Friday, November 7, 2008

i am my brother's keeper

I recently finished up an article for Mother Earth News on livestock guardians. Livestock guardians are animals like dogs, donkeys and llamas that live with their flocks to protect them 24/7 against coyotes and other predators. During the research phase I got to visit some maremmas at Taravale Farm in Esperance, NY. Incidently, this is the same farm where Sarah hails from.

Maremmas (like Bella, that happy mug in the photo) are these giant white dogs from Italy that remind me of polar bears. I got to stand out in this cold, windy field next to these huge dogs and together we all watched the flock of sheep across the gate. What strikes me about this practice, of using animals to help other animals, is that it's so ancient yet still used in a world of ATVs and HBO. Dogs like Bella have been doing this since time out of mind. How wonderful to still be able to feel their thick fur and share a moment with them watching a flock in the 21st century?

These are the kinds of things I worry will slip out of the world. It's exactly why I harness Jazz and Annie up on a dogsled to get the mail or why I want to work with border collies indefinately on my future farm. It's why I want a fell pony to ride, goats to pack with, and and be able to plow a field with one day with actual horsepower... The human/farm animal connection is an ancient one that seems impossible today. Imagine a modern person seeing a tiger in the wild and saying "You know what, that would make a great guard dog" and then systematically breeding, raising, training and domesticating a tiger you can trust around your toddler while you run to the store? I know, sheer lunacy. But that's exactly what happened with wild horses, wolves and rough mountain goats. Someone brought them to us modern homesteaders and now we have percherons, pugs and pack goats. Talk about thinking ahead...

Someday (certainly not now) but someday when I have a flock over fifty, I will hopefully have a dog like Bella out in the fields with my charges. I'm fine with going old school, that's what this homesteading thing is all about.

7 Comments:

Blogger Mare said...

What a beautiful dog.I really enjoy your posts, and learn a lot from reading them. Thanks!

November 7, 2008 at 8:00 AM  
Blogger Mama Pea said...

Your great shot of Bella makes me wanna hook my fingers behind her ears, get down on her level and tell her what a beautiful dog she is! I believe well-cared for working animals are probably some of the happiest creatures on earth.

November 7, 2008 at 8:39 AM  
Blogger Anne said...

Yes! I met some Maremmas at the farm we bought our chickens from, (one was even guarding the chickens!) and was smitten. I can't think of a more fulfilling life than to collaborate with animals in the ways you described to meet the needs of all involved.

November 7, 2008 at 9:37 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Those very same dogs are used here in Southern Andalusia, to keep the goats in check.Never knew what they were called. We call em Polar Bear Dogs !

November 7, 2008 at 12:40 PM  
Blogger testing said...

Your posts are the highlight of my day. What a brave young woman you are. A real credit to your generation. It's wonderful to see someone embrace both the hard work and beauty of working with nature.

Keep up the good work!

November 7, 2008 at 2:46 PM  
Blogger Nicole said...

I was able to meet a beautiful Maremmas at a farm where I bought my spinning wheel. I never knew they existed! I hope to someday have sheep for fiber and as pets. And after meeting that beautiful dog would love to have a Maremmas someday. What are you planning to do with your someday flock (50+) of sheep? I have visited a farm that had sheep to preserve certain breeds, of course some farmers raise sheep for food, or fiber or are you more interested in training the dogs? I am always interested in hearing how people farm and why and how they raise certain animals.(especially sheep) : )

November 8, 2008 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

hey nicole. the dream is to have a small flock of 50-100 (which is small by agri-standards) which will be my business. it'll be a lamb and wool operation, selling wool roving, yarns, blankets, and hand-made goods from the flock as well as meat. The dogs are the farmhands, making it possible to manage all those sheep. But trialing and training border collies will go hand in hand with the farm.

November 8, 2008 at 2:11 PM  

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