Letter Re: Retreat Livestock Guardians

This is in response to TDs’ article on Retreat Livestock Guardians. My wife and I left the computer industry about 10 years ago and established our little retreat in N.E. Texas. We have 60 acres with a stream, couple of livestock ponds, well, and a cistern. We presently have as livestock: Boer goats, horses, donkeys – (both standard and what is called Giant), pigs, ducks, and chickens. And of course several cats. Cats keep the snakes, tarantulas, rodents, and other small nuisances away from the house and barns.

Why I am writing is because when we moved out here from Dallas, all the local livestock producers were just going on and on about the Great Pyrenees as guardian animals. So, when we purchased our first set of goats, (20 females and 1 male), we built two pens for them. One for birthing, and one for the male to reside with the females until time for birthing.

What I found out about the Pyrenees [breed] was absolutely true. The one we acquired from another established breeder became part of the herd, and was every bit as described by TD in his article, except for one thing. These animals bark at anything and everything. Especially at night. When our first one was a puppy, I was really impressed with her, because she bonded with the animal and family right off. Was very quiet, and was very little maintenance. Until she turned about a year old. Then the barking started. And never stopped. If a leaf was blown across the pasture at night, that animal went off like an air raid siren. Wife thought if we got her a mate, that that might reduce the barking. So, we acquired a male from another breeder, this one the same age as our female. Well, then we had two alarms going off every night at anything. Armadillos, possums, skunks, squirrels, deer, and I mean anything that moves at night, these two sounded off. And they are quite large, male approximately – 90 pounds, female approximately – 75 pounds, and quite loud.

Even though we enjoyed the personalities and the great job these two did with the herds, when trying to have a retreat where the main entrance and most of the acreage is concealed and not very recognizable from the road, the noise these two made could be heard literally for about a mile. So even though they performed to expectations, for the purpose of our retreat, they were a liability. I also checked with other livestock producers in the area that had these animals, and found out that this is the norm and not the exception. All of these livestock guardian dogs have a tendency to be excessively loud at night. And that is just unacceptable for the operation and purpose of this retreat. So now the donkeys are fulfilling that obligation. The two standard donkeys are in with the horses. And the two giants are in with the goats.

I have got to say, I am very, very satisfied with the results. I have watched the two standard donkeys go after a couple of coyotes with absolutely not fear at all. Ears laid back and not a sound. Just full speed ahead, then both in a coordinated attack run off any and all predators. The two giants, since they are in the pens with the goats, have not yet had to demonstrate their abilities, because watching through night vision goggles, I have just watched the predators emerge from the tree lines, take one look at the donkeys, and fade back into the woods. Guess they already had altercations with their kind before.

One thing that I was worried about, was what I had heard about donkey braying at all hours. Both daytime and nighttime. I have not found that to be the case. So far, the only time these animals bray, is at feeding time. And then, only somewhat quietly. Really no louder than the ducks. On a side note: You want a good nighttime early warning system- Ducks. Normal varmints, coons, skunks, possums, whatever can wander all around and the ducks will not emit any noise unless they try to get into the pen that the ducks are locked up in every night. But let anything larger, or not normally supposed to be around that time of night show up…. And those ducks are alerting everyone and everything. Wife and I are really attuned to sleeping peacefully throughout the night, subconsciously filtering out all the normal nocturnal noises until the ducks go off. Then I up and out the door in a flash, armed and looking for the cause of the alarm.

This is not to say we are not looking for some sort of canine. I do believe that one is a necessity, but we just have to find the right breed. One thing we have been talking about, to suite the needs out here is a type of dog I had before joining the Marine Corps. It was called a Basenji. This breed is a descendent of African wild dog that does not have the capability of barking. The one I had was always silent unless growling or a kind of whimper when feeding time was at hand. The dog actually prevented a burglary of my apartment one night. I was asleep in the back bedroom, and the dog must have heard the perp quietly knock out a pane of glass next to the front door. You know how apartments are not really made for security. Anyway I was woke up by a loud yell of someone in pain. I dressed and turned on the lights in the living room, and sitting by the window was that little Basenji with quite a bit of blood around his mouth and on the surrounding windowsills. Apparently, as the perp reached through to try to unlock the door, the little do just waited until the perfect opportunity, and latched on. Let me tell you, for a relatively little animal, about 45 pounds, the dog has quite a set of jaws on him. These dogs are known for clamping down on an extremity and not letting go. Not just a bite and release. Now as far as little children, these little dogs just love them. They will endure just about anything from children. Very loyal animals and very quick learners. Obedient and smart. Now, how they will do out here [at our ranch] I don’t know yet. But it looks like we are going to give one a try and see how it works.
Anyway, just wanted to put in my two cents worth in about the dogs in a retreat environment. The livestock guard dogs, in a non-SHTF environment, like the Pyrenees are absolutely wonderful, and exactly as described by TD. But – When you do not want your location to be compromised by unnecessary and excessive barking, maybe an alternative is needed. Respectfully, – B.W.