the goats out of the food I just feed the dogs in the covered area beside my storage building which is fenced off from the pasture.

If you don't want to feed the dogs everyday you can make an enclosure that the goats cannot get in. I have done this by taking three 42 inch tall, 10 foot long sheep panels (these have a one inch galvanized tube frame with welded wire mesh) and wiring them together to form a triangle. Use T-posts to secure the panels to the ground so the goats cannot lift them off the ground. Dig a slide under one side just big enough for a LGD to slide under on its side, but too small for a goat to slide under (goats try to slide under belly down and will not slide on their sides, preventing them from getting under unless they can lift the panels). Attach a self-feeder to the inside of the opposite panel, and you're in business. Now you just need to keep the feeder full of quality dog food, and teach the dog how to use it.

To teach the dog to slide under the panel put the dog inside the enclosure, and then lure it out with a treat. Once it has mastered getting out, do the same to teach it to go in. Finally, start leaving the treat in the feeder so the dog learns that food is located in the feeder.

Be sure to locate the feeder in a well drained area or the slide will flood when it rains preventing the dog from using it. You may also want to line the slide with something that won't turn to mud when it rains or the dog may be reluctant to use it.

This addresses some of the more common calls I get about LGD's, for more information you might want to visit the Livestock Guardian Dog Association website I discussed above and the other sites linked to that site.

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This page updated 12/21/01

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