Thursday 26 March 2015

Mali and the foundling

So, here is a little story behind Mali and the foundling lamb.

At night we corral the ewes for lambing, so that we do not have to check the entire pasture in the night for lambs.
During the day, the ewes are let out and they can pretty much lamb where ever they please.
Most ewes are good moms, and stay with their newborn lambs.
Occasionally, a ewe will have her lamb, get up, and simply walk away from the newborn.

We have found that our dogs will generally stay at a nice distance away from a ewe having her lamb, and will keep an eye out on the whole procedure,
 but will not meddle in the process. 

However, if they find a new born lamb with no mom in sight,
the dogs will stay with the lamb until, I arrive to "save it"

So, one morning I go out to check and young Mali is no where to be found.
I walk around the straw bales we put up as wind breaks, to find her sitting with this baby.
There were some ewes around, but not the mother.

So, when I arrive, 
Mali see's this as her cue to leave this baby in my hands.

As, she is leaving, the baby lamb starts to run after the only mother it has ever known,

Mali, stops looks back, and goes into "babysitting" mode.

Resigned to her role as babysitter, she tolerates all the nudging and searching this lamb does for some milk.

Patiently she waits.

Still, waiting for the mom to arrive.

The expression on her face, is rather,
sheepish to say the least.

I left Mali with the baby,
found the wayward mother,
placed her in a pen,
gave her the lamb,
whispered in the sheep's ear that if she does not love her baby soon,
 she may end up on a truck going south.
She decided to love her baby.

Mali could go back to work as a brave and fearless
livestock guardian dog.

Friday 20 March 2015

Macedonia Part 4: Let's talk breeds and aboriginal dogs

This post has been on the back burner due to our devastating barn fire we had.

Understandably, this is and can be a "hot" topic.
Everyone interprets a breed standard or a breed description in a subjective way.
The fact, that breed descriptions are subjective,
leaves room for various interpretations,
which in turn,
 results in variations, breeding preferences and even trends/fashions among dog breeders.

Breeds and the subsequent breed registrations, are a relatively "new concept",
although many of the sheep dog breeds have existed for thousands of years in a certain region without having the need for a registry or even a "breed name".

With breed registries and organization arising,
breeds got assigned to groups.
The groups are not always accurate in their reflection of where a certain breed belongs.

The sheepdogs got divided into various groups,
and designated to a certain region of origin,
which changes when the world map changes.

It was during the Elizabethan Era,  that the creation of breeds, a breed standard, a kennel club and registration was started.
Prior to this, people did have hunting dogs, and terriers, and sheepdogs.

Defining a breed, within a standard, comes with limitations,
and is,
by the very nature of defining it,
 exclusive in many ways.
Breed standards have always been more focused on how the dogs looks,
rather than how the dog does its job.

As soon as breed is defined by looks, many traits, types and variations
become excluded from the "Standard".
A perfectly good working dog, has perhaps the "wrong" color or too much white,
these dogs  become excluded from  this breed standard,
leading, down the road,
to a narrowing of the gene pool and a loss of diversity.

Rarely, is a breed standard or registry focused solely on the working ability of the dog.
Perhaps, the International Sheep Dog Society maybe one of the few registries in the world, that highlights working ability above that of coat color, or the coat length.

More often than not,
the defining of a national breed,
is more,
about politics,
than it is about the dog.
Assigning breeds to a region, within borders ( that are ever changing),
is more a political choice,  than a cynological decision.

Understanding,  what the Breed Standard says about the breed,
 may in fact,
not always be the reality among the shepherds and their dogs,
where "looks" is not the criteria used for selection,
the ability to do its guardian dog job.

The Shepherds do not necessarily call their dog a Sharplaninatz, or an Anatolian,
they may simply refer to it as a sheep dog.
A generic "sheepdog" found throughout the region,
and certainly not separated by land borders or,
 dog fancier's decisions.

Many shepherds we met in Macedonia,  will not even use the word Sharplaninec,
as they feel it does not accurately describe their dogs.
The shepherds we spoke to;
 dismissed the breed "sharplaninec",
as they felt is was a creation made for the show ring.
Not only that, they felt that the name choice was a political decision,

The Sar Planina mountain range is just one,
 of very many mountain ranges in the former Yugoslavia.
The dogs found on the Sar Planina Mountians were no more unique,
than the dogs found on any of the other ranges,
both in Macedonia, Serbia or even Albania.

Sharplaninec or Aboriginal Sheepdog?

Seeing all the different dogs, that we saw in Macedonia,
one could clearly see,
a large variation of "type".
Types we may label as  Kangal Types, or Carpathian types, or maybe even a  Bucovina,
we certainly also saw,  some Sharplaninec types.

