New dogs on the farm has been an idea swirling in my head for a year now. Bear, God love him, is now seven–not six as I’ve been telling folks for apparently for two years– and slowing down. Although I’m successfully treating his arthritis with enzymes at the moment, he’s still aging and slowing down. And, while Moosie’s predicted life span is longer than his big buddy’s, Moosie isn’t likely to pick up the slack as far as guarding livestock goes. He’s far too busy hunting raccoons and other critters.
That I can’t keep the farm going without a livestock guardian on the property came home to me again last month when I lost two of my three my barn cats. These were the two that spent most of their time outside my perimeter fence, beyond the protection of the dogs. I’m guessing that the mountain lion is once again walking my fence line. And why shouldn’t she? It’s been a good hunting ground for her. For the last three years and despite all my efforts to convince them otherwise, my turkey hens are drawn to nest down by the creek in or near the thick stand of blackberries that had grown up between the fence and the creek. The lion didn’t find the brambles a deterrent. After all, what’s a few thorns when you’re set on feeding your babies a tasty, free-range, pastured turkey or two or three? As for those hens who chose to put their eggs against the interior of the fence, well, that was a quick and safe hop in and out for a big feline. I don’t expect she’ll every come any farther than that on my property, not if this is the same lion that the boys treed a few years back. I’ll never forget the panic on that lion’s expression when I found her in the willow tree, both Bear and Moosie doing their best to get to her. She’d clearly never expected to find herself cornered and frightened by a pair of mere dogs.
There won’t be any turkeys for her or any other big predator to take this year. Tom’s two remaining hens are presently nesting under the house. I put their choice up to the fact that this year’s floods scoured away all the blackberries and most of small trees. The whole area is now wide open, meaning not bird friendly.
Still I was hesitating about adding new dogs, especially puppies, and I was clear I wanted puppies. I wanted to raise them in the pastures so they would bond with the sheep and not me. Then, serendipity happened, just as it did when Bear found his way onto the farm. A friend and former relief cow-milker called to tell me that someone in Camp Verde had rescued a pregnant Anatolian Shepherd who had gone on to produce 10 puppies in need of the right homes for the breed. I was hooked when he said “Anatolian Shepherd.”
My first livestock guardian dog Tango was a Great Pyrenees/Anatolian cross. Weighing in at a measly one hundred pounds, Tango was amazing. Unlike Bear who has the Kuvasz’s goofy sense of humor, Tango was all business. His first week here he nearly caught the rogue male coyote that had been stealing my chickens. The coyote never again entered the property. He drove a black hawk into the ditch and chased every raven he saw crossing the pastures. When he was bored, he’d go to the high end of the property and wait for a car to start past the fence, then race it to the house. Tango won every time. (For those who haven’t driven on Page Springs Road, the speed limit is 35 but I don’t think anyone drives slower than 45 even though there are some seriously dangerous curves on this road. Those of us who live here all have interesting stories about the cars that have appeared in our front yards.)
Unfortunately, at that time I didn’t yet have the property completely fenced and our neighbor’s beagle, a juvenile delinquent of a dog, came over daily to tantalize Tango into going walkabout with him. An hour or two after they’d take off, I’d get a call from someone twenty miles away telling me that they’d found my dog. Fearing that he might get hit by a car or worse, I ended up giving Tango to friends who own a small farm in the Village, two acres fully fenced. He’s still there and has continued to be an amazing livestock guardian dog, tangling with owls, coyotes, bobcats, fox and more.
So I said yes, not to one puppy but to two, sisters who will keep each other company as they bond with and learn to protect the sheep, chickens, ducks, turkeys and whatever else I get crazy enough to try raising. Why girls? I’m hoping that two young females and two mature male dogs will mean less jostling for dominance. Guess I’ll discover if I’m right in a few months.
The girls arrived yesterday. They’re still tiny, just twelve pounds at 8 weeks. I don’t think they’ll get as big as Tango, but I’m guessing they’ll eventually be taller– and longer and leaner– than Moosie. They’ll probably just as fast as he is as well, which will be a challenge for him.
Actually, I think the very fact there are puppies on the property is a challenge for Moosie. While Bear greeted them enthusiastically, Moosie surprised me by acting unusually standoffish as if he knew these two were not just visiting but here to stay. We took them down to the orchard where they’ll live until I think they’re old enough to understand and avoid the many hazards that come with a farm. I invited Bear and Moosie to enter the fenced enclosure with them. Bear went in. Moosie backed off and shot me the stink eye, as if to say “You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m Midwife Moosie, not a babysitter.” He sat outside by himself and watched sourly as everyone went to meet the new girls. Bear remained in the orchard after the humans departed, more than willing to play chase and “Bite My Tail” with the new arrivals. He even slept with them last night, doing so happily. I think that really irked Moosie, who continued to sulk on the porch, and did all of Bear’s usual barking for him.
After that, there was only one more thing to do; give the girls their real names. I suggested Anna and Tolly, but no one thought that was a good idea. After trying on a few more options, I ended up asking Shri, my new guy who happens to Indian, for some names of Hindu goddesses. I decided to reach high, just in case character follows the name. So now I have two little canine goddesses. Radha, the one in the back of the picture, is very like her namesake, loving and clearly devoted to her sister. As for Kali in the front, she’s already showing her superior strength and protective nature..
So far, so good, although the girls haven’t been here a full 24 hours. I have the livestock guardian dogs-in-training I wanted, Bear has new toys to play with, Tom is interested in the new additions to his strange flock, the chickens are irritated because they can no longer get into the garden, the sheep are uncertain but curious, and the cats haven’t noticed the puppies yet.
As for Moosie, he continues to sulk, refusing to enter the orchard. Give it up, Moosie! The sooner you do, the sooner you can start playing with them too. Trust me, you’ll like it!