When a farmer has to make hard decisions

livestock guardian dog with livestock
Lira, a 1 year old livestock guardian dog, relaxes with the livestock and other dogs, at Farei Kennels, in Maine. (Farei Kennels photo)

If you read my articles regularly then you know I tend to be a bit crazy when it comes to the way I approach a lot of things in life. My attitude? The universe was made out of chaos, and I’ll try anything once.

I woke up the other day and realized there were some things on the farm I had tried that weren’t really working. This revelation came on the heels of the latest livestock guardian dog addition and the added dimension that doing chores with a 9-week-old puppy provides.


People often view farming through the lens of pet ownership because that is what they relate to, but the harsh reality is that farms need to provide. No matter on what scale, the purpose of a farm is to feed, clothe and house us. Decisions on the farm are rarely easy and, at best, are mildly uncomfortable. There are times when I ignore them with commendable skill, or I wake up with the fortitude to set things right, chart a new course and forge ahead.

I focus a lot on input. We raise stock with a high degree of self sufficiency, so that input can remain low and the value of their output will remain high. The level of input fluctuates over an animal’s lifetime and the goal is to have the scales in your favor, or in the case of working animals, have it balance out in the end.

Herding dog

This is where farming decisions get hard — when the line between pet and working animal gets a little blurred. Dogs and horses can make a farmer blurry on the best of days.
People who own pets tend to view farmers as cold and callous. The decisions we make affect the food on their table too, even if they may like to pretend differently.

My farm needs a herding dog — not a hardcore trialing collie, but a low key drover just to help out with the stock when my motivation is low and time is short. I have gone through a number of rescues over the years, both mixed breed and pure — trying to do a good deed, while still having what I needed on the farm. I rehomed the last of them recently.

We’ve added cows to our operation, in place of goats. You can fudge a lot of things with sheep and goats, but cows are a different story. Fudging it with cows is a good way to get hurt, for both of us.


Why didn’t I keep him as a pet? Well, the truth of the matter is I have a pet dog. That’s her job and the sole reason for her addition. I don’t need another one. Resources on a farm are often tight, and I have to eat too. I also need a herding dog, one that will actually work under pressure.

Farmers are not cold and callous. It was a very difficult day, and there was a small selfish part of me that didn’t want to follow through. I share this story in the hopes that you will understand that making a decision and liking it are two very different things. That in those times, the best thing to do is offer a shoulder instead of an admonishing finger.




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  1. Today I am rehoming a great dog I’ve had for over a year…he’s great at keeping predators away from my very large flocks of poultry. He’s being rehomed due to his overpowering drive to break into the runs and kill my chickens and turkeys. I’ve tried everything I can think of to no good end. I have found a wonderful couple who he likes, who like him and have no interest in anything having to do with poultry or livestock. I will miss him but this has to end.

    • So you’re implying the only thing you can do when an animal is not doing what you need him to do is to put him down. Sorry, but I think the animal is happy going somewhere where it’s skills are more appreciated. We don’t kill our children either, we send them away at 18 or whenever they aren’t hacking it either. Doesn’t mean we don’t love them, it’s just best for everyone.

    • Dogs are not children. Finding him a loving home where there is no risk of him becoming injured or causing injury to a human is the best thing for him. Why is that so hard to understand?

    • Animals are nothing like children. And technically you don’t care for your children all your or their lives. They grow up move out and in many cases away into a totally different lifestyle. So in a way parents job are to re-home their kids.

  2. I have 11 dogs, had 12. My little rat terrier had diabetes, and lupus. I treated her myself with Insulin and steroids. She lived a good life even with her ailments. Cancer took her and it hurt as bad as any tragic loss I ever had. I farm and don’t have livestock. Never would I send one of the dogs away. If I eat, they eat. If I’m warm, they are warm.

