Livestock Guard Dogs and Honeybees

Brookfield Farm lies three-quarter miles up a disused logging road

Beekeeper and Livestock Guard Dog at beehives in the snow

Primo : Great Pryanees X Maremma

in the foothills of the cascades in northwest Washington state near the town of Maple Falls.  Our closest human neighbor is a half-mile away as the bee flies.  We share our lands will wildlife from snakes and deer to cougars and bear.  We can do this because we have always  had at least one livestock guard dog working along side us.

Livestock Guard Dogs are special breeds and crossbreeds of dogs who, as you might guess, guard livestock.  They do not herd.  They do not bond to humans, although they usually like their owners. These dogs bond to their livestock. One can find them at work thoughout the world: from the Canada to Argentina, from Europe to Botswana.  These effective guardians are on watch 24/7.  They are traditionally used with sheep, goats, and cattle.  At Brookfield Farm we find they work well with our goats and honeybees.

They guard our beehives because they consider the beehives part of their herd’s territory, not because they bond with the bees.

Livestock Guard Dog and Cashmere Goats, Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, WA

Primo & Cashmere Goats

We began with these very large, somewhat noisy but peaceful guardians when we were a fiber farm: Jacob Sheep, Shetland Sheep, and Cashmere Goats.  Now that I only have 6 goats, our livestock guard dog protects the goats and the beehives.  I have found bear scat within 200 feet of our hives, but only one bear ever got close enough to push a lid slightly off axis before the dog appeared. The bear quickly left and did not return.  The bees were not disturbed.

Who are these effective guardians?

Livestock guard dogs are large dogs: 100 to 150 pounds full grown.  They have been bred for centuries to guard livestock.  They may be Maremmas, originally from northern Italy, Shar Planinetz,

2 livestock guard dogs at Brookfield Farm Bees & Honey, Maple Falls, WA

Tempus (dark): Maremma X Shar Planinetz Fugit (light) Shar Planinetz

originally from what was Yugoslavia, Great Pyrenees, from northern Spain, Anatolians, from the area around Turkey, Navajo Livestock Guard Dogs, from the Navajo Nation.  There are more breeds, but these seem to be the most common in the United States.

One can find purebred livestock guard dogs or crossbreeds.  They are both wonderful, as long as they come from working families.  When buying a livestock guard dog, always go to meet the breeders and see the dogs as they live and guard their livestock.  Be prepared to pay.  A good livestock guard dog can cost from $300 to $1,500 in the U.S.

Bonding in the barn and bee yard

These dogs do not herd.  They live with livestock, and consider

A young livestock guard dog (Maremma X  Great Pryanees) sits with a lamb at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, Washington

The Young Tempus

themselves part of the herd or flock.  They may wonder when they’ll get horns, or why their family has strange feet, but they know they are part of the group. They are raised with livestock from the time they are pups.  Owners may give praise and pats, but the pups are never brought into a human house or go for walks.  They hang with the animals.

A maremma livestock guard dog puppy being watched by a cashmere goat

Maremma Pup: Mojo

 

 

 

If pups travel to a new home they usually move just after they are weaned.  It can be a bit traumatic at first – possibly more to the new human owner than the dog.  The little pup, which can weigh 35 pounds at 3 months, must fit into the group.  Which means the herd disciplines it.  I’ve seen a pup get rolled across a barn for getting in an ewe’s face.  The pups learn quickly that they are not the top animal.

 

At the hives, the bees are in charge of the discipline.  The pups the pups soon learn to walk gently among the hives unless they need to quickly place themselves between the hives and a predator.

A Noisy Peace

As the dogs mature their instinct to defend their “family” and territory

Livestock Guard Dog and Beekeeper Bean in a non-working moment at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, WA

Tempus: one great dancer

becomes clear.  They will sit apart from their herd or flock and watch, especially during peak hunting times: 2 hours before and after sunrise and sunset.  They patrol through out the night and are constantly on guard for incoming predators.  They snooze in the middle of the day, when predators are also “off duty”.

Should a predator approach, they begin to bark, loudly.  The barking will drive most predators away.  Should the predator approach, the livestock guard dog will place itself between the herd/flock and bounce around barking.  Most predators, be they coyote, bear, cougar, or human seem to figure that it would be easier to go elsewhere than confront a berserk 100+ pound dog.  If the predator keeps coming these dogs will fight.   We once had to have the vet remove a cougar claw from the face of one of our Tempus.  He was fine.  The cougar left. (Between guard duties, Tempus often enjoyed a few dance sets.

