New Portable Hotwire System

hotwiresetupLast week I received a large order from Premier Supplies: 320 feet of portable “Electronet” fencing, and a portable fence charger with a solar panel. My long-term plan for this fencing was to help with rotational grazing and cleaving up our pastures into smaller sections. But, the short-term need was to be able to fence the dog in such a way that she can guard the sheep, but not wrestle with the lambs!

So, here they all are, in their temporary “feedlot” conditions. This little pen’s original purpose was to wait out any floods or potential floods, it is up on the hill near the house. But, it became a lifesaver when the coyotes became a problem, and the small quarters were necessary for the dog and sheep to become acquainted. With the arrival of the hotwire, I was able to make a “moat” around the center pen, so the ewes and lambs can be in there, and the dog surrounds them in an outer circle. It’s nice to have lambing happening close to the house, so I can monitor them frequently.

I put the ram in with the dog, so she’d have some company. She gets upset if she’s segregated from the sheep, or even some of the sheep, and spends her time trying to figure out how to reunite with them. This small adjustment in her space was also an attempt to gradually introduce her to the hotwire concept, in a familiar area, to reduce the trauma of it. Dogs often have a very hard time with electric shock, but it will be a necessary part of her environment, so she must learn about it!

We had one more lamb today, and the remaining three ewes should lamb any time. Once that is done, I can move the whole shebang back down to the pasture, and fence the ewes and lambs inside hotwire until the lambs are big enough to contend with the dog. I can fence the dog in, too, if I feel like I can’t catch her. I’m still working on that part.

fencer1Here is the electric fence charger. It’s a rechargeable 12-volt battery, and the solar panel is more of a “booster” to help get a couple more days out of each charge. It’s supposed to last a week or two between chargings. The dog learned right quick to stay away from it, she is very afraid of it. And, the sheep are really too mellow to even challenge it. So, when I’m around, I can leave it turned off. But, at night, hopefully it’ll not only ensure the sheep and the dog stay in, but should keep the coyotes out.

So far, I like the Electronet. It was very quick and easy to set up. I’ll have to comment again the first time I take it up and move it, whether I manage to keep it from becoming a tangled mess! It does sag a bit on uneven ground, which makes it touch the grass more, which will shorten the battery’s life. But, overall, I think it’s a great tool, and will give us a lot of flexibility in grazing different places on the property; and possibly offering to graze the neighboring property, which has recently been a challenge for the owners to maintain.

Curtailing the Exuberance of a Young LGD

lgc_withjugOur livestock guardian dog  (who still doesn’t have a name!) is doing pretty well. She’s definitely got the right stuff- big bark, loves the sheep, weatherproof coat, and  just lays around most of the day. But, right now, she is still incredibly SILLY- just like any four month old dog would be.

In general, she gets along well with the sheep, she likes them, and they don’t mind her. Their inter-species communication functions well on a basic level, they understand she means them no harm, and she seems to find them to be pleasant company. But where this breaks down is that she still wants to play like a young dog does, and she hopes they’ll want to as well! She has moments of high energy and exuberance, where she leaps about, grabs the sheeps’ body parts, and tries to get them to engage in a good old wrestle. Of course, another dog would gladly sign up for such a ruckus, but wrestling is just not in a sheep’s repertoire.

The adult sheep have been able to manage this so far, they just move away from her in irritation, or butt her to send her on her way. Though I’ve seen her tugging on their tails and ears, she hasn’t seemed to do damage to them. Her advances are purely good-hearted:  I don’t see any hint of prey drive going on, she honestly does just want to play with her “friends” and she’s disappointed when they flee. But, this has not been good for the lamb. He tends to just hunker down and try to wait out the rough play. At first, she just made a few small tooth marks in him. But eventually, she bit him up good in the hock, and now he is lame. So, I had to make a separate section of the pen for his mother and him.

I’ve tried a few other things, with limited success. First, I tied an empty milk jug to her collar, with the idea being when she leaps and pounces, it’ll bounce and hit her in the face, providing enough of an irritant to slow her down. This actually worked well for a few days, she was terrified of the thing, and sat stock still for about 24 hours. But, now she’s used to it, and though I do think it makes her walk more carefully, it doesn’t slow her down that much.

lambcreepThe second thing I tried was making a creep for the lamb to get into, that would keep the dog out. I made an open-ended tunnel out of a grid of wire, so that even if she did a bunker crawl in after him, he could exit the other end. I showed him this, and he seemed to “get it”- I often saw him sleeping in there, and the dog couldn’t do much to him. But, I  the ewes kept wrecking the tunnel. They are shedding now, and are itchy, and they found that cramming their huge, pregnant bodies in there made for a splendid all-over scratching tube. 😛 But then they’d get stuck in there, and brute-force their way out, wreaking havoc with my petite lamb hut.

So, for how, he’s segregated so his leg can heal, poor guy. I have ordered 320 feet of electronet and a battery + solar panel charger. That should arrive next week, allowing me to re-configure the sheep and dog areas a little. Everyone can have more room, and I can separate out the soon-to-lamb ewes from the dog. Just in time, as they’re due the first week in March!

