The Great Pyrenees
Livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) have been used for centuries to protect livestock from roaming predators. The Great Pyrenees is one of the top three dog breeds to effectively accomplish this mission.
At HiBar Ranch, Farm and Forest we have two locations. Our first location, the ranch is in the High Peaks of the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York where there are bears and Coy-wolves who attack either our bee hives or our baby goats and lambs. Our second location, the farm is located at the base of the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee, where there are also bear and red wolves along with many a story of cougars. We’ve invested tens of thousands of dollars in various fence solutions; some work and some only sort of work.
This is where livestock guardian dogs come in. The Great Pyrenees is naturally nocturnal and aggressive with any predators that may harm its flock. The breed can typically be trusted with small, young, and helpless animals of any kind however, due to its natural guardian instinct.
We have found that having an LGD roaming the perimeter of our farm and in our pastures has been the best deterrent to large animals even nearing our livestock in the first place.
Why not alpacas or donkeys, you ask? We’ve tried both.
As many livestock owners will tell you, while donkeys are great protectors sometime, it is important that the donkey grow up with the flock it is to protect. After a loss of several baby goats and turkeys to coywolves and coyotes, we purchased a donkey. He was great with his previous flock, serving as protector. But, upon entering our flock dynamic he attacked one of our top milking does with national milking genetics (papered), nearly killing her. He viewed her as an enemy, not one he was to protect. He did what donkeys do, biting her neck and whipping her back and forth, nearly breaking her neck and creating huge trauma in her neck region. This attack caused her to abort her babies shortly thereafter. Many farmers will share a similar story. Now I am not saying donkeys are bad. And, if you have a good guardian donkey they are worth their weight in gold. I am just saying that purchasing a donkey is a hit or miss proposition for livestock protection.
Alpacas and llamas are also said to be great protectors of livestock. We have two alpacas that run with our herd of sheep and goats. And, they are very good protectors and dote on the baby goats and lambs constantly. In fact, when a baby goat cries, they’ll be right there checking on them.
But, I have to say that in our experience, the alpacas do not have the power and defensive mechanisms to attack a wild predator to the likes of a bear, coyote or coy-wolf. We’ve had the alpacas in the pastures with our kids and lambs and coyotes/coy-wolves have STILL entered the pasture and carried them off.
So, we have arrived at LGDs as our best solution to date, along with electric fencing. Since we’ve used Maggie, our LGD, to protect our flocks in both the NY mountains and TN mountains, we’ve experienced zero loss of livestock to predators.
Maggie patrols the edge of our farm many times, day and night. Even the neighbors are appreciative as they raise cows and she protects their herd too. The whole community knows Maggie is working.
We love the Great Pyrenees breed for so many reasons. Their disposition is gentle and loving. Their love and care for their flock also transfers over to us humans. Indeed, they protect us as they do the lambs and kids. And, their awareness of ‘little’ is unprecedented. Their gentle way with babies and small children is a sight to behold.
We also have two male intact labs. While a two year old lab is still hyper and out of control (they begin to mellow at age three), even a yearling great pyrenees is docile, mellow and happy to lay and watch, or stand and watch, at a distance. There is no ‘hyper’ in a great pyrenees that I have ever witnessed. This is another reason why the breed is such a wonderful addition to the farm.
We have invisible fencing at our farm for the labs so they do not ‘run’ away from the farm. And, they can not get in our pastures. We do NOT use the collar that activates the shock from the invisible fence on our pyrenees, however. Why? It is such a natural desire for the breed to protect a herd that it will chase a predator off the property and go through the fence and the shock, to do its job. Any invisible fence company will tell you that the technology works great, and it does, just maybe not for the great pyrenees. They are genetically breed to do their job and that is what they do, even through electric shock. God bless them!
We let our pyrenees run the farm and we stay in contact with our neighbors to make sure she isn’t creating mischief elsewhere. If she roams, they’ll call us. But, she usually just lays at the edge of their property watching their dogs too. Yes, she’s adopted every dog that neighbors us; all more critters she wants to protect. I’d encourage pyrenees farm owners to talk to your neighbors and discuss with them your intention to get this breed before you move headlong into a LGD. Why? Because your dog will roam to a greater or lesser degree. If they are on the scent of a predator near their flock, they’ll track it down and push it away, and that may mean off your property.
Since we are beginning to breed Great Pyrenees we can say that having a female in heat draws ALL the male dogs around. Yesterday, Maggie arrived for her breakfast bowl with a gash in her lip, a big gash. She just started to go into heat for the first time as this week she just turned 12 months old. When the females go into heat males and females can fight and that is what happened with Maggie. She was attacked by a male before she was ready to be bred. So, we have her inside now and will keep her very close and with us at all times for the next three weeks during her heat cycle. Yes, the dogs stay in heat for 21 days and they go into heat twice a year for those who don’t know that.
We think the world of the great pyrenees breed. And, while they have some issues in terms of roaming, barking at night to ward off predators and some shedding/brushing requirements, we love the breed. We’ll keep you up to date as Maggie is bred and will blog on the pups she carries, along the way.
Here are some shots of Maggie when she was little and now as she is larger in size. She is truly lovely and stoic and a wonderful addition to our ranch and farm.
God Bless! ~ L. Davis