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Keeping Up with the Karakachans – Episode III

At 6 months old, the puppies were awkward and gangly. Petra and Boris tripped over their own legs and couldn’t keep an ounce of fat on them as they grew. As naughty as this duo was (like all puppies), they always remained sweet with me and my family. In fact, I never had to teach Petra and Boris not to jump up on humans. I don’t know if it was because they already had their mental and physical needs met, but I’m not complaining. Their manners were excellent.

As gentle and considerate as the puppies were with me and my family, that wasn’t always the case with the goats.

Let me start by saying, goats are not always the smartest animals. There is a reason goats are not herded like sheep. Goats can be spastic, spooky, and just plain crazy at times. You know what that looks like to a huge puppy? FUN! FUN! FUN!

Luckily, Petra and Boris had each other to play with and tuckered themselves out. That said, sometimes, especially on rainy days, the duo would get bored… and boredom was often cured by chasing and harassing a few goats. While the mischievous pups were having a blast, I was not amused. These dogs were supposed to bond and protect my goats, not terrify them!

I reminded myself it was just a phase and they would grow out of the puppy stage. But when?! I watched them interact with the goats as often as possible. If I saw Petra and Boris wanting to play or chase a goat they were issued a firm verbal warning. Luckily, this pair was sensitive to my assertive attitude and they would heed my warnings. When I wasn’t available to watch Petra and Boris, they were put in pastures separate from the goats. They could still see the goats, but they could not not use them as play toys.

The puppies kept growing and maturing – mentally and physically. Soon I was able to trust them for longer periods of time alone with the goats. I knew things were getting better when one afternoon I caught the goats snuggling with the dogs. The goats were finally starting to trust their big, furry protectors.

Unfortunately, that image didn’t last for long. We had an excessive rainy season when Petra and Boris were not yet mature. The goats rarely left the barn and the dogs were usually with them as well. I happened to be in the barn one day, when I heard a loud thud against wall, followed by several more. I went to investigate and found the dogs rough-housing with an adult goat who was cornered. Sigh. Back to square one.

I’m not the most patient person, so I’ll admit I was losing my tolerance with these “lions.” Kidding season was approaching and the puppies were close to their first Birthday. I needed Petra and Boris to work!

Stay tuned . . . I promise it’s a happy ending.

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Keeping up with the Karakachans – Episode II

Boris and Petra became fast friends. I wish I could say the same for the goats. You see, our goats had never lived with dogs before. Suddenly, I’ve thrown these little furry creatures into their territory. Right away I realized that was a mistake. 

A dominant doe rammed Boris as hard as she could, warning the fluffy furball he was not welcome. Boris shook it off, but his feelings were definitely hurt. He was confused as to why his “family” didn’t accept him. Luckily, Uncle Huppy was there to help and loved having new playmates at the barn. 

I quickly realized, I needed to keep the puppies away from the older does for their own safety. Luckily, the younger goats were much kinder to their new guardians, allowing them to be around the very animals they were learning to protect. With livestock guardian dogs it’s best for them to grow up around the animals they will eventually guard. In our case, it was goats and chickens… more on the chickens later. 

The puppies were so easy at this age. They were gentle and respectful of all the other species. Livestock guardian dogs are meant to have no prey drive, while also being very territorial. Of course, at their young ages, the pups were far from protectors. In order to keep them safe from the nearby predators, mainly coyotes, we kept them locked up in the barn. They were only allowed out while I was present. 

The dynamic duo grew like weeds. My little “lions” were gaining in size and in confidence. They each started to develop unique personalities. This is when the fun really began. The puppies were bigger and needed more freedom. I’ve never kept dogs outside, so, the unsupervised part terrified me. Would they get out of the fence? Would someone steal them? Would they get hurt? I adored them and I was full of worry. 

Well, nothing prepared me for what was to come… mud dogs!

They were huge puppies who got to live outside. It was party time for this duo. They didn’t care about the goats or chickens, instead they just wanted to roll in mud all day long. As a dog groomer, this made me want to pull my hair out! But then I reminded myself, these giant puppies are dogs and this was fun to them! It was the last time Boris ever showed his white coat. 

