Wednesday, 15 November 2017


Katcha Ště-Kot North

Today we said farewell to a great dog.The sadness we feel is not in her passing, but the realization that she has left us too soon.

At the end of the summer we noticed that she had a tumor, and that this tumor was rapidly growing, the prognosis was poor. We decided to let have have an early retirement and enjoy the beautiful Alberta fall weather. She wanted nothing of retirement and would head back to her sheep daily, often curled up close to the fence of the pasture wanting to to be let back in.We were doing her no favors by removing her from the dogs and sheep she loved.We relented, and she returned back to her job as matriarch of the pack and protector of the sheep.

We allowed her to carry on doing what she had always done and she was happiest curled up on a hay bale watching over everything. 
The tumors expanded and spread across her body and we noticed a slowing down of her body but not of her mind. She still hazed a coyote a month ago and had a fence discussion with another, a few weeks back.When the weather turned colder we brought her into the warm shop at night and every morning she would trot back out to the pasture.About 10 days ago we realized that her body had started the shutting down process, she was full of tumors, she stopped eating, her energy was low, she did not venture back out to the sheep but hung around the barn.It was then that the sadness was the greatest, as we knew that everyday could be her last.

The appointment was made for the vet to come and euthanize her at home today.We were thankful that we could give her a quiet and easy death. Her passing was not sad, as we knew that she did not need to suffer to the very end.

She was surrounded by the people she loved, in her place and even with her favorite cat rubbing himself against her

We do not want condolences or even sadness, as she lived a grand life.

She had her pack, she had family, she had us and, she had her sheep.
She patrolled the vast pastures, she protected the sheep, she was brave and confident, and she lived a very natural life. She had her mate in Vuk, her daughter and other members of the pack around her. She had the freedom to move around on hundreds of acres, hunt squirrels in the bush and did not have to be obedient to any commands.

She was not molly coddled, controlled by leads and dog parks, and she certainly was not a "fur baby".

She ran with the dogs, she swam in the creek, she slept under the starts, howled with the wolves, she rolled in the snow, she chased ravens, threatened coyotes, she played under the northern lights, and she protected her sheep.

She traveled across the world and into our hearts,
and, we are happy and thankful for having her, be a part of our lives.

Our memories will be of fondness, 
and not filled with the sadness of her passing.
She was loved and respected.
We will miss her but are content that she had a great, dog worthy, life.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Feeding LGD

This article appeared in the July edition of the  Shepherds Magazine 
©Louise Liebenberg 2017

Feeding a pack of livestock guardian dogs can be expensive, however, there are several ways to help reduce the overall feeding costs. In this article, I will discuss some of the things we do to help maintain quality food to the dogs at a cost-effective rate. I understand that laws and situations are different, and this may not be a viable option for everyone.

Feeding dogs is always regarded as a “hot topic” among dog breeders and dog owners. Some swear by certain brands, others by raw feeding, yet others by “traditional” foods that dogs would eat in their land of origin. I have the simple belief to feed what we have, what is available, the best we can economically afford, and as naturally possible. Fads, great marketing, or clever packaging of big brand dog food does not influence me. In fact, I am averse to these gimmicks in the dog food industry. I like to keep it simple and affordable.
We are feeding 8 Sarplaninac LGDs and a few border collies at any one time, that is well over 1200 lbs of dog every day. Our dogs go through a 40-lb bag of dog food every couple of days. A reasonable quality dog kibble is quite expensive, and keeping the dogs well fed is quite a big cost.  Our dogs are fed primarily a raw diet including meat, bones, offal, and eggs, if raw is not available or inconvenient to feed, then the dogs get kibble. We are not “dog foodies”, our dogs eat what we have. We have never had any issues with the dogs switching between dog food brands, or between going from raw to kibble.

We have a few avenues for acquiring meat for the dogs, we have a good relationship with a local butcher who will provide us with meat scraps, bones, and other waste from butchering (things like liver, kidneys etc.). A lot of this waste is fat, which we either freeze and save for the colder winter months, or feed alongside some kibble. Excess fat, is disposed of through composting.

Our main source of meat for the dogs is through the feeding of cull animals from our own ranch.  We have made the business decision not to sell all our cull ewes and rams, instead we will process some of them ourselves into our own dog food. In this way, we can butcher a cull animal when we need it, and do not need to be concerned with storage or freezing.

We live about four hours away from the closest auction market, shipping cull ewes has been an expense to us due to the distance to our markets, time to drive them there, commission fees and the low value that these animals make on the market. It makes more sense to process them into our own dog food than ship them. Not only does it make economical sense for us to utilise these animals ourselves, it is also perhaps a better welfare decision for the culls, who do not have to endure long travel times and the stress of auction markets before butchering.
We will also process our own cull cows who cannot be shipped due to transportation and welfare reasons. We are often called by neighbouring cattle ranchers who have such a cow to come and process the animal., these cows are often given to us for free. A cow can feed a pack of LGD for quite some time.

