I've been lurking and reading the forums, getting ready to start working sheep for the first time, on our small farm in the next month or so. I would greatly appreciate some advice and/or opinion:
1. Should I wait until I have more experience with sheep before adding LGDs to the farm?
2. How many dogs to start - 35 acres of pasture, 1-3 grazing groups?
3. Start with pups or mature dogs? They'll have to travel air cargo, can a mature dog be shipped?
4. If more than one, appropriate mix of sexes/intactness?
5. Warm climate breed/coat recommendations. We're in the Caribbean.
6. LGD breeds or crosses that don't tend to roam off the farm as much?
We're on a 40 acre farm. We live and work here. Have been growing organic intensive fruit and vegetables for over ten years with a handful of chickens, on 5 acres, now starting with livestock on the remaining 35 acres of pasture. It's flat but a bit rough with thick stands of guinea grass, some areas of brush, trees, and thorny acacia. We have a few ponds. Our biggest livestock threats are human theft, mongoose (a weasel-like carnivore that eats chickens and eggs) and feral dogs.
I'm easily a few weeks away from completing a night pen for my sheep and purchasing a handful of St. Croix White ewes to get started. Eventually I might have a few Dorper rams, 4-5 beef cows, pastured poultry, and a couple of dairy goats. The plan was to bring the sheep in at night, to a 'dogproofed' enclosure inside of a 100' square training/working pen.
Our farm is bordered on the north and east by a busy rural road. We created a 30' buffer zone from the roadside into the pasture, and then built our perimeter fencing of woven wire topped with barbed wire at that inset. It's 48" woven wire with barbed wire top and bottom (EQIP standard wood and steel post uprights) for perimeter and permanent pasture divisions (and around our ponds). On the outer edge of the 30' buffer zone we have four strand barbed wire (old cattle fencing) 5-10' from the roadside. We have no reason to ever cross the road with the livestock or dogs. There are neighbors to the north with pet dogs. People have a tendency to dump unwanted animals in our area. On our south border, our neighbor is planning to raise meat goats, horses and chickens. He keeps some large intact dogs for personal/home protection, they are generally well fenced.
My plan is to subdivide paddocks within the five permanent pasture divisions with four strands of electric twine, and run a hot wire on the fence offset at 30" to keep animals from rubbing or climbing on the woven wire.
I have practically zero experience with small ruminants and a handful of experience with beef cattle, but in a year or two my loose goal is to have about 150 sheep including a ram group, a pair of dairy goats, 6 beef cows, pastured poultry in rotation. I am tempted to wait until I have more experience with the sheep before adding an LGD to the mix, but on the other hand two feral dogs attacked our chickens last week. I have experience in basic obedience training pet dogs. We keep only female spayed dogs as watchdogs at the houses on the property, they don't roam the property.
My biggest worry with LGDs on our farm is the busy road that borders the N side of all our pastures. In my initial research I liked the shorter haired Kangals and Anatolians. The local university has kept Maremma crosses for years, and has had success against dog attacks but not human theft. I worry about LGDs expanding their territory off our farm. A friend of ours has been bringing down Anatolian/GP crosses from TX but they are open range experienced. I'm not sure they would stay on our 40 acres? Every dog is an individual, I gather...
We have a retail farmstand on our farm twice a week, at least two woven wire fences away from the livestock areas. We also host supervised farm tours regularly, and have farm dinners and other events on the property. From what I've read, LGDs are smart enough to discern real threats from noisy groups of school kids or wedding parties.
Our climate tends to be 85 degrees and breezy, sunny days, in the 70s at night, with passing rain squalls. In the summer months temperatures are slightly higher: in the 80s and 90s and can stay in the 80s at night.
Would greatly appreciate your input on the questions at the top! Thanks for reading all this. Thought more details would be helpful.