    • I rent in a house with 4 Dogs, there is a separating fence to the back yard am occupying, therein l have this dog from Hell! She destroys anything and everything. Recently she ate my cducks, and my landlord’s chickens. I had had mixed feelings about the choice of punishment for her, but final felt it was the upbringing that was wrong. Otherwise she is a very clever pet., eats anything, perhaps due to both greediness and simply observed pertains of what we eat.

  3. Once a poultry killer always a poultry killer. If like the pets are kids analogy then what if you child was a cereal killer? Hide him from the cops for life? Or find them a new home where they can no longer hurt anyone? Same goes for you furry kids. Wish people could wake up with some common sense. Just as not all people are not good people not all animals are good animals. Fyi a dog that kills livestock can bankrupt you in one night. Wish the majority would start waking up to the fact that nature and husbandry is not rainbows and unicorns. Its cruel and brutal at times but also miraculous as well.

    • I have been successful at keeping a chicken killing dog from killing chickens…it takes a certain training and it’s a fact…the dog can’t go hungry if it’s expected to guard chickens and not let natural instincts to eat them take over. A dog…just like humans can learn to ignore natural instincts. We don’t run from the dentist chair even though we know it may be painful & scary. We adapt and overcome…dogs can too.

  4. As first stated this person runs a farm, NOT a pet rescue. They are two totally different things. My Aunt and Uncle ran a farm with farm animals doing their jobs to either protect and herd, pull carts or just being raised to provide food for themselves and their family AND the surrounding stores. They DID NOT have pets. Every animal had a job on the farm to earn it’s keep at the time. THAT IS WHAT A FARM IS. Nothing else. They don’t call the vet out for every little medical problem. Most provide their own first aid. As for myself I am a animal rescue that keeps the animals on my property. I tried rehoming but it was a failure and I don’t choose to go that route again. My live stocks job is only to live a decent life I can give them. But it costs money no matter the reason we have any animals. Personally I eat meat and veggies and am happy farmers are there. If you want a righteous fight then please go after the industrial farmers who have huge numbers of animals in huge warehouses where they never breathed fresh air. That’s where your attentions if you believe in Animal Welfare should be spent.

  5. Congratulations for finding a good home for your dog. I commend your efforts to train him and accept he just can’t make the cut. Dogs are not children although they do love. Work dogs are like all employees, and if one can’t do the job, is fired. You took the additional, loving step of rehomeing him. God bless you and best of luck with your next working dog.

  6. Woeking dogs have firstly to be of the breed that they were evolutionised created and bred for. Secondly they have to be trained by their parents as to how to work, how to behave around stick etc.

    It is simply no use to buy a pretty pup and expect it to work in herding stock etc

    They don’t know what to do.

    If you want to buy a working dog – BUY ONE.

    0therwise all you finish up with is an animal with urges Thai it doesn’t know what to do with.

    Result ??? Chaos and Damage and Hurt and Expense


  7. A working/herding dog is just that.
    As long they are provided the necessities and there job! They are fine. These dogs have been doing this for 1000s of years.

    Their mentality and instincts are different is is different from those of a pet.

    Evidently people need to learn amd stop condemning!

  8. Thank you for your honesty. Too many people get in over their heads thinking that farming or animal rescue is easy. Happy holidays to you and your family.

  9. In the world we live in today animals are better than most people , selfishness in people is at an all time high . Animals are more loyal then people ever thought of being . Thank God this life is temporary.

  10. You missed the entire point of the article.
    On a farm everything and everybody has to produce.
    Working dogs included. Farmers have to make hard decisions at times. If it is in the best interest of all concerned, including the dog in question, for them to go to a home that is better for them, how is this so bad?
    It’s not like tgey just turned the dog loose, they found him a new home.

  11. Zachary, had a dog for 17 yrs, I raised chickens, dog only chased one chicken and caught it, that was the last time ever chasing chickens and killing them, I retrained the dog and never chased another chicken ,FYI the dog was the best guard and working dog ever had, dogs understand right from wrong,just like teaching a child.


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