We are lucky to live in an area (Northern Alberta, Canada) where we have very cold winters that last for 6-7 months of the year. This helps to ensures that all the meat we process, remains in a frozen state, allowing us to preserve it for the dogs without having to have a whole lot of freezers.
Our method for butchering is simple, after freezing the carcass, (this happens naturally outside in the winter), the entire animal is cut into large chucks, we do not skin or gut the animal, and simply make big chunks which we feed in frozen form to the dogs.
Some ranchers are concerned that once LGDs “taste blood” or eat the animals they are supposed to be protecting, they will go rogue and will not be reliable as LGDs any more.  We have never experienced this type of behaviour in any of our dogs. The dogs can clearly distinguish between the live animals they protect and chucks of frozen meat as food. In Macedonia, we saw shepherds feeding fresh dead lambs, cut into pieces to their dogs and none of these dogs attacked the sheep they were protecting. Many of the shepherd’s dogs lived on a basic diet of bread and water, sometimes supplemented with whey from cheesemaking or some milk. Any protein the dogs received was primarily from dead livestock or afterbirths. The dead stock was utilised to feed the dogs.

We do not allow our dogs to simply “help themselves” to any dead livestock, we do remove the carcasses and if the animal is freshly dead, we may process this meat too. We have found that our dogs will protect a dead sheep in the field from predators, ravens, and other scavengers, and then when cut up and offered as a meal a few weeks later, will willingly eat it then. There are a few things we do to ensure that a young dog understands the boundaries of what can be eaten and what not; we will not allow a young dog to eat still born lambs, we do remove deadstock as soon as we can, we reprimand a young dog if it starts to chew on a carcass in the field ( we like to investigate a carcass to understand what the animal died from), we like to portion and feed the animals frozen chunks rather than whole carcasses.

There are times when we do feed kibble, primarily in the summer when it is difficult to preserve the meat.  Our dogs are flexible, and they eat what they are offered, and they do not experience any stomach upsets going from kibble to raw meat. Feeding kibble to the dogs in among hundreds of sheep can be challenging, simply because some of the ewes really seem to like dog food. Feeding kibble often requires us to feed the dogs separately to avoid the sheep trying to bully the dogs for the kibble, we do not have this issue when feeding raw.
We raise laying hens and will also supplement the kibble with an egg or two.
Our dogs are healthy, fit, and energetic, have no allergies, have great coats and strong clean teeth, and are never ill.  I feed to need. If the dogs are working hard, or the weather is wicked, then the dogs get more. I like to keep the dogs well fed, and in good working condition.
Seeing the dogs enjoying a healthy meal of mutton or beef, knowing we have made the best economic decision for feeding our dogs, made a humane choice for the cull animal, and are feeding a high quality meal to the dogs, makes feeding this way a good choice for our ranch.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

The added benefits of living and working with LGD

Article written for the September 2017 issue of the SHEPHERDS MAGAZINE
©Louise Liebenberg (2017)

The job that livestock guardian dogs do is often more than “just” protecting the livestock, when living close to them, and having direct contact with them, one soon see’s the other jobs that the dogs do. I would like to share some of these anecdotes of things I have experienced with our Sarplaninac dogs.

Every morning, when I go out to the pasture to feed the dogs and check on the sheep, I always have a slight feeling of apprehension, we live in a very predator rich area, and our ranch has borders some wild country. Most mornings, the dogs are waiting for me at the gate. Feeding is a highlight and they usually are right there waiting for it. When one or more dogs are not at the gate, I start worrying, I run different scenarios through my head: is a dog hurt? Are they out patrolling?  Has something happened during the night or has something happened to the sheep?
The ewes were bale feeding at a fair distance from the gate, so I quickly checked over the field, to see if I could see if something was out of place. Ravens in the pasture are usually an ominous sign and often the first indicator of what I might find.  Mali did not come for feed.  No ravens. Ewes calmly feeding all seems calm.  I call to Mali but she still does not come. I start to walk out to the ewes, and call again.  I see her sitting up. Ah! She is there! As I get closer, I still do not see why she has not come. As soon as I am within 10 meters (30 feet) she bolts off to her food. I look behind a bale and there are just the legs of a sheep sticking out from under a bale. The poor unfortunate sheep must have lain down by the bale, and the bale must have toppled onto the sheep, killing the ewe, sometime during the night.
Mali was lying with this sheep, keeping the ravens and possibly other predators at bay. As soon as I was close enough, she must have decided that the dead sheep was now my problem, and she was free to go and get her food.  I really like that my dogs do watch over the dead stock, as I find it important to note down what the animal died of. Finding a dead sheep under a bale can be tough, Mali alerted me to this ewes’ position.
In the morning, my dogs are my first indicator of how the night went. If the dogs are hyper-vigilant, do not come for food, or if the dogs set themselves up in semi circle around the flock, facing towards the bush are tell tale signs that predators are in the area. For more than a week we noticed that our dogs were being very “guardy”, very alert, focussed and all business. We had a feeling that something “big” was out there, but did not know what.  It was only later that we had heard that a cougar had killed our neighbor’s colt that week, and that explains the behaviour of our dogs. The dogs certainly do help tell us what is going on. We might not always understand directly, but we have learnt to pay attention to the dogs.