I made sure we had excellent perimeter fencing and even lined it with an invisible fence for extra security, in order to teach the pups to respect the fence. When I couldn’t find Boris, I would just look for clay areas where he was camouflaged. They were always having a blast, but when would they start to guard? 

Around 5 months of age is when things changed. They finally cared about the animals more than mud! They cared so much, they “played” with a chicken until it died. I remember being SO upset with them and shocked. How could my livestock guardians hurt what they are protecting? It must have been a fluke. Nope, it happened two more times. Feeling defeated and sad again, I locked the chickens up for their safety. 

I even complained to other farmers and their breeders about my “killer” puppies. They all reminded me Boris and Petra were still puppies and that it’s hard to resist a squawking toy running away from you. I knew I had to be patient and keep them a safe distance from the chickens, for now. When they weren’t playing with Uncle Huppy, they needed to be “working”…. or so I thought. I put them with the goats more often. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It wasn’t.

Episode III coming soon! More about Karakachans, here.

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Keeping Up with the Karakachans – Episode I

Six years ago, I picked up a goat at a local farm. I walked into a large open pole barn full of goats when the farmer, who I now call a friend, mentioned a rare breed of livestock guardian dog he had just gotten, the Karakachan. I had no idea what a livestock guardian dog was, but I certainly knew I loved dogs. I was immediately intrigued. He loudly called for the dogs across the farm fields. A few minutes later a massive brown dog, I literally thought was a lion, came bounding into the barn. I’m very comfortable around dogs but when you hear the word “guardian” and then see a lion-like dog . . . you keep your distance. I didn’t know at the time, the “lion dog” was also Boris’ father. 

I took my goat home and that night told my husband about the massive livestock guardian dog. We had just moved to our new farm and began adding more animals. But as fast as we were adding animals, they were just as quickly vanishing. So, I did what every new farmer does, and asked farming Facebook groups for recommendations. I tried a bigger rooster, donkeys, I locked all my animals up and I let our Great Pyrenees, Huppy, at the barn more often. But, Huppy was raised in our house and considered us his family to protect, so he always followed us back to the house. 

The losses continued, despite all the extra measures I was taking to protect the animals. The thought of not being able to keep animals on our new farm left me feeling defeated and sad for all those we’d lost. I spoke with many farmers who all said I needed a livestock guardian dog. I thought, the lion dog!? No way, that thing is a monster! And then the thought of having dogs living outside seemed so cruel to me (at the time). You see we already had five indoor dogs and had spent many years in animal rescue. I felt my job was to save animals and keep them safe inside, not keep them outside. It took some time for me to process the idea, so I researched as much as possible on livestock guardian dogs. I mean, technically, we already had one, Huppy. How hard could it be, right? 

So I did it, I picked up a “baby lion” and named him Boris. 

Boris was a fluffy dream of a puppy. He was sweet, cuddly and all ours. Boris was born in a barn, surrounded by goats and other livestock guardian dogs. Even after countless hours of research, nothing prepared me for leaving this puppy in the barn alone at night. That said, I knew this is what he was bred to do. In Boris’ mind the goats were his family. Karakachans are still considered rare in the United States, being only recently imported from Bulgaria. I reminded myself his genetics were strong and he was meant to grow up into a working dog. 

Boris spent every moment with the goats and enjoyed frequent visits from Uncle Huppy.  And although he loved Huppy, I still struggled with Boris being alone at night. Clearly, something had to be done…. so, along came Petra.

I wanted a female/male pair because it would give me the best odds the new dynamic duo would get along well. Petra came to me from a veterinarian in Virginia who was the first to import the breed into the country. Petra was a bit older and shy at first. She came from a very large working farm with not as much human contact. When Petra arrived, she was scared of me and immediately went running to the goats!  

So, I had a little lion and he had a companion. Now what? Episode II coming soon!