All these dogs gave us visual cues as to how to name the breed,
but, possibly by "naming them",
we by-pass the fact that all these dogs are "sheepdogs",
all these types did occur historically in this region.

Understanding, a little of the history of this region may highlight the fact that the shepherds dogs are  all part of a greater group,
 rather than, small pockets of individual breeds.

Macedonia has always been an intersection of major trade routes,
historically if you follow the grazing routes and trade routes,
 one can see how these movements may impact the breeding of dogs.
Land borders are ever changing. countries are occupied and the influences from these occupations, are still found in the cultures of these countries today.

Macedonia was once occupied by the Turks during the Ottoman Empire.
In Macedonia, you get to drink Turkish coffee.
The Turkish influence is still a part of the daily culture.
According to one of our friends,
it was during this time, that Macedonia had a  vast sheep breeding program.
The sheep, would be moved from Macedonia into Anatolia, Turkey,
to graze on the plains and steppes.
These sheep, fed the Turkish Empire.

It is logical to conclude that the Turkish sheep herders bred their dogs, to the dogs from the Macedonian shepherds who moved with the sheep, into Turkey.

Bulgaria borders Macedonia, it is similarly logical that dogs found in Bulgaria,
could also easily intermingle and breed with the dogs who came up from Turkey.

Karachachan, Bucovina, Tjornak or is this an aboriginal sheepdog?

Albania borders Macedonia, we heard stories of shepherds crawling under the barbed wire fence on the border to breed their dogs,
to dogs found on the Albanian side of the border.

The whole idea that shepherd's dogs are totally isolated and only found in one cut off region,
is perhaps, a misconception.
The  shepherds' dog are a generic "breed" of sheepdog,
not isolated, from influences from other countries and breeds.
A sheepdog which is now often referred to as the Aboriginal Sheepdog,
one that encompasses all the diversity, that is often lost in the "breeds".

So, you will see some dogs that look like Kangals, or Carpathians, Karachachans,  and even Sarplaninac looking dogs.

Anatolian? Kangal? or Sheepdog?
We saw long coated dogs, we saw short coated dogs, we saw spotted dogs, we saw it all.
just because these dogs exhibited a large variation in type and looks,
did not mean that they were "mutts".

Many of the dogs  did have a known lineage,
just not one, registered with the FCI.
The shepherds and breeders of these dogs would be the record keepers of their own dogs.

Three generations of shepherds, and their dogs:

The hardest part is perhaps understanding that,
a lot of cross breeding has taken place and that even the "pure, aboriginal" sheep dogs,
 may be a rarity today.
We visited with a few different people who felt the need to protect this "aboriginal sheep" dog.

Of course, we also saw mutts,
  dogs were crossbred with anything and everything.

Some crossbreeding has taken place primarily, for dog fighting reasons.
All over, you can find mixes with; Caucasian Ovcharka, Central Asian, and other types of breeds.
These were not the dogs we were interested in seeing.

A Caucasian Ovcharka cross bred and used for dog fighting

There is a move among certain people to try and preserve the aboriginal dogs,
 in all its forms and variations.
I did not clearly understand, all the reasons why the "aboriginal sheepdogs" needed preserving.
I have always thought,
 as long as their are sheep who need protecting from predators,
there would be a need for working dogs.

The idea of preserving the aboriginal dog, is fantastic,
 but once again, opinions differ, people have  different ideas how to preserve this "generic sheepdog"
and it is hard to get consensus and move in a certain direction with a club or group.

What I wonder,
is the "aboriginal sheepdog"
 perhaps in the baby stages of becoming a "breed"?
Seeing the efforts to preserve it, the formation of a "club",
meetings and declarations.

Is this perhaps not the same as how so many other breeds developed?

Many of the aboriginal working dogs we saw, could easily fit into a breed standard for a Sharplaninec,  Kangal, or Karackachan.

What we did notice on our travels,
 was that some people where assigning,
 certain pheno-typical traits,
as being signs of antiquity.
Signs like double hind dew claws,
or a lupine shaped head and eyes.

I do not believe this is true,
 as this is simply a matter of selection,
if you want double hind dew claws; breed only from dogs who have them and within a few short generations, all the dogs will have them.
Having the lupine head shape,
is also a merely a matter of selection.


Now, I am an idealist,
I believe that breeds evolve due to selection.
Selection for certain traits.
I  think that it is human nature, to make selections.

If one does these selections over many generations, I believe  that is when you get a "breed",
who share similar working abilities and outward features.
You get predictability in outcome, both physically and in working ability.

I believe it is possible to breed for and select for a dog with a certain outward appearance AND have a good working ability.
Provided that, the looks do not become the primary selection.

