The livestock and farmers at Shelterbelt Farm can sleep a little easier at night knowing that Derin is here to protect them. Derin is a 2.5-year-old Akbash dog who has been guarding poultry in Virginia. Akbash and other types of guard dogs–the most common are Great Pyrhenes and Maremmas–have been bred for the purposes of livestock protection (not for herding, which is a specialty of other breeds like English sheepdogs). Like all dogs though, livestock guardians have a range of personalities from aggressive to downright shy. Derin is at the extremely timid end of this spectrum, so it will be interesting to see him in action. His docile personality has definitely won him points with our 5-year-old daughter Rowan, who is thrilled beyond words to have a “big dog with good manners.” (her words)
Our farm sits nestled in a region of NY blessed by large tracts of forested land, including Shindagin Hollow State Forest. We celebrate sightings of bobcats, fisher cats and many other weasel family relatives, black bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and more. The return of large predators to this area is exciting… except when it means our farm is their buffet.
While our love of nature and ecology is a large piece of what drew us to farming, our feeling of responsibility for the well-being of our animals is one of the main reasons we keep farming. We dreaded morning chores the past two seasons because more often than not we were walking into the aftermath of predation, and it was never pretty. And it was heartbreaking to lose the animals we nurtured so carefully to such casual violence. We tried highly charged electronet fencing, Nite Guards, snares, baited live traps, and even guard geese, but still we would lose birds more nights than not.
We hope Derin’s presence (perhaps aided in the future by another guard dog) will draw a boundary around our place signaling to the predators to keep out. In addition to the emotional toll, we simply cannot build a profitable farm when we experience 50% losses of our poultry. This year we are getting our first sheep, and I suspect losses would be even worse once the local coyote population caught wind of their presence. We’ll see how Derin does bonding with sheep, since he’s really only known poultry. Hopefully his instincts kick in and we have a year with minimal losses. We’ll keep you posted!