Thursday, April 15, 2010
Meet Cheetah, our livestock guard dog, or LGD. Cheetah is a Great Pyreness, a breed of dog which has been specifically bred to guard livestock. A lot of times when we think of a guard dog, we think of a somewhat aggressive breed like a Rotweiller or Doberman Pinscher. Or when we think of a livestock dog, we think of a herding dog, such as a Border Collie or Australian Shepherd. However, the Great Pyrenees (or Pyr) and several other breeds of dogs have been selectively bred to bond with their livestock charges and stay with them and protect them from predators.
All dogs are basically predators, having been domesticated from wild ancestors. They are all hunters at heart. Herding dogs have a strong "prey drive", which, along with directions from the shepherd, they use to move flocks of sheep. If you have never seen a Border Collie working sheep, you are missing something! They crouch and give the sheep the Border Collie "eye", which I am sure is very intimidating to the sheep, which are prey animals. LGDs have had the prey drive bred out of them. They have no desire to chase and hunt. They are very protective of their flock or herd. They move with the herd as it grazes and are always vigilant for predators.
Cheetah is 120 pounds. His greatest wish is to be a lap dog in his next life. He loves people. He has never been in a house. He lives with the alpaca herd in the barn. He sleeps most of the day and patrols at night, barking and making his presence known. In my opinion, any coyotes in the area are smart enough to know that there is plenty for them to eat without coming near that large bark!
We have had Cheetah since he was about a year old. He will be 6 this fall. He has not always been an only LGD. We had one Pyr when we got Cheetah. His name was Dash and he was 140 pounds. He was a big sweet guy, but he died 3 years ago of a twisted stomach (if you've read Marley and Me, Marley suffered from the same condition), which was rough on Cheetah. They were great friends. We then got another puppy, who took to digging under our fences at about a year old and got out one day and met with an unfortunate end at only 13 months old.
Here is an example of a livestock guard dog doing his job. Almost 3 years ago, I was away for the day in August. We had no alpaca babies due for at least another month, so I was not concerned at all. When I came home and went out to do the feeding in the evening, all the alpacas were in the back field grazing. When I went into the barn, I realized Cheetah was in the barn and there was something laying next to him on the floor. It was a cria, or newborn baby alpaca. It was a month premature and it was its mother's first cria and she had evidently delivered it and then gone out with the rest of the herd. The cria was still alive and Cheetah was guarding it. We found the mother and put her in with the cria and since the cria was so early, I spent most of the night milking the mother and feeding the cria with a dropper. She was trying very hard to make it, but by morning was not doing well, so I loaded up mom and baby and took them to Ohio State University's vet hospital, where they stayed for 2 weeks. The cria managed to pull through, although the vet's said she should have died. "Miracle" is now almost 3 and due to have her first cria in May.
We have had many school groups come to our farm, from pre-schoolers, to 8th graders and Cheetah is always a hit. The pre-schoolers are eye to eye with him and I have yet to have one be afraid of him. He is truly a gentle giant.
Did I mention he loves to give kisses?
Spring is in full swing. The redbuds are in bloom and the wild apple trees have blossoms on them. The woods are beautiful this time of year. The trees have a faint haze of color as the leaves prepare to open up. There are tiny wild flowers everywhere I look. The days are warm and the nights are cool.
I am still working on the Spin-off and also knitting on my mystery shawl. I am on clue 5. Clue 6 comes out in 8 days. There are 7 clues, so we are getting to the end. The last clue will be the big one, I think, since we will be adding beads!
It is about time to seriously think about shearing. Watch for that soon!