Letter Re: Predator-Proofing Your Property

Greetings Mr. Rawles;
First, allow me to thank you for your work.  I have only recently become aware of your site, having heard you on Mike Ruppert’s radio show.  In the short time since, I’ve gathered many useful facts and sources from the material on your site.  We all owe you a debt of thanks.

The post on protection from predators by John L.  is very valuable.  I have no disagreements with any of his approaches or solutions.  I would like to offer an alternative that has worked for us for the last 15 years, and may be suitable for some of your readers.

John L. is certainly correct that dogs are the worst predator problem for most people.  They can also be the solution.  I am referring to livestock guardian dogs (LGDs).  

Our property is located on the ridges running east from the Continental Divide in the Northern Rockies at 5,500 foot elevation.  We are very fortunate to own a small piece of a large private wildlife preserve.  We’ve been on this property for the last 11 years.  Although not as remote from neighbors as John L, we are on the edge of wild country with all the large predators either resident or transient on the property, including the neighbor’s sled dogs.  We keep goats, chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys on the place.  We also have two Great Pyrenees  LGDs.  In the 15 years we’ve kept Pyrs we have never lost a goat to a predator.  In the 11 years we’ve been here we have not lost one chicken to a predator- either raptor or four legged.  I did lose two little chicks and a duckling to a raven – but that was my fault. 

On our place we have two and a half acres fenced off – roughly in an oval shape.  Within that perimeter are the house, outbuildings, poultry enclosures, small pond, garden beds and young permaculture orchard.  The poultry -except the geese- are pretty much free range inside the perimeter.  We keep them out of the garden beds during the growing season, but otherwise they are generally free to chase ants and grasshoppers wherever the hunt may lead.  This cuts way down on insect damage to the gardens.  The goats are housed immediately outside this fenced area because of their taste for fruit trees.  Goats will be as tough on your orchard as deer.  The goats’ main task has been brush and weed control in this fire-prone country, thus they are not penned, though they do tend to stay within sight of the dogs and the homestead.  This arrangement has made it possible to easily move the poultry – if we need some of them in a particular area – within the fenced perimeter without major interior fencing or structure.  We do this to prepare garden beds and soil by letting the animals do most of the work.  A few short step-in posts and 3 feet of 2″ poultry mesh will tend to enclose any of the birds as long as there is plenty to eat.  I’ve built movable lightweight shelters for the poultry that are easy to re-locate.  To be accurate, the turkeys can fly, so we do have to be careful they haven’t landed in the lettuce.  You can clip a turkey’s wing, but we prefer them to be able to roost in the trees at night during the warmer season.  Also this allows them the ability to leave the main enclosure and forage for food in the surrounding woods – they fly over the fence and fly to avoid predators – returning in the evening.  Sounds risky, I know, but they stay close to the perimeter and the dogs.  We haven’t lost a turkey yet.

The dogs are free to patrol within the 2 1/2 acres because they are completely trustworthy with all the other critters.  As long as the perimeter fence holds predation is simply not a problem.  We’ve installed the 8′ deer fence that is a plastic/graphite combination for the perimeter.  This fence is used by the Forest Service, BLM and various state agencies as an “exclosure” in areas where it is necessary to keep the elk, moose and deer out–protecting stands of aspen trees.   We reinforce it with either snow-fence, poultry wire (along the bottom to keep rabbits from chewing through the fence) cattle panels, or some combination of these.  The elk and deer have not challenged the fence because of our dogs.  Only one of my neighbor’s sled dogs (which he occasionally seems unable to control) was ever stupid enough to actually try and dig under the fence to get at our turkeys.  I can’t say if missing half an ear has an effect on his ability to pull.

In the last 16 months the property has been visited by the usual assortment of fox, coyotes, feral dogs and bobcats.  No sweat for our dogs.  Although we’ve had several cougar on the property they stay at least 200 yards from the homestead.  What has made the last 16 months special are the wolves and bear.  In December/January adolescent wolves will leave the main pack and strike out on their own.  We have not had a pack here but have seen several of these loners.  They don’t even stop for coffee.  About a year ago a grizzly sow and yearling cub came through the place when they first woke up.  Our lead dog (female in this breed) bit through the poultry wire and the graphite and went out after the griz which were near her goats.  The grizzlies left and raided the neighbor’s barn for horse grain.  This last fall a large old boar black bear came through the place with much the same result.

When a predator is in the area the goats will crowd up against the outside of the fence as close to the dogs as they can get.  The fun part is that the deer that come in close at night to clean up the goat’s hay get the same idea.  The dogs try to bark the deer off the goats’ hay but otherwise recognize that the elk and deer are no threat.  This time of year when both mule deer and elk can be seen in large numbers the dogs will sit quietly and watch a group of 20 head or so grazing and browsing less than a hundred yards away.

These dogs are fabulous with kids.  When my grandchildren visit they simply do not go outside the perimeter without at least one dog – that’s the rule.  The kids climb on the dogs.  I even have a photo of a chicken standing on one of the dogs.

A good livestock guardian dog is as aware of birds of prey as it is other predators.  However, we see very few raptors here because there is a raven nest close-by.  The ravens, of course, despise hawks and owls and drive them away at first sight. 

LGDs are known to locate sick or injured stock and stay with them until the shepherd arrives. 

Disadvantages?  Well, the fact is that LGDs work at night.  They bark a lot to let the predators know about their territory.  My closest neighbor is more than a quarter mile away and keeps dogs himself so this is not a problem for us.  I have gotten used to the barking and find it reassuring, sleeping through much of it.  I’ve never had a problem distinguishing between this normal patrol barking and the “Boss, you better get out here!” bark.   In those instances I take the warning seriously, and just as John L proposes, I stumble into my boots, fill my hand with a 12 gauge and go deal.

Also, the Pyrenees will tend to wander a bit if not well fenced.  They don’t run away.  They are patrolling their territory.  It is just that their idea of their territory and yours may not match up.  This is a generalization and I’ve had a female Pyr who never needed a pen or fence.  She just stayed home.

Besides the Great Pyrenees there are numerous breeds of livestock Guardian dogs including Akbash, Anatolian, Kuvaz and Komondor.  They all have much lower food requirements than most dogs of a similar size and though there are differences between the breeds they all share the great protective instincts.  They are not attack dogs.  They are guardian dogs.  If you think an LGD may work in your situation, please do your research.  If someone were considering LGDs I’d strongly recommend getting a pup from working parents.  That imprinting maximizes your chance of having a good dog.  You can occasionally find adult LGD dogs through rescue services.  We have a rescue Pyr now who is absolutely the best guardian dog you could ask for.  I’ve had another rescue Pyr who was a pleasant doofus and completely useless for watchdog work.  Of course, if you have a good dog, bringing in a pup to learn from the older dog also increase your chances of success.

By keeping LGDs in this manner we’ve cut way down on the bomb-proof building requirements that would otherwise be necessary to keep the critters and the young trees safe.  In the times to come, when keeping electronic security items charged up and running may be a challenge, LGDs offer a low-tech security option.  It’s true, I really like these dogs.  Any critter actively guarding us and willing to give its life to keep the family and homestead safe deserves my affection. Thanks again for your work. – M.F.