Nice work, if you can get it. Livestock guardian dogs are becoming a more common sight in local pastures and vineyards, as farmers turn to new methods of protecting valuable animals from predators. Dogs are part of the team at Beltane Ranch winery in Glen Ellen, Hanzell Vineyards in Sonoma, and Front Porch Farm in Healdsburg, as well as at several local livestock operations.
John Krafft, who keeps two Maremma dogs named Katrin and Annie to protect a herd of some two dozen goats and alpacas on his rural Kenwood farm, says the dogs seem to genuinely enjoy their job, following the animals to pasture during the day and sleeping with them at night. Their role isn’t necessarily to fight predators; more often, their barking acts as a deterrent.
“They’re super-sweet dogs…they seem to understand, ‘This is my family, this is who I’m protecting,’” says Krafft.
Chris Majcherek, who cares for two livestock guardian dogs on a private ranch in Kenwood, says the will to protect is instinctual, but adds that the dogs do need training and exposure to livestock at an early age. Breeds like Great Pyrenees and Maremma were developed for this type of work hundreds of years ago.
Majcherek’s dogs are part of a layered approach to reduce the chance of harm from a coyote or mountain lion, an approach that also includes tall fencing and a sturdy barn to shut his livestock in at night. But it’s the snowy-white dogs, a striking pair of Great Pyrenees named Zoey and Zephyr, who get all the attention.
“I’m sold on them,” Majcherek says. “I just love ’em. They’re just so alert and watchful, and they really bond to the livestock. They’re happy.”
For more information on livestock guardian dogs, visit the Maremma Sheepdog Club of America, maremmaclub.com.