Beehive Guard Cat sits on the back of Livestock Guard Dog at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, WA

Guard Dog & Guard Cat

Our dogs do not bond with the honeybees.  The beehives at Brookfield Farm are near the pastures, so the dogs we have owned simply consider the hives part of the livestock’s land.  As such, they figure the bears should not be near the hives.  If a bear approaches, the dog will bark, then race at it.  At this point the bear usually goes away.  Once it leaves, these dogs settle back to watching the herd/flock and land.  They do not chase predators once the invader leaves the area.

In all the years of keeping goats, sheep, and honeybees in the middle of a forested farm that includes wildlife corridors for large predators, we have never harmed or killed any carnivore.  Mice are another story. I do set mousetraps and the “guard cats” do patrol and eat the small vermin that can trouble a beehive.

Passings

3 month old Maremma puppy checks out the gates at his new home

Mojo's First Day

We have had a succession of dogs.

A Maremma X Great Pryanees Livestock Guard Dog

Primo - a great dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sad part about these sweet, effective guardians is that, as with all large breeds, they have an 8 to 10 year life span.  Thus in 15 years at the farm, we are now onto our 4th livestock guard dog.  They have full, fun lives, but it is always sad when they leave us.  Our “Primo”, a Great Pyrenees X Maremma cross, recently died.  “Mojo”, a maremma, has just arrived.  He’s yet to meet the bees in full flight, but he’s already visited the hives and knows they are part of his watch.  It is a relief to have him, but I still miss my big guy.  Thus this blog is dedicated to Tempus and his successor, Primo, who gave me years of joy and let us share our wilderness home with the native wildlife.

A Maremma Livestock Guard Dog pupp

Mojo - the next guardian

Find and Find Out More

Ads often appear in the Capital Press (Northwest U.S.) http://www.capitalpress.com

General Information and a discussion group: http://www.lgd.org

A  List of livestock guard dogs with links: http://caninebreeds.bulldoginformation.com/flock-livestock-guard-dogs.html

A US Department of Agriculture on-line pamphlet about livestock guard dogs:http://www.nal.usda.gov/awic/companimals/guarddogs/guarddogs.htm

 

 

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8 Responses to Livestock Guard Dogs and Honeybees

  1. Natalie says:

    What gorgeous dogs! My friend across the road used to breed Great Pyrs ,but she switched to Cairn Terriers a few years back as she approached retirement age. 🙂 Quite the contrast in size.

    I love that they keep the bears away from the bees! I remember bears being a big problem for beekeepers in BC and they don’t always seem to care about electric fences. Good dogs!!

    • I think livestock guard dogs are a vastly underused resource for a lot of farmers and ranchers. Even those who would rather see all wildlife gone, appreciate the fact that they can have a “crew” on for 24/7 which will keep predators away for the cost of dog food.

  2. This is a great article. Thanks. I saw a show a while back about how a lady got the idea of using these guard dogs in Africa and she started providing the dogs to villagers who raised goats.
    Prior to having the guard dogs the villagers would be very quick to hunt down and kill predators but with the use of the dogs they didn’t have any loss of livestock.
    I can’t recall the name of the lady or her organization but what a fantastic idea. People and wild animals living close together – it can work!

    • Livestock Guard Dogs are wonderful…somewhere I have a picture of me “dancing” with my first lsgd – He liked to tango! and he was fabulous at his job. I’ve heard that in Namibia ranchers started using the dogs a while back to protect their livestock. The result was so good than many of these folks now run “ranch holidays” with wildlife viewing. I’m just glad to see the dogs used more and more. It makes for a somewhat noisy peace, but it allows us to share the land with the animals who were there before we moved in.

  3. useful Site says:

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  4. Linda Rivers says:

    Primo looked like an amazing dog and I’m sure that Mojo is proving to be just as special in his own way. I have four Maremmas guarding our alpacas and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I enjoyed reading your blog.

    • Bean says:

      I bet your Maremmas are brilliant with the alpacas. We started with livestock guard dogs when we were a fiber farm: shetland sheep, jacob goats, and cashmere goats (now I’ve just got the pack goats). I love LGD’s – they let us share the land with wildlife. glad you like the blog.

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