Form must, in my opinion, follow functionality.
Working ability must trump all  "other" miscellaneous selections.

I am a purist and I believe in "Breeds".
I like the predictability.
Not everything in a breed standard may be correct,
but, I do believe  that as a breeder it is important to select for the traits you find important.
I am not overly concerned with things like white markings, or exact length of coat.
What I do care about is quality of coat, the  functional size, the well proportioned body, correct angulation etc
What I care most for is working ability and the selection of these traits.

You have good breeders of purebred and registered dogs, and you have bad ones,
the same applies to aboriginal sheep dogs.

Aboriginal Sheepdog

 So, here are some more examples, of sheepdogs we saw in Macedonia:
All selected for working ability,
all being functional in build,
all have a strong and healthy constitution.
Many of these dogs, could easily fit the breed standard for various sheepdog breeds.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Lambing time and dogs

There is this saying in the horse world:
the younger the rider,  the older the horse should be.

I believe a similar comment is also appropriate when it comes to lambing and LGD.
Young, immature dogs should only be around lambing or kidding animals once they are older and mentally equipped to deal with the sights and smells of blood and afterbirths.

I have a rule as regards young dogs and baby stock, the rule is
"No babies, with babies EVER". 

 A 6 month old pup is probably equivalent to a 6 year old child.
 Ask your self if it is appropriate to have a 6 year old child attending and assisting  births, and being expected to protect them and babysit them?
I, personally would not like to have a 6 year old around while I am giving birth, nor would want a  child, looking after my baby.

A pup's mind is not (yet) equipped to deal with the whole birthing process, the new strange bouncy creatures, the blood, the smells and of course the does or ewes who are now unusually protective.
It is too much for their young brain to process.

 The  young dog should be able to watch through the fence, but not interact in anyway, no licking, no eating afterbirths and no direct interaction with the mother and baby.

I will not allow any dog of mine, under two years old,  to be in the lambing/kidding area without me being right with the dog. I am a big believer in avoiding problems and avoiding situations that can be problematic.

I like to raise my pups up until at least 1 year old in a pen with older ewes or rams/bucks/cattle. These animals are usually very calm and do not lend themselves to be "played" with by a young dog.
When baby lambs or kids jump and play,
 it does incite some play  behavior in young dogs.

I do not like my dogs meddling with births, if you have a yearling doe, kidding for the first time and the dog barges in,
 you could be left with a doe running off and not bonding to her kid.
Fena just keeping an eye out on things
All my older dogs will lay about 20 plus feet away from a lambing ewe, often with their back to the ewe,
they are there,
but are not intrusive or disruptive in anyway.

Once the afterbirth comes off, the dogs will then  eat it, cleaning up so no predators or ravens are attracted to the area.
As I said before, no dog under 2 is with my lambing ewes.
I am sure that most of them could be, but I do not like taking chances.
I want to ensure, that my dogs are mature
and, do not have the opportunity to make mistakes.

Here are a sequence of cell phone pics from today:
This is the behavior I like to see.

Fena knows that the ewe laying up next to the bales is ready to lamb.
She is not intrusive in any way.
Watching at a respectful distance.

Fena takes the opportunity to walk by and check things out. You can see the slow and deliberate movement,
she will not startle the ewe, her head is low, her eyes are soft and she avoids direct eye contact.
The ewe is totally unperturbed by the dog being around her.

I normally introduce a young dog,  first to older lambs, about 5-6 months old,
as the dog matures, he is allowed to go with younger stock.

 He can be introduced to the babies, on a lead, he should be allowed to sniff them and then should be encouraged to just leave them alone, ignore them.
If he gets to intrusive I tell him to back off.
I do not make a big fuss about the event,
just want the young dog to remain calm.

Supervision is the key.

Some other problems that can occur with young dogs getting to involved with the whole birthing process are:
 Disturbing the doe/kid bond.
 They may start to eat the afterbirth before is falls out on its own,
this tugging on the afterbirth can cause issues and infections in the ewe.
 They may even start chewing on the placenta and water bags when the doe/ewe just starts kidding and could kill the new babies in doing so.
Dragging and carrying the babies around.
Eating the baby kid or newborn.
Keeping the lambs from going to the ewe to drink.

It is often not intentional, but can happen that the dog causes the death of a newborn by being too intrusive.

I value my sheep, and will always let the ewe bond with her baby first,
before allowing a dog to come in and sniff and lick it.

Fena feels a touch concerned when another ewe comes to sniff and lick this new lamb.

Time and maturity are your friend.
That maturity, will make all the difference in the way the dog interacts with the stock..
Mali is doing the night shift,
she is a two year old who is actively going through her first lambing.