A similar scenario happened a few years ago, none of the guardian dogs came when I went to check on them, after quite a search I found the dogs hanging out close to a rather big hole in a bush pasture. The dogs came to greet me as soon as they saw me, but quickly bolted back to the hole. I could not see anything out of the ordinary and carried on with my sheep checks. A while later, the dogs still did not leave that spot. On closer inspection, deep in the hole was an ewe, stuck. Her whole body was about 2 meters down the hole. With plenty of tugging, we got the ewe out alive and well. Had it not been for the dogs, I would probably have not found her and she would have died in that hole. Good dogs.

Some of the anecdotes are also not specifically sheep related. We usually have between 8 and 10 guardian dogs, they work in various groups and numbers as we need them. Sometimes running four or five intact females together can create a lot of tension and some “bitchy” behaviour. My two oldest females did not always see “eye to eye”, but for the most part they tolerated each other and settled on a truce. As my oldest female started to age more, and developed some health issues, it became apparent that the other female started looking out for her more and more. If the older female decided to stay out in the bush during the night, then the younger dog would head out and stay with her.  When one of the other dogs tried to bully the older female from her food, then the other female would step up and intervene allowing the older girl more time to eat. Many times, I would feed, and the younger female would just sit with her back close to the old girl ensuring that none of the other dogs came closer. These small acts are very endearing to see and experience.

The final story I would like to share today happened over 20 years ago, when I was shepherding in the Netherlands. This story I want to share with you, turned out to be one of those moments, that when you look back at it, you realize your life might have taken a very different course, had things not gone the way they had.

Chantal and me off to go shepherding for the day.

Every day I would shepherd the sheep on the heather or in the forested areas of the nature park the Maashorst in the Netherlands. A few trusty border collies, Chantal my livestock guardian dog at my side and about 4-500 sheep. Every morning, I would take the sheep from their night corral and walk them to the area that would be grazed that day. Some days, I was closer to a cycling path or a route where people liked to walk, other times it was a little more off the beaten track.
Never, in all my life have I ever felt scared while out in the bush. Not in South Africa, not in the Netherlands and so far, not in Canada.  In those days, we did not have cell phones, so if something happened, I would have to wait until someone missed me enough, to come looking for me, or in a worse case scenario, that the sheep would drift away and end up in someone’s yard and then the irate owner would come looking for the shepherd.
Most of the time, when you are out shepherding in a busy country such as the Netherlands, most people would stop for a chat. On a nice sunny day, I was shepherding in a remote area of the park. This was a place where you did not just bump into someone, it was off the beaten track. The area was wooded, with quite a lot of grass growing under the tall trees.
I was sitting down reading a book, when Chantal (our first Sarplaninac LGD) warned me that someone was approaching. I looked around and saw a man watching the flock at about 300meters away. This was not unusual and so I did not mind too much. He stayed quiet some time, just leaning up against a tree watching. The next day, I headed off to the same area with the sheep, collies, and Chantal. At about 11 am, Chantal stood up and warned me that someone or something was in the area. I looked around and spotted the same man as the day before. He was a little closer now and was once again just watching. I felt a little creeped out, as most people would either watch and move on, or watch and then come over for a chat.  He disappeared into the woods.
Sometime later, he reappeared again in another spot. He never approached me, just watched. I could recognize him in his light tan leather jacket and jeans. Chantal would be giving a low growl and the odd woof.  I kept her on a leash, close to me as I did not want to have an incident with my large dog and a tourist.
He spent a good part of the day in the area. That evening I mentioned him to my husband and he suggested I phone and chat with the police. I did that but they said if nothing happened and he was not doing anything illegal, there was not much they could do. I realised they were right, he was doing nothing wrong just watching the sheep eat. Day three; back in my corner of the woods. Chantal was on her lead by my side. Three collies with me, spaced out watching the sheep graze. I was sitting on a little stool attached to my backpack. Chantal sat up and rumbled. I looked up and saw the same man walking purposely towards me. I knew, and felt that something was going to happen. His intention was different and he was walking directly towards me. I stood up as I felt a bit vulnerable sitting down.
As he got closer, I felt the tension; I kept Chantal close to me, my hand on her collar. I was standing, he was striding down that bush path, he went on past me, kind of nodded his head at me, I felt relieved, when suddenly, he turned and grabbed me.  Within a second, Chantal lunged and bit him on his arm.  He pulled loose, started screaming and yelling at me, then turned and ran off. The level of commotion was high, I was shaken, Chantal was hysterically trying to drag me after this man, the collies, in the excitement were running around trying to gather up the sheep. I was quite shaken.
I moved the sheep to a more public spot, and kept a look out all day. I never saw the man again. That night I spoke with the police and they would keep an eye out for him.

I do often wonder about the “what ifs”, what if I did not have Chantal with me that day? What if she did not bite him, what would have happened? I also wonder if that man was just watching me for a few days, sizing up the collies, sizing up Chantal, waiting for an opportunity.
Having a free-range guardian for animal predators is great, but it sure is nice to have one right with you, next to you, on a lead, at the end of your arm, to keep the scariest predators of them, all at bay.

I am sure many of you can share similar stories and anecdotes about your LGD.

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