HEXENWALD RANCH BLOG

Predator Friendly Livestock Management

and the Role of the Livestock Guardian Dog

The True Story of our Journey through Tragedy and Hope

I sat crying on the cold ground with my little doeling dying in my lap, trying to give her whatever comfort I could as she breathed her last breath. Through my tears I watched the blood trickle from her neck wound where the mountain lion had inflicted the kill bite. My little Olga was gone, only two months old and my favorite. In the distance, I could hear my German Shepherd barking furiously somewhere in the forest. I was alone, my husband was on a business trip and my children had gone back to university. I needed to put on my big girl pants and deal with this.

Wiping away my tears I ran to the house to grab a flashlight as dusk was fast approaching. I feared that my irrationally brave German Shepherd dog, Anka, would be the next victim and I needed to find her. Following the furious barking, I ran through the forest with no thought for my own safety.  I found her, she had the lion up a tree, it was massive, easily two and a half times her the size.  The lion looked at me and I froze, realizing my foolishness. I called Anka to me, it was useless, she was focused on the lion. Then the lion turned and leaped off the tree, thankfully in the opposite direction.  I called Anka again but it was useless, she was in hot pursuit. I stood there listening as the rustling of the brush became fainter and fainter, Anka refused to give up the chase.

I went back to my little doeling, her warm body had gone cold. Her sister Helga was sniffing her. Helga was alone now and the tears started again.  Perhaps 30 minutes had past when Anka joined us, my tears of sorrow turned into tears of relief.  After managing to drag Olga into the garage for the night and locking up Helga, I lay in bed hopeless and fearful. In the morning I would have to give everyone the bad news, but not tonight, I couldn’t manage it tonight.

We left urban life in 2013 and purchased a few acres in Santa Cruz County, hoping to make our lifelong dream of homesteading a reality. We started with chickens, then came turkeys, ducks, rabbits and finally in 2015, two little doelings joined us; Olga and Helga. Knowing there were mountain lions in the area, I built my goat enclosure 50 yards from our house with a high fence topped with barbed wire. I also built a small barn to lock up my goats at night.  I thought I took every precaution to keep my goats safe.  Little did I know that the lions were watching, observing my every move, my routine, my lock up times. On that day I had driven my youngest to his new dorm, several hours away. I took Anka with me but arrived home well before dusk. Nevertheless, the mountain lion knew and took advantage of my absence.

 Country living is wonderful, and I would never trade it for urban living.  Country living also means that I must share the countryside with the wild animals whose habitat I have invaded. Mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, skunks, and hawks are just a few of the predators that want to hunt, and kill, our livestock and pets. To protect me, and my livestock, from the always-vigilant predators, I needed an always-vigilant protector.  There was only one solution, the solution human-kind has looked to for thousands of years and one that, we in America, have only recently rediscovered: the livestock guardian dog.  

Fortunately, for farmers that prefer a non-lethal war on predators, there are still pastoral peoples around the world that have safeguarded these special breeds of dogs to protect their livestock.  The livestock guardian dog is increasingly becoming an essential member of the working farm and the pet of choice for the homeowner that chooses to live in the wilder areas of our country. The choice of breed of livestock guardian dogs was an easy one. Having visited my husband’s village in Turkey several times, I knew the legend of the Kangal well and had seen this majestic dog in action.  We needed a Kangal.

 Unlike European countries, that killed off their lethal predators years ago, Turkey still has an abundance of wolves, bears and wild boar that plague the farmers. The Kangal is one of the few livestock guardian dog breeds that still deal with large predators, yet they are also family companions and protectors. Kangals have a rock-solid, stable temperament. They are quiet and calm, devoted, controlled and trustworthy. They are brave and protective without undue aggression. They are highly intelligent, learn quickly, and judge potential threats wisely. Possessed of a strong maternal instinct, they are gentle with children and pets, and they've been known to nurse lambs.

 It is still illegal to export purebred Kangal dogs from Turkey but we knew that some had been exported before the ban, so we started looking for one domestically. We were lucky enough to find a purebred Kangal pup in South Carolina. Rayburne Ridge Aslan arrived on Delta Airlines and we met him at San Francisco International Airport domestic cargo.  I was completely stressed out, wondering how this poor pup managed being alone for the first time and on such a long flight, with a transfer no less! We needn’t have worried though, the moment we met Aslan at the airport, we were struck by his character; a calm and confident pup, relaxing in his kennel, perfectly content with all of the commotion going on. I then understood why people called this breed "bomb proof." When we came home, he immediately bonded with his baby goats and they grew up together. He is an incredible protector, not even a bird can land in his pasture, he even chases the hawks that he sees fly by.

When Alsan was one year old we decided he needed more than goat companions and thought he would be much happier with a friend.  Again I was extremely lucky to find another purebred Kangal. Taylor Ranch Leyla was born only a few hours from our home.  When my husband brought her home, Aslan was in love. He was so gentle when he played with her and so happy that she had joined him. Leyla grew up to be a very serious protector and extremely maternal to her little charges. She often serves as babysitter while momma is off grazing. Soon she became a momma herself and little Ayse came into our lives. Trained by her parents, Ayse has become a crucial part of the team.

 We now have a rather large flock of Karakul sheep in addition to our Navajo Angora goats and have not lost a single one to predators thanks to Aslan, Leyla and Ayse.  We don’t lock our livestock up at night and our sheep and goats give birth out in the pasture. As for the mountain lions, they are still here, watching, waiting; I see them walk by on my game cameras, just outside the fence, but I sleep soundly now, knowing the Kangal is on duty.

 Babette Turk, HexenWald Ranch, Aptos, 13-Jul-20

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