Dogs are an essential part of almost every farm, but for cattle farms, a valuable part of your farm team are the livestock guardian dogs. These dogs are different from a herding dog, like a Blue Heeler or Border Collie. They don't necessarily move the cows from field to field, and they are not as much as a part of the family as the house-dogs that many farmers have. However, they are an essential part of our team here on our farm.
The LGDs that we own are both of the Great Pyrenees breed. This breed originated in the mountains of southwestern Europe where they have been kept for generations, guarding and caring for herds of sheep, goats, and cattle. Great Pyrs are fairly free of many of the health problems that plague some modern large dog breeds. They are intelligent, loyal working dogs who are never happier than when they are hanging out in the fields with the cows. These dogs are regal and elegant in their appearance and bearing.
Great Pyrs can vary widely in appearance. In general, they are big, ranging in size from 85 to 140 pounds. Their fur can be fluffy or silky, and their coats can be pure white, tan, or have a few spots of gray or tan on a mainly white coat.
Why Run a Great Pyr With Cattle?
We have been very impressed with the behavior of our Great Pyrs. They have great cattle instincts, even though we got both of them as newly weaned puppies; and they've never observed other Great Pyrs working cattle. Our dogs love staying out with the cattle. Lucy, our female, can almost always be found lying out in the fields with the calves.
These dogs are smart and very observant. If a mother cow will allow it, they will help lick clean a newborn calf and eat the afterbirth. Biologists say that this behavior has evolved to keep predators from learning the locations of newborn animals. They also have a disgusting habit of eating the feces of small, milk-fed calves. However, once again, this nasty behavior has a biological reason. Our friend, a coyote hunter, says that coyotes are greatly attracted by calf feces. The "housekeeping" skills of the Great Pyr can keep coyotes from learning the location of your calves.
Great Pyrs and Coyotes and Other Dogs
Our dogs, especially our female, spend more time with the cattle than up at the house with humans. She is very protective of her cows and will bark at and attack other dogs that intrude on "her space." Coyotes don't bother our herd when the dogs are out there with the cows.
Great Pyrs and Predator Birds
Our Great Pyrs hate predatory birds as much as they do coyotes. Our dogs will take off barking at buzzards that stop to drink at our pond. Even buzzards flying overhead get thoroughly barked at until they are no longer near our animals. Other owners who have problems with ravens and eagles bothering their calves have had great success allowing a Great Pyrenees protect the animals.
Great Pyrenees are wonderful dogs, but they are not for everyone. In Livestock Guardian Dogs-Great Pyrenees; Part 2, I will talk about some of the difficulties of having a Great Pyrenees dog.