Part of the herd – Find out how looking after sheep and cattle has gone to the dogs…
Words and Pictures: Sue Adams
There’s a whole new way of making sure farmers can look after their herds of sheep or cattle without killing the predators that threaten them.
Instead of using terrible gin traps, or shooting predators such as leopards and jackals, farmers are being trained by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) to use dogs for guarding livestock.
Unlike the dogs that track rhino poachers or sniff out smuggled goods, these dogs need to be a little more relaxed.
Derek van der Merwe, who manages the EWT Livestock Guarding Project, says, “These dogs need to bond with the herd and think they are part of the group. We don’t want dogs that have a high work drive – otherwise they will play with the herd and exhaust the animals.”
The dogs they have chosen are Anatolian shepherds and Maluti mountain dogs – both bred as guard dogs for hundreds of years. “Their natural instinct is to bond with the herd and guard it,” says Derek, “so they will place themselves between the predator and the herd and bark like crazy.”
The dogs are placed at six weeks old in an enclosure with some young sheep or calves in order to bond. A month later they are put in a bigger enclosure with some of the herd and at ten weeks they are already out in the fields working.
“It’s been an incredibly successful project,” says Derek. “We have placed 180 dogs and the farmers think it’s fantastic. They are even buying their own dogs now so they can protect more of their livestock. If they prevent the killing of one cow they have paid for themselves for life.”
If you are a farmer lucky enough to get a dog, EWT signs a contract with you that you keep the dog for 12 months but EWT pays the food and vet bills. If the farmer is happy with the dog then he takes over the dog after that.
At the moment this project is running in the Waterberg and Magaliesberg, where farmers have many issues with predators, and in the Northern Cape, where you may soon be able to buy predator-friendly lamb!
And the next guard dog may actually be an alpaca. Derek says they are experimenting with alpacas in the Northern Cape as they seem to have the same protective instinct as these other livestock guard dogs.
So the next time you see an alpaca in a field he might not be there for his wool but rather for watching over his charges.
For more info see www.ewt.org.za
READ MORE: On the Tail of the Tortoise – A story about Brin the Belgian Malinois doing his bit to protect the geometric tortoise…