Man’s best friend in agriculture

Courtesy Heather Schafer Heather Schafer’s Anatolian Shepard, Berk, is perched on a round bale of hay as the sun sets. Berk gave up his city life to become a livestock guard dog.

MIDWEST – Dogs, man’s best friend, have been through thick and thin with their owners. They’ve been through heartbreak and sadness, celebration and joy. There’s nothing quite like a dog. 

Dogs have many jobs around the world but here in the tri-state area, man’s best friend is also a best friend to many. 

Morgan DeWitt, of DeWitt Ranch Co. in Torrington, Wyoming manages about 650 head of sheep in Wyoming. DeWitt raises a cross between Dorper and Katahdin Hair sheep in rotational grazing. The sheep are kept in the Torrington area during the winter months on about 1,500 acres of farm ground. In the summer months, the sheep spend their days gazing on the 4,000 acres of irrigated mountain meadows near Elk Mountain, Wyoming. DeWitt has been raising sheep for about four years. 

“Our main predators in Torrington are coyotes and an occasional eagle or fox that may steal a lamb. In Elk Mountain, as one might imagine, the predator pressure is a little more intense. We still have to deal with coyotes, probably the most frequent, but we have also had problems with mountain lions and bears in the past as well,” DeWitt explains. 

DeWitt Ranch Co. has used dogs as their primary protection against predators since they began raising sheep four years ago. They have four dogs providing a watchful eye on the herd. 

“Our first dog was ‘B’ (Beauty). She was a beautiful Facebook find, even though we had to drive to Broken Bow, Nebraska to pick her up. She was well-trained and immediately helped us start to maintain our lamb population and we didn’t have problems with her running away as we had with the Great Pyrenees,” explains DeWitt. 

DeWitt Ranch Co. received Beauty from a man who was raising pygmy goats, and she has done a fantastic job of watching over the DeWitt sheep herd. 

“Our favorite breed by far is the Anatolian Shepard. We also have an Anatolian crossed with a Karakachan that does pretty well for us as well. We tried a Great Pyrenees first and found they like to roam too far for farm country, so it didn’t work well in our operation. The Anatolian Shepard’s like to stick closer to the sheep, so they seem the be a better fit for us,” DeWitt said. 

DeWitt explains that her dogs’ presence deters most predators from attacking the livestock.

“We had predator issues in the past where we would sometimes lose up to 10 lambs in one night, and that is no longer a problem for us,” explained DeWitt. “They live on alert to protect the sheep, so that we may have some peace of mind. We think they are worth their weight in gold.”

Randy Suchy is located on the Palmer Divide, in Elbert, a small Colorado town, which sits between Denver and Colorado Springs.

Suchy says, “Out terrain is unique. We are east enough to almost be on the plains but where we are, there are a lot of valleys and creeks and rocky hills that break up large pastures.” 

Those pastures attract plenty of Colorado wildlife like elk and deer.  

“There are pretty regular sightings of mountain lions and occasionally you hear about bears. There are way more foxes than one could count,” Suchy says. 

“We have a six-acre farm that’s mostly pasture and maybe three-fourths of an acre is ponderosa on a hill. We’ve tried quite a few types of livestock but have stuck with sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, turkey,” Suchy explained. 

Suchy and his operation have had three Colorado Mountain dogs and they use their dogs in pairs to keep each other company while on patrol. 

“We researched the breed when depredation was obviously not going to help our losses and found a local breeder. I am a huge dog person and wasn’t sure about this somewhat newer, breed but having since seen how they work well and are the biggest loving gentle giants. They absolutely love people and their animals and as far as we know, they never have to fight a predator because of their big deep scary barks,” Suchy explained. “We keep herding dogs as well and foster greyhounds and their presence has never helped so I can say for sure it’s our mountain dogs keeping everyone safe.” 

Renee McGarth has a 40-acre farm in Bennett, Colorado where she has about 61 different animals including mini cattle, goats, alpacas, llamas, sheep, chickens, ducks and geese. McGarth mentions that even though you can see for miles on her property, it doesn’t seem to stop predators from threatening her livestock. 

“I used to have a pack of coyotes that would kill my large goats, and tons of chickens all the time, since we have had these dogs, we haven’t lost one animal. We even have free-ranging chickens now,” McGarth explained. 

McGarth uses three purebred Turkish Akbash dogs after learning about the breed for livestock protection. 

“Training is a bit tough as they are very independent thinkers! Boundary training on leashes, and no-chase livestock EVER has helped a lot,” McGarth explained. “The Akbash are an ancient breed from Turkey; they were bred from sight hounds and mastiffs, so they have the speed and strength to protect the livestock.”   

Heather Schafer of northeast Colorado says she never owned any type of livestock guard dogs until a predator attacked and killed 13 chickens and a 40-pound turkey from her chicken coop one night. The predator attack happened dangerously close to Schafer’s lambs. 

“I decided then that I better find a dog. I started looking at ads and I happened to come across an ad for a male that lived in the city. He was registered and out of working stock but had been raised as a city dog. His dog mom realized he wasn’t happy and decided to try to find him the perfect home,” Schafer explained. 

Schafer’s Anatolian Shepard, Berk is about six years old.

“We have been extremely blessed that Berk is a natural guardian. He loves his job! The first several weeks or maybe even months I never allowed him to be with any of the livestock without being on a leash tied to me. I monitored his behavior and made sure he sort of understood the words ‘leave it,’ ‘friend,’ and ‘nice’,” Schafer explained.   

Although there have been mountain lion sightings in the area, Schafer stated that their livestock’s largest predator is a coyote. Schafer raises show lambs, dairy goats, horses, llamas, pigs and chickens. 

“Berk loves babies of every kind including human babies which are his favorites. I have seen him chase down a coyote that got too close to the place, making sure it is over a mile or two away before he’ll turn back, but otherwise always staying around the place,” Schafer says. “He’s smart and sweet and fierce and honestly irreplaceable,” she added. 

Sarah Kampf of Black Hawk, Colorado sits about 9,000 feet about sea level. Kampf operates the Dragon Ranch, a historic ranch, on a flat piece of land in the Rocky Mountains. 

“Our dogs are truly the lifeblood of our ranch,” Kampf explains. The area is known for huge black bears, bob cats, mountain lions, birds of prey and coyotes. Their property is one of the original homesteads in the area and it has been ranched since the mid-1800s. Kampf has about 60 acres and runs a variety of livestock. 

“My husband has been using livestock dogs for the last six years or so and has had the privilege of training several breeds including Pyrenees, CMD, Anatolian Shepherds and a mix thereof. We met, joined our two ranches three years ago and now have completely switched to running Turkish Boz exclusively,” Kampf said. 

Kampf’s main dog, Hafsa, is the Queen of the Dragon Ranch. Kampf explains that Hafsa is about three and a half years old and she is the foundation of the working dog pack. 

“She [Hafsa] has trained all her puppies (two litters) and is the mother to all of our babies on the ranch. We don’t watch our livestock anymore to see when they are getting close to delivery. We watch her. She alerts us to when a momma is getting close to delivery and likes to sit next to the mom to protect her while she delivers,” Kampf explains. 

“When we first started allowing people to visit and experience our ranch, we talked about how to contain the dogs and that we probably needed to keep them in the barn when people were with the livestock as we know they are very large and can be intimidating to many.  However, it has turned out that almost every single person who has met all of our animals walks away saying the dogs were their favorite,” Kampf says.  

Man’s best friend will be the first one to console us on a bad day and the first to share our excitement from a joyous event but man’s best friend also keeps our herds safe from even the most dangerous predators. 

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