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Predator Friendly Livestock Management and the Role of the Livestock Guardian Dog

Babette Turk, Entrepreneur, Homesteader

I sat and cried on the cold ground with my little doeling dying in my lap. I tried 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 heard 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.

As dusk was fast approaching, I wiped away my tears and ran to the house to grab a flashlight. I feared that my irrationally brave German Shepherd dog, Anka, would be the next victim and I needed to find her. I followed the sounds of her barking. I ran through the forest without a thought for my own safety. Not far from our goat enclosure, I found Anka. She had chased the mountain lion up a tree. The lion was massive. It was easily two and a half times the size of Anka. The lion looked at me and I froze. Realizing my foolishness, I called Anka to me. She was so engrossed with the lion that she took no notice of my commands. The lion turned away from us, leaped off the tree, and ran into the forest with Anka in hot pursuit. I stood there and listened as the rustling of the brush became fainter and fainter. Anka would not give up the chase no matter how much I tried to call her back.

I had to get back to my little doeling. Her body had gone cold. Her sister, Helga, sniffed and called to her to try and get her to wake up. Helga was alone. The realization that I did not prepare enough to protect all of my animals and my family hit me hard and the tears started again. I managed to carry Olga’s dead body into the garage and I locked Helga inside the goat house. It had been a long time since I heard any signs of Anka and the sun had gone down long before that. I screamed her name into the darkness, fearing the worst. Soon I heard the crack of a stick and panting in the distance. Anka bounded up out of the trees and my tears of sorrow turned into tears of relief. That night, I could not sleep. I stared at the ceiling feeling hopeless and fearful knowing that in the morning I would have to give everyone the bad news. But not tonight. I could not 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 an eight foot high fence topped with barbed wire. I also built a small barn to put my goats in at night for extra protection. I thought I took every precaution to keep my goats safe but I made the fatal error of underestimating the intelligence of a hungry mountain lion. The lions observed my every move. They studied my routine. They knew exactly what time I locked up. On the day that we lost Olga, I drove my youngest child to his new dorm, several hours away. I took Anka with me but arrived home well before dusk, well before lock up time. Nevertheless, the mountain lion took advantage of my absence.

Country living is wonderful, and I would never go back to the suburbs. However, 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, my family, 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.

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

Unlike European countries, that systematically killed off their lethal predators years ago, Turkey still has an abundance of wolves, bears, and wild boar that plague farmers. The Kangal is one of the few livestock guardian dog breeds that deal with large predators and are gentle enough to be family companions and protectors. Kangals have a rock-solid, stable temperament. They are quiet, 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. They have even been known to nurse lambs!

It is now illegal to export purebred Kangal dogs from Turkey. However, some had been exported before the ban, so we started looking for one domestically. We were fortunate to find a purebred Kangal pup in South Carolina. Rayburne Ridge Aslan arrived at San Francisco International Airport domestic cargo on Delta Airlines. I was completely stressed out, wondering how this poor pup managed being alone for the first time and on such a long flight and with a layover! We did not need to worry though. When we met Aslan at the airport, we were struck by his character. He was a calm and confident pup, relaxed in his kennel, perfectly content with all of the commotion going on. I then understood why people called this breed "bomb proof." When we brought him to his new 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 Aslan was one year old we decided he needed more than goat companions and thought he would be much happier with a friend. We were lucky for the second time when we found Taylor Ranch Leyla. 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 Ayşe came into our lives. Trained by her parents, Ayşe has become a crucial part of the team.

Thanks to our vigilant protectors, Aslan, Leyla, and Ayşe, we have added sheep to our growing livestock family and have not lost a single animal to a predator. Our sheep and goats are free to graze and sleep in the field. They even give birth out in the pasture under the watchful eyes of our Kangals. As for the mountain lions, they are still here watching and waiting; I see them walk by, just outside the fence on my game cameras. But I sleep soundly, knowing the Kangal is on duty.

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Such a moving story. I am sorry for the loss of your baby goat. We have been reading so much about the Kangal, watching videos and testaments from owners. We are excited to have decided after much research to make a home for a Kangal. Currently our chickens predators are mongoose, rats and large birds of prey. We also live in a rather large agricultural area with potential to expand to more occupied lots. We have a fenced acre and are anxious to add a male Kangal to our homestead. Thank you for this website and peoples comments. I feel this is a great resource.

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Robert Dick
Robert Dick
25 jul 2020

You write well Babette, And the story of your loss and how Kangals entered your family and protect all of you is moving. Good fences, constructed or living, make good enough neighbors.

I miss my long gone Kaya every day, and my Maremma is quite adequate to his family guardian role, and he's no Kangal. Perhaps old as I am, when the plague has lessened, I'll find another Kangal - we'll see.

Good fortune to you with your business and homesteading, and relationships with Kangals and people.

Warmly, bob

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