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Farmers keep guard animals, because ‘you use every tool you can’

MT. SIDNEY—Leo Tammi of Augusta County first purchased guard dogs 20 years ago after losing some of his sheep to feral dogs.

“I was desperate,” Tammi said. “Controlling predation is a constant concern, so you use every tool you can.”

He also uses llamas and an electric fence. He’s lost lambs to both feral and domestic dogs and to coyotes. With regard to guard dogs, Tammi prefers Great Pyrenees. After spending time around the dogs, “the flock accepts them,” he said. “I’ve even found that the ewes are so comfortable with the dog that they will seek out the dogs to have lambs.”

To effectively use guard dogs, “we need support from the neighbors,” Tammi said. The dogs sometimes leave his property while chasing off predators, and people have varied reactions to large strange dogs on their property.

Another consideration when using a Pyrenees as a guard animal is the cost, Tammi said. “You can pay several hundred dollars for a dog,” and they require canine-specific veterinary care.

 Additionally, their dense coats need to be shorn in the summer, and they do not eat the same foods as the sheep.

 “But when you consider the cost of a single evening of (sheep) losses, it’s worth it.”

Carl Persons of Prince William County teaches seminars on how to secure farms against predators. He has plenty of hands-on experience from protecting his 26 alpacas.

Persons has had guard llama Rosebud on duty for seven years, “and I used her mother before that,” he said. “If the llama senses something is wrong, she puts herself in front of the herd to protect it.”

His main concern with llamas is aggression; he replaced his first guard llama because it was too aggressive about herding the alpacas.

Alpacas are expensive and fragile, Persons explained. “A donkey is a good guard animal, but it wouldn’t work with the alpacas because it is too aggressive. An alpaca couldn’t handle a kick from a donkey.”

Neither Patti Price of Page County nor the donkeys she uses to guard her sheep have much use for domestic dogs that have harassed her flock while running at large.

Donkeys, she noted, “have a natural dislike of canines. They tend to want to chase them away.”

She prefers standard-size donkeys, she said. “You also need jennies (females) or gelded males, because they’re not too aggressive. The donkeys also need to be a little older. If the donkey is too young and too playful, it might hurt an animal.”

Donkeys are a fairly economical option for guardian animals, she said. “but, like any animal, it costs something to raise and feed them.” Another concern in Virginia, Price noted, is the availability of lush grass. Too much spring grass can cause a donkey to founder, or develop a serious and painful inflammation of the feet.

Price has enough donkeys on her farm to create multiples lines of defense. In addition to putting them in the same pastures as the sheep, “I keep them in the outer pastures,” she said.

“So if dogs want to get to my sheep, they have to go through the donkeys.”

Media: Contact Pam Wiley, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1128.

Posted in: Miscellaneous


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