During the past month I have done extensive traveling throughout South Africa, visiting farmers and assisting them with predation management strategies. Always observing and learning from farmers with experience, some interesting facts were observed while visiting farms in the north-east of our country. It was in Mpumalanga and Kwazulu-Natal with the big mountains and undulating landscape, vegetation and forests that farmers were put to the ultimate test. A predator’s paradise indeed.
The challenge for every farmer is always to make the first most important move – a total mind shift towards predators. The next step is understanding and learning the topography of his/her farm, gather basic knowledge of predator movement, behavior and biology on that specific stretch of land. When all of this is accomplished, only then follows the implementation of a well-planned predation management program.
The main obstacle for livestock farmers up north is the issue with stock theft and then also the threat from predators like the Black Backed jackal and caracal. A daily escalating problem, and causing farmers more problems is the ever growing packs of stray dogs, wandering freely and causing havoc amongst livestock.
Finding a solution for all three the challenges mentioned above we shifted our focus to effective protection. Livestock can be kept in a safe zone, an area or environment created to protect them from all these dangers. Farmers with no other options left have invested huge amounts in fencing kraals where livestock can stay at night time. These livestock farmers have also started investigating the use of herding dogs.
The first herding dog that I noticed on my trip was an Anatolian female herding dog called Anna. Anna has successfully been guarding her flock of sheep on 1200 hectares for more than ten years now. The rocky and rough terrain is situated on a beautiful farm at the foot of the majestic Drakensberg Mountains, close to the town of Maclear.
She was introduced to the farm at an early age of only eight weeks. Anna was raised amongst the sheep from her first day on the farm and with five weaned lambs to accompany her twenty four seven. Anna soon realized her purpose on the farm and when introduced to the rest of the flock, instinct immediately took over her actions and she became serious about guarding and protecting her flock. Every morning she goes out with the flock, staying close by the flock during the day and accompanied them back to their kraal in the evening and roaming freely in and around the kraal at night protecting the sheep.
The sheep have totally adapted to Anna and has learned from the dog as well. When Anna barks at something she considers a threat to her flock, the sheep recognize the way she barks and they all run in the direction of Anna and gather with her knowing that this would be the safest place. No strangers would dare to come close to the flock without noticing the pure size and determination with which Anna is protecting her flock. Serious about the safety of her flock there were some encounters at night with Black Backed jackals and needless to say they come off second best.
A worrying factor for Anna’s owners is the fact that she was not getting any younger. The owners had to find another herding dog which will have the correct attitude to understand her ranking order and accept Anna’s superiority. The trainee must learn from Anna and then keep up the good work and perfect example set by Anna.
During July 2016 Anna’s owners took the daring decision to introduce a helping hand for Anna. Jenny, a young female was obtained from Anatolian breeders and introduced to the farm. Jenny underwent the same training as Anna on the farm starting with only a few ewes in a small camp for a week and was then introduced to her flock.
She also went out with her flock in the mornings and only come back at night, never intervening with the flock of Anna. In January 2017 the flocks needed to be combined and surprisingly Jenny and Anna started working together without any disputes or a fight, not even a growl. In the mornings when the flock is leaving for the veld Jenny takes the lead in front with the flock following her and Anna is always behind guarding the rear.
Together these two are the perfect example of herding dogs protecting livestock. Truly the owner’s ears and eyes in the veld protecting and guarding in the best sense of the word. The farm owners are proud indeed, loving and caring for these two dogs are noticeable in all they say and do for these dogs. The best report for Anna and Jenny is when I go through the statistics and livestock record keeping from the owners and found that the amount of sheep lost due to predation was absolutely zero for the past year.
Continuing with my journey further north I came upon another surprise. One of my monitoring farms is situated near the Swaziland border, close to the town of Luneburg. The terrain is even harsher than the farm at Maclear, with huge mountains, thick vegetation, steep valleys with various trees and bushes. This farm has all the perfect hiding places for predators and predators were a daily occurrence, especially the Black Backed jackal. The farmer was fighting for survival and predation was at such a scale that giving up sheep farming become an option. Fighting predators with lethal methods decreased the livestock losses but this was an every night job and it was taking its toll on the daily productivity of the land owner.
The owner decided a year ago to introduce a herding dog and after doing some research he decided against the Anatolian herding dog. Because of the terrain and the ruff topography of his farm he decided on the Maluti guarding dog. Raised and introduced in exactly the same way as Anna and Jenny this Maluti dog did exactly the same duty by fearlessly guarding his flock during the day and spending every night at the kraal guarding his flock.
With a posture almost the same as the Anatolian, the Maluti has the same aggressive approach to protect his flock. The only difference between the Maluti and the Anatolian, is the length of the fur. With the much shorter hair the Maluti is very active, even when summer temperatures reaches the mid-forties.
My conclusion after my two week journey is that there is definitely workable solutions in protecting livestock with guarding dogs, it is just a matter of finding the correct dog, the farm with a suitable topography and off course the most important, the correct owner.