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Awake at Night

I was recently inspired to share these thoughts by fellow female farmers who live a similar life and who tell it like it is. Despite what anyone says, whether it’s a politician or your neighbor, farming is hard. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult but rewarding jobs I’ve ever had. And being a female farmer comes with its own unique set of challenges.

Many of us are mothers to human children first and foremost, as well as partners to our spouses. But as much as we all try to practice the “family comes first motto,” occasionally family takes a back seat to critical farming matters. Luckily I have a supportive family who understands the urgency of temporary emergencies that pop up on a farm.

Female farmers in particular wear many hats. We’re taxi cab drivers, housekeepers, gardeners and farmers. We wake before our children to get chores started and do end of day chores after our children are tucked in their beds to maximize family time.

What has recently resonated with me is the unmistakeable impact of my children’s experiences on the farm. There is not doubt they are living the dream. But they are also knee deep in the muck of some important life lessons.

We’ve seen 35 goat kids born so far this kidding season with a few losses along the way. The mom laid on one kid suffocating it while delivering the others. Another kid was born with some serious neurological deficiencies making it obvious he would not have a chance at the quality of life we want for our animals. Based on my experience, I knew euthanasia was the best option for him, but by that time my human kids were all over him trying to help. There was no escaping his cries that kept us awake that night knowing we would have to make a humane decision the next day.

We took him to our vet the next morning who didn’t want to give up, which I understood, because that’s his job – to save animals. We love and respect our vet and so we agreed to give him more time. Unfortunately, we lost the kid 24 hours later after around the clock tube feeding and care. As sad as it was, my girls learned to tube feed, they learned about euthanasia, and most of all they learned that life is fragile.

My kids may grow up and decide to take a totally different path. But they will always have a respect for farm life, because not everyone is cut out to be a farmer.

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Spring Break – Farm Style

Human kids are on Spring Break during the first week in April here in North Georgia. Most of our friends use this time to head to the beach or are involved in various camps, but things happen a little differently on our small family farm. Instead of enjoying the waves at the beach, we are birthing goats. Because things can and do go wrong, it’s important we are present for each birth, if possible. So our human kids have to miss trips this time of year while we essentially live at the barn as slaves to our goats.

Our oldest, Adelyn, is 6. We got our first goats over 5 years ago when she was just 6 months old. She has seen many births, but this year she was ready to take a more hands-on role. Although she isn’t playing in the sand, she is learning about life, motherhood, compassion and sometimes death.

Most of our does have experienced kidding before, but we are always prepared to intervene or call our vet if needed. This year our girls seem to be having large litters. So far we have had quintuplets, quadruplets, and triplets! Although that seems like a lot, it happens quite often with Nigerian Dwarfs.

Because we sell raw goat milk, we breed our does once a year. It keeps the milk flowing, and the baby goats are a bonus.

Most of our “kids” have homes/farms lined up before they are born, which we are thankful for. Our goats are family, so we always want to make sure their kids go to great homes.

I have always loved animals and wished for a farm. I begged my parents for every animal under the sun as a child. Once I became a parent, I knew exactly the type of life I wanted for my kids. For now I am confident my girls are living the dream. I hope their experience and the knowledge they acquire leads them to great things. But if they hate all this at 13 I understand that as well. For now, we will just continue to play on the farm.

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Mud Farmers

Our winter here in Georgia has consisted of rain, and more rain. We like to joke and say we are Mud Farmers! Last winter we had 10 inches of snow, while this winter we set the record for second wettest year! I know lots of you are still seeing snow fall and might roll your eyes at this post, but Spring is beginning to emerge here in the South!

The rye grass I planted in the Fall is lush and just what I hoped for, probably due in part to all the rain. The mud is still plentiful here and the ponies still look like they just swam through a swamp, but the sun is finally out. Oh how we have missed the sun. Every human and animal found a warm spot outside today.

With warm temperatures approaching, we are planning for a busy kidding season. Most of our does are set to kid in April, which is obvious now by their expanding bellies.

But happiest of all for this break in the rain is certainly the dogs. Cindy and Annie are back to their marathon play sessions outside. And yes, Cindy is still looking for her forever family!