We are at the height of summer and the light lasts well into the early evening. The cow “nursery” is at its peak, we have dozens of calves and they frolic around with their tails curled up in pure joy. The cows keep a watchful eye over them, and work together to protect them from danger. Unfortunately, our sheep are not as successful at protecting their young from predators and we have to house them inside at night. I think this is a large reason whyAmerican’s are beef eaters not lamb eaters. Even in my home town of Warwick (only an hour from NYC) where we first farmed, coyotes, coy-dogs and even packs of dogs were too common and we lost many a sheep.
We tried many methods of protection against prey: donkeys, Italian guard dogs and even lamas who all lived year round with the sheep. Donkeys live up to their stereotype, they are stubborn , bordering on meanness. The idea behind the donkeys was that they would not run in formation and when a coyote attacked instead of running like a sheep they were supposed to stop in their tracks and kick. The hope is that they would scare the coyotes off because they acted differently or that they would prevent the sheep from running away, this worked a bit but coyotes are smart and quickly became wise to the donkeys.
We had the most success with the guard dogs, who hailed from the Bruzi Mountains of Italy and were called Marammas; they were big, independent and beautiful. It was my job to feed them every day, and I cannot tell you how special they were. They have a wildness to them that is hard to put into words and their instincts are so powerful that they just protected sheep. For centuries they were used in Italy to ward off wolves and bears. They are powerful, if not dangerous dogs. Some dogs did better with the sheep than others. However, when a dogs’ instincts, training and socialization aligned they were the best defense against coyotes. They were watchful, protective but decidingly wild and were prone to roaming. As more McMansions were built on fields bordering our farm, the dogs became a stressful liability. On our Catskill farm we no longer have meramma’s mostly because of their wandering (which is as strong an instinct as their instinct to protect sheep). Instead we have a large Great Pyrenees who protects the farmstead, and has saved many a cat from bold coyotes but he has no instinct for protecting sheep. Instead, the sheep are taken in at night but we still lose some to prey. This is one of the reason’s I have become a grass-fed beef advocate, cows are made for America, I just would like to see a change in how we raise them.