A young livestock guardian dog finds his calling

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livestock guardian dogs and cows
Ten-month-old Uruk, right, with Holly, the milk cow, his newest calf to watch over and Oda, another young LGD pup. (Farei Kennels photo)

Not every animal works on every farm. This spring, I made the choice to change from milk goats to a milk cow. It seemed like a better bet when you considered our forage areas and my temperament. Goats and I just don’t mix. So, cows it is.

I waited and watched, until I found a young Guernsey-Jersey for sale. She’d lost her spring calf and was already in milk. She was also trained to hand milk. I jumped on it, and Holly came home four days later. “Trained” has a pretty loose definition on some farms, and we got right to work polishing up those skills.

I’ve learned to make simple cheeses and butter over the summer. I share extras with the dogs, neighbors and neighbors’ dogs. Everyone was feeling pretty special with all the fresh milk around, about three and a half gallons a day. Not too shabby and just what we needed.

Turns out, I actually like cows, and cows seem to like me. The same cannot be said for goats, I assure you. In my mind, goats are much like caviar and calamari. It’s an acquired taste.

More cows

A local herd dispersal saw me at auction late this spring, and soon, I was arranging transport for two unrelated calves, a 6 month old bull and a 4 month old heifer. As soon as they were out of quarantine, I moved them in with the rest of the stock and started lead training. Holly seemed happy to have more cows. Then one day, I noticed we got slightly less milk than the day before. Even less the next day and then none.

Oops! That’s right. Holly was so happy to have friends, she was even willing to nurse them — both of them. So, we ordered weaning rings in the hopes of not having to take away her new friends. Alas, the young bull calf did just fine, but that little girl could get hers off in record time no matter how tight we made it. I resigned myself to the situation and separated Holly back out.

In the meantime, the livestock guardian dogs started the bi-annual round of heat cycles, and my young stud also needed to be isolated. He took the move in with Holly with commendable aplomb. “Guess it’s just you and me, Ol’ Gal.” And, for two weeks, Uruk and Holly have kept each other company in the pen behind the house.

And more cows

I told you all of this to give you a little history before telling you the actual story. Recently, my sister and I made the drive to drop my mother off at my oldest sister’s house for a visit. That drive put me one exit away from the auction, which I hadn’t had a chance to attend again since adding the aforementioned cows this spring.

Why not, right? Right. There was a group of started calves ready to be run through. We looked them over. I was not prepared to purchase anything. It was a day off. Just something to do to get me off the farm for a few hours —

If you are a farmer, you know what a bad decision this was from the start.

Three hours later, I found myself driving up the interstate with a calf, standing on an old horse blanket, in the back seat of my truck. She was actually very well behaved, better than some people’s dogs I know, and only made a small puddle on the blanket during the two hour ride home.

Now, being born in November, Uruk did get to see a few lambs this spring, but he was very young and was not really a part of things at that time, because he was still with his mom. He’s seen baby chickens pop out of everywhere this spring and has been as well behaved as anyone could ask — never stepping out of line.

As we unloaded, Holly observed the bawling calf, who was trying to suck on my sweatshirt, with skepticism. To give credit where credit is due, I only had to hook her twice and let the calf nurse. She is now happily taking care of the next “not hers” baby.

His calling

But, for Uruk, this was different. When I unloaded that baby and led her into the front pen, Uruk fell in love. He was no longer just “stuck” with Holly, until things went back to normal. He had a job.

He sits by the little one while she eats, lays in front of the barn door while she sleeps, and diligently follows her around the pen, no matter the weather. Traffic that was previously ignored is now warned if it slows down to look at his baby.

When I decided to keep this puppy just eight short months ago, it was with the hopes of eventually having a replacement for his baby-loving great grandfather, who is steadfastly ignoring the retirement that keeps peeking out from behind the trees. Watching Uruk take that little calf under his wing more than proved I’d made the right decision.

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