Once the dog is older, wiser, more quiet in its movements and less excitable,
 these become formidable protectors of the babies.
On guard.
I also keep the number of dogs down to a minimum in the lambing pen, just so things stay calmer.
Vuk is showing puppy Meco ( 4 months old) the ropes,
 in the pen next to the lambing ewes.

He gets to watch the goings on,
safely, on the other side of the fence.
This protects the pregnant ewes from a rowdy pup and protects the pup from aggressive ewes,
and more importantly from making mistakes.

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Lady Luck aka Smoky aka Brown

So, it has been two weeks since we had the huge fire that killed 7 of our Sarplaninac pups,
 a border collie and 30 ewes and lambs.
We lost our barn, that was only 5 years old, it was the center of our farm, it was huge 300 x 80 x24 feet.

Only one of the sarplaninac pups (Brown) managed to escape from the barn and survived the ordeal.
Somehow she had managed to get out of the burning building, and make her way to our home.
She had up to this point never been to our house before.
Our house was about 400 feet from the barn.
When we saw the fire, and raced outside,
we found her laying right on the doorstep.
She had found a way to get to our house,
she was covered in pieces of Alberta wild rose thorns, smelt like smoke and was pretty dirty,
but, she had found safety.
It still amazes me that she managed to get out of this devastation.

This is the area where the pups where housed.
We were reeling from this fire and had decided to "put" everything on hold 
 while we dealt with the aftermath and tragedy of this fire.

This pup was, at the time of the fire not spoken for,
primarily, because she was a little high energy and at times rather naughty.
She was a challenge to keep in the puppy pen and was rather inventive about finding novel ways out.
When she escaped from the puppy pen, it was always to the sheep and lambs in the barn.
This is probably what saved her life.

Anyhow, she is now 12 weeks old and has since the fire been living outside with the sheep and older dogs.
She is available to a suitable home.

So, here are some more specifics about this girl.
She is out of Sharmountain's Vuk and Katcha Ste Kot North.

She is well built and will be a very dark grey color once she matures.
She is fairly high energy and can be demanding at times.
She has been in with sheep since the day she was born and I am sure she will mature into a fantastic LGD.
She will need supervision and consistency from her new owner.
She does not like to be confined in small places, so will require some fence training.
She would do well if she had another older dog to guide her.

Meeting and greeting some of the other adult dogs.
She is attentive, well socialized, well raised.
She will be registered, has a microchip, is up to date with vaccines, will get her rabies this next week,
has had a health exam. She is up to date with deworming.

Her parents are fantastic guardian dogs, and we have a litter sister from the same combination, just two years older that is an amazing dog.

Our dogs are well raised, and we offer life long support and guidance.
She comes with health guarantees.

As you can imagine, this pup holds a special spot in my heart.

(Click on the image to enlarge)

For more information, please visit our website at:

As for my future breeding plans:

I will breed a litter again this spring, 
from either,
our female Mali:

 or Lucy.

So, stay posted on that news.

Monday 9 March 2015

Our lambing facility

I cannot describe how relieved I felt when I saw the first load of straw bales headed into our yard.
With the no barn and lambing starting,
we were desperate to try and get some form of shelter for the ewes.

We decided to build straw bale corrals to keep the ewes out of the wind.
We loaned 6 stock trailers from many good people in High Prairie, to be able to put the ewes and lambs separate for a few hours to "mother up" drink and dry off.

Our neighbors, and friends have been hauling bales and building straw shelters,
these past two days.
The sense of urgency was high.

We have been loaned tractors, panels, trailers and help in order to make these straw corrals.
Once we have a moment, we will formally thank everyone for all their help and kindness.
Jess and Zane drove home this past weekend to help with build the shelters.

Many people offered ideas to put up various types of structures, but with the ground frozen solid, high winds and potential for  lots of snow, we felt the risk of a make shift roof, may be too high.
If we did have tarps caving in,
it would be another disaster for the animals.

The start, of the first straw bale corral.

The new corral for the ewes.
Don't be fooled by the sunshine,
the weather has been brutally cold with winds from the north.
We hope this straw corral will provide some shelter from the wind and
a warmer place to bed down.

The ewes will lamb in this corral,
and then move into a stock trailer.

A second corral has been built to house the ewes with the lambs.

Two large straw corrals, 7 trailers and a small shed

We will set up a coverall "building" on Wednesday for the really needy animals.

Many people have sent us such sweet and motivating messages,
it really does help knowing that we are in people's thoughts and prayers.
Some, have mentioned how "strong" we are,
however, we have no choice.
At times, I would love to curl into a little ball and just cry,
but there is no time.
We need to do all we can for these newborn lambs and their moms.

So, we will just have to forge ahead.

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