Imagine you are pregnant with twins and you are out shopping for last minute items because you know that labor will be starting soon. As you drive home in the bitter January cold, you begin to feel the pangs of labor begin. You feel a little panicked because you are all alone. But, you know home is not too far away.
As you drive, the steering wheel begins to wobble and you realize that you have a tire that has gone flat…having accidentally left your phone at home you realize that you are stranded with only one option…you will have to wait and possibly have those babies alone there in the cold.
While this story is fortunately not true for us…it is similar to what our Mama goats go through each winter as they labor and birth their babies into the world.
Fortunately, for our special girls, they have a midwife on duty twenty-four hours a day who lives with them.
This midwife is a rather special animal on our farm. Lovingly referred to as Freckles, she is actually a Livestock Guardian Dog that has been trained in a long-time art of animals caring for other animals.
Many people know that there are amazing working breeds of dogs. Herding dogs include Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, and Shetland Sheepdogs to name a few. German Shepherds and Dobermans are often found working with the police; while, Labs make great Service animals for people in need.
Dogs have long been great companions as well as great working animals.
But, did you know that they make great midwives?
I did not either!
To give you a little backstory, we have two herds of goats. One is Pygmy goats which are naturally smaller goats in a wide range of colors. The others are Kikos, which are a taller and larger breed that also range in color.
We bought our first livestock guardian dog to live with our herd of goats quite a few years back. He was a great dog that lived in the pen with our goats full-time. Many people are surprised when they visit our farm to see a dog in with the goats…but, once I explain their role, it makes perfect sense.
The two male Livestock Guardian Dogs we have had were Great Pyrenees and they have been great at their jobs.
The Jobs of a Livestock Guardian Dog
- Protection – Many times you will think these are the laziest dogs because every time you pass the field they are asleep. Fortunately, that is not true, they are actually on Third Shift! They sleep all day because they patrol all night. Guardians protect our herd from coyotes especially, but they have been known for handling the stray possum or skunk as well.
- Mark Their Territory – These dogs take their boundary very seriously. They will mark their territory and enforce it as necessary. For some animals, smelling the scent of the marking is enough for them to move on. For others, they may cross anyway and that is when the Livestock Guardian will fight to protect their herd.
- Barking and Fighting – The first line of defense for the Livestock Guardian dog is their bark. They patrol and bark at anything that seems to be harmful. If an animal or human actually cross into their territory and pose a threat to the herd, the Livestock Guardian will fight, to the death if necessary, to protect their herd.
- Remove Predator Lures – These dogs will remove anything that may draw predators to the herd. This typically includes anything with blood (dead animals, placenta, etc).
So, you may be asking, What about the Midwife Dog?
That is where our female Anatolian comes in. She is different from our 2 Great Pyrenees we had in the past…and in saying that, I do not mean that all will be like ours…but, only to show she is a special gift.
Our sweet Freckles is simply amazing. Not only does she protect her herd in the same ways mentioned above, she is extremely attentive to a laboring mother and newborn baby.
Her primary response when a mother goat is in labor is to stay by their side the entire time. That is usually our first clue that a mother is in labor is that we see Freckles hanging out with a Mama alone.
You will often find her sniffing and checking the Mother in her unmentionable place throughout the entire process of labor. She will watch and wait for the baby to emerge and once it hits the ground, she will work with the mother to begin licking and cleaning the baby. She continues to check the mother until she either delivers another baby or delivers the placenta.
Once the placenta is delivered, she will eat it to dispose of it so that the scent of fresh blood does not lure predators to the herd. If we happen to have a baby born that does not make it, the Guardians will remove them from the herd to prevent their smell from drawing predators as well.
When we have had mothers with complications, we have often had to have one person keep Freckles back so that the others could work on the goat (pulling out a baby is rare, but has been required). She just wants to help so much she gets in the way.
Again, while Freckles seems to be unique in comparison to our other Livestock Guardian’s, I know many of these dogs from all the breeds that display Guardian characteristics, will be very attentive to birthing Mothers.
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There are lots of great sites and books on Livestock Guardian Dog Breeds and Training Livestock Guardian Dogs. I fully recommend doing a lot of research before deciding which is right for your farm and family!
So, for this months edition of Living on the Farm, I hope you have enjoyed meeting our honored “employees” who so greatly care for our herds and are very treasured members of our Farm Family. We honestly could not sleep this time of year in peace without them!
Feel free to pin for reference later!!!