Safety First – Dogs Rule

Piglets Belly Up to the Milk Bar

Back on the post about Mouse’s new piglets Anony asked about our three year old daughter Hope being able to be safely down on the ground and touch the piglets. Anony also asked would the dogs protect her or would the dogs get hurt in such a confrontation with a sow.

We have a firm policy that Hope doesn’t get set down on the ground out in the field with big pigs near – Basic safety. Ben who is 10 is on the ground, of course, but he is required to have someone else around if he goes in large animal areas. Even sheep are dangerous if they set their mind too it – they butt. A chicken could peck your eyes. It is not that the pigs or sheep have ever done anything bad, they are just too big and powerful and something could happen all too fast even accidentally.

Mouse and Petra are both very calm sows – Temperament something I select for. During labor the sows are especially calm from hormones that are being released naturally in their blood stream as part of the farrowing process. Still, don’t try this with a sow you don’t know. Even then I would not leave a small child alone with them. In this case I had let Hope be down and touching the new piglets while supervised because of the calm situation, us being there and Kita’s presence. Mouse was not interested in anything except lying there and getting through the birthing process.

Later the sows are more protective of piglets although our handling the piglets isn’t an issue as long as everything stays calm. It is when a piglet squeals, which they can do so with surprisingly ear piercing volume, that things get antsy. We interact with the piglets regularly so they’ll be used to dealing with people. This makes them easier to handle as they quickly grow to well over 200 lbs in just six months.

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Of Dogs and Sows

The dogs would protect us from a pig, sheep or anything else. At another point on Wednesday, when Hope was not there, Petra, the other sow, had charged at me full speed because I picked up one of her piglets who was being too bossy with the new piglets. Her piglet objected and squealed loudly. Naturally Petra came running and huffing aggressively at me in concern. Kita, one of our livestock guardian dogs, stepped between Petra and me. Petra stopped dead as Kita raised her lips baring her teeth and growled lowly. It was just a warning but Petra is very cognizant that although she out weights Kita by a factor of six, Kita could easily take her in a brawl. To paraphrase Josh Turner, “You don’t spit into the wind, you don’t step on superman’s cape and you don’t mess around with big Kita.”

The pigs do what the dogs tell them whether it is backing down, breaking up rough play, moving from pasture to pasture, packing into the shed or staying back when a dog wants a choice piece of cheese that a pig wants too. There is a strict hierarchy – pigs are definitely below the livestock guardian dogs and they’re very clear about that. A single dog, even little lady Lili at a mere 50 lbs can manage the herd which weighs about 20,000 lbs and has individuals weighing 200 to 800 lbs. Larger dogs like Hagrid and Saturn can literally toss or roll an uncooperative pig that is easily six times their weight – they do it with just the swipe of their paw.

Working as a team the dogs can take on almost anything and do. Pigs haven’t figured out teamwork – it’s not in their ken. While the pigs are far larger, it is no contest when it comes to dominance – the dog always win. Dogs are just too fast and have great flexibility in their bodies – pigs are pretty rigid and very slow by comparison. A dog can rotate it’s paw at the wrist and slap or grab. Dog teeth are better designed for actual fighting as opposed to digging and display like the tusks. Kita’s teeth are longer than Petra’s. Kita’s jaws also open far wider – almost 90° – and that makes a huge difference. The dogs also have very heavy thick fur that protects them.

Perhaps most importantly, pigs lack the apex predator mentality that make dogs such effective, natural bosses. With this comes responsibility. The dogs protect the pigs, sheep, chickens and us. When the dogs give the alarm pigs and other animals come racing back towards the central home area of safety while the dogs face off the threat. There is a cost for the dogs. They are always on the front line facing out at danger while the civilians huddle in the relative safety of the center. But the pay is good.

There is the question of do our pigs obey the dogs because they, the pigs, have been trained, by the dogs, from piglethood to be obedient and not make waves. Yes, that probably has something to do with it. However, on the three occasions when we have borrowed or bought an adult boar from another farm. The first thing our dogs did was make sure the new animal knew exactly who was boss. They’re fast and efficient about the process. The initial time I saw them do this it was rather nerve wracking, probably more so for the 600 lb boar who had never met dogs like these before – The other farmer had Chiauaus. When three of our dogs got done training the new boar nobody was hurt and he was meek as a lamb. Once the ranking is established everything is cool again. In retrospect I should have expected it and understood that this was necessary. Without this the dogs can’t do their job – The pigs have to know that the dogs are boss. Fortunately the dogs know this and took care of it immediately.

Funny hierarchy story: Kita was in the north home field last winter with the herd of finishers hogs. There were 18 of them and one of her. She weighs about 90 lbs. The finishers each weighed about 200 to 250 lbs with a combined weight of around 4,000 lbs. They were all as tall or taller than her at the shoulder by then. I threw in a piece of cheese. Who’s going to get that? The pigs you might say – it’s obvious. The pigs thought so too. All the pigs went for it. Then there was a sharp low bark and all the pigs backed up fast into a semi-circle facing inward at Kita in the focus. She gave them the eye for a moment, swinging her head slowly around the ring and then calmly wolfed down the cheese. Dogs rule.

Outdoors: 34°F/5°F Sunny, Calm
Farm House: 61°F/50°F four logs
Tiny Cottage: 49°F/38°F

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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7 Responses to Safety First – Dogs Rule

  1. Anonymous says:

    Whooaa! – 9th of July already! – or is Walter time traveling again? Let us know how the cottage turned out… and how the garden is going. Wish I could escape to the summer like that!

    Amos

  2. *grin* Oops! Date fixed! Thanks for catching that! -WalterJ

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Walter,

    How much time and effort do you put into training the dogs? I’ve often wanted livestock guardian dogs but don’t know what goes into getting them to be effective. I’d love to hear that it’s all breed selection.

    Sasha

  4. Sasha, for just guardian duty it doesn’t take much training but rather mostly exposure as long as the dog has some natural inclination for the job. I do train a lot because I want a lot more out of the dogs than just guarding. Our dogs also do herding, carrying of tools and many other things in addition to the guarding. Generally a dog is trained up fully by about 18 months to 24 months. Some seem to come out of the womb like they are already trained and it is mostly a matter of getting our signals straight. What they are doing is observing the other dogs in the pack and mimicking plus they have natural ability.

  5. Homesteader says:

    Hi Walter,
    I tried sending this earlier but I don’t know if it worked. In case it didn’t here it is again:
    Thanks very much for your replies to by dog questions. When you have time to write that dog breeding story, I’ll really appreciate it. Thanks in advance.
    God bless!
    Ben

  6. Willa says:

    This was fascinating to read. I would have thought the pigs would boss the dogs. I always like to learn about dogs with jobs. I have a friend whose Pyranees are Guardian dogs for her goats, and others who use Border Collies for sheep. They are so cool to watch working!

  7. Hi Walter-
    We have had good success with Blue Heelers (Australian Cattle Dogs).
    They are very quick & work low so they don’t get kicked too often.

    They live to work and do great with cows and pigs, but are way too rough for sheep most of the time.
    They tend to grip sheep and sometimes will take a “cheap shot” (little nip).
    We think Border Collies are better for sheep.
    .

    There is a local strain of Blue Heeler around here that works exceptionally well with pigs.
    On occasion we couldn’t have loaded certain pigs for the sale barn without them.

    That said, we have found that if they are kept outside in runs as “working dogs”, they don’t make very good “pets” and can be overly aggressive with strangers.

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