Considering LGDs To Keep Your Farm Safe From Predators? Use These Tips To Keep Working Dogs Healthy & On The Job
Keeping farm animals such as sheep, cattle, poultry and goats safe from predators can take more time than a busy farmer has to spare. Even worse is if the farm family is often away from the farm during the day while working or attending school. Coyotes, foxes and other predators can take advantage of times when the farm is unprotected to kill young or otherwise vulnerable farm animals. Once they succeed in taking an easy meal, they will return often. To guard against these losses, many farms now utilize working livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) who live, eat and sleep with the livestock they are tasked to protect. If you are considering partnering with a livestock guardian dog to prevent livestock losses from predators and are wondering what special care they may need to stay healthy, the following tips will help.
Shelter from the elements
While it is quite common to see heavy-coated LGDs like the Great Pyrenees sleeping soundly on frozen or snow-covered ground, you will want to make sure that they have a place to take shelter from rain, wind and any weather they find uncomfortable. If there is a barn or livestock shelter in their field, they will happily use it along with the livestock, but if there isn't, consider constructing a simple shelter for them.
One or two LGDs can comfortably fit inside a structure made by:
- placing four steel t-posts in the ground, positioned in a rectangular shape with the short sides 3' apart and the long sides measuring 6' in length
- starting on one short 3' end of the rectangle, securely wire the end of a 16' cattle panel to two of the posts posts on one end
- then bend the cattle panel into an arc, before securing the other end of the panel to the two 3' t-posts on other short end of the rectangle
- cover the arc securely with a 16' x 8' tarp, securing it at the grommets on each edge of the tarp to the cattle panel with wire and arranging the tarp so that it provides shelter on three sides
- add some dry hay or stray for bedding
This type of shelter can be assembled or moved in less than an hour, making it possible to easily move it to other pastures with the LGDs and the livestock they are guarding, as needed. Remember to choose a high spot for the shelter, with good drainage to keep the bedding dry and where the LGDs will be able to see their herd while resting inside.
Because your LGDs are working dogs that are exposed to extreme heat and cold, they will need to be fed a high-energy diet that will support their nutritional needs. Your veterinarian can offer excellent suggestions about the type of food and quantity, but you will need to decide how you will be feeding them and make it part of their daily routine. For some farmers, it is easiest to provide an automatic feeder in a location where the LGDs can access it easily. This may, however, not be possible if you have goats or poultry or other inquisitive farm animals who will learn to steal the dog food from the feeder. If this is the case on your farm, you can choose to feed your LGDs during your daily check of the livestock each day.
Coat and skin health
The long, thick coat of insulating hair that makes it possible for LGDs to happily live outside with the livestock also presents some challenges for the farmer. If the hair becomes matted, particularly during humid, hot weather, the LGDs can develop hot spots and fly strikes in these areas. If left untreated, these can quickly become painfully infested with maggots and cause your dog to develop a life-threatening infection.
To prevent this, make monthly grooming part of the normal routine for your LGD. Although, LGDs often seem aloof, they will quickly adapt to this attention and come to look forward to it. Pay particular attention to grooming them in the spring when the dogs are shedding their winter coats and during hot, humid weather conditions when fly populations are at their worst.
Because your LGD is likely to be in contact with a wide variety of wild animals as they attend to their chores of guarding the livestock, it is extremely important to make sure they are properly vaccinated against rabies, distemper and any other diseases found in your area. In some cases, large animal veterinarians can often handle routine checkups and vaccinations for your LGDs when responding to other livestock calls on your farm, which may be easier than hauling the dogs to the vet's office. If, however, you need to take your LGD to the vet for treatment, remember that riding in a small car may make them feel trapped and uncomfortable. Instead, use an enclosed livestock trailer, with some straw for bedding. This will allow them to be more comfortable while being transported.