LGD Introductory Training

lgd2Here’s how I think it’s going to work integrating the LGD into the mix. I’m not confident that all will play out as planned. But I’ll have to be flexible and adjust the plan as I see how things are going, because I don’t really know how things will go!

Now:LGD is in a small pen with all the sheep. The idea being that she will be lonely and bond with them, not having much other company to prefer. And, that they will acclimate to her presence, having no way to get very far away from her. This part is going swimmingly- she already easily moves amongst them with little disturbance on their part, they tolerate her calmly, and she really seems to like them.

She is starting to try to play with them dog-style a little bit, which is not ideal, but expected. The lamb is already a good 20lbs, so should be able to remove himself from her silliness if he needs to, and the rest of them are big enough to butt her if she gets on their nerves. As the other ewes lamb, I’ll remove them to a separate pen for as long as I can, to give the lambs a chance to grow a little before having to contend with the dog.

The other good thing that’s happening now is the LGD is barking at night and barking at anything that approaches the pen. This should be putting the coyotes on notice that there is now a big dog in the picture. Hopefully they’ll just start steering clear of anyplace they hear her barking. And she’ll be gaining confidence that when she barks, she is able to make intruders leave.

ASAP: get that dog more tame and leash-broken. The 1st day she was here; she was stressed, and fairly demure. The 2nd day, she was feeling her loneliness, so was very solicitous of our attentions. But by the 3rd day, she’s bonded to the sheep, and is playing a bit of keep-away with people and getting very silly. Before she can leave that pen, she needs to come when she’s called and be able to walk reasonably on a leash. I suppose those are the only two people skills she’ll ever need to have!

Soon: catch the llama and move her up to the pen, so she can also acclimate to the dog. Fill in the gaps under the gates to make it harder for coyotes to get into the pasture.

At the end of the month: move the dog and all but three sheep back down to the pasture. Keep the three ewes that are due in March up by the house, with the llama, until they all lamb and can be turned back out. Since I don’t know when the Jacob ewe is due, I may let her take her chances pasture-lambing rather than have her potentially penned up all spring, waiting for her due date.

I’ve been planning to buy portable electro-net fencing in the future, so I can utilize it to do rotational grazing. That purchase is now higher priority, because I feel it’ll be safer to move the dog and sheep down into a smaller area within the big pasture. That way, the dog and sheep can spend more time bonding, the sheep won’t get too far away from the dog’s protection, and the hotwire will offer some protection from coyotes to all of them until things are more stabilized.

New LGD

lgdWell, here she is. Serendipitously, when I needed a livestock guardian dog (LGD), I was able to find one in a week’s time. My friends Sara Jo and John had a litter last fall, and this girl was the only one left. She is a four month old Maremma.

I know all the books say to get a “trained” adult, and only get pups when you can raise them with an already-trained dog. And I know all the books have advice on how to spend months training and acclimating the LGD to the sheep, lambing, etc. following very strict and gradual procedures. But, this advice ignores reality a little bit. It’s hard to find trained adult LGDs-I’ve been looking out for one since August. I did see one available all the way in Idaho- but it was an older dog, and I worry about buying from a person about which I know nothing. That’s not really the “dog show way.” And that’s an awful long way to drive (though I admit I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a good competition dog from anywhere in the world).

And, the training advice silently assumes that while you’re training the LGD, you don’t need the LGD to be working. This is only true once you already have one, and are training up a new one. So, there just aren’t a lot of options when you need you first guardian dog asap.

I discussed this with Sara Jo, who says she had the same problem. They were losing several sheep per week by the time they concluded they must get a dog. So, they bought an 8-week old pup in the fall, raised him in the barn with some ewes for a few months, and then put him out with the sheep and hoped for the best. And, it worked fine, and they have not had a single sheep lost to predators since then. Since then, they’ve acquired and raised several more LGDs.

Sara Jo reports it hasn’t always gone perfectly. A few times, the younger dogs have tried to play with the lambs and chase them around. This has resulted in bruised and scratched up lambs, but nothing worse than that. She finds that scolding the dog for this usually trains them not to do it. And, a few times she’s had the dog get possessive over newborn lambs, such that the dog doesn’t let the ewe near them. But, she’s just separated that ewe/lamb pair for a while, and then things were OK. I’ve read that young LGDs can sometimes be tempted to snack on newborn lambs, but SJ has never had this particular problem.

So, with this advice, and not having many other options, I decided to go for it and I picked up the dog today. Having her guard as a young dog is not without risk- though she is about 65 lbs already, she still has her puppy teeth, so she is somewhat vulnerable if she were to be attacked. And, there is risk that her immature behavior could result in some loss of lambs. But, this is better than losing pregnant ewes! She’s not going to be guarding  yet, but I’m hoping with careful work, she’ll be ready to soon. I think I have figured out a decent plan for making it all work out, but it sure is a big change of plans!