In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Wolves and Sheep and Dogs

Hi animal folks,
An intriguing article by sheep producers appeared recently regarding sheepfolk using livestock protection dogs to protect their sheep from reintroduced wolves and grizzlies.  
http://www.sheepusa .org/user_ files/file_ 713.pdf
Having been raised amidst free-ranging wolves and grizzlies and livestock and dogs in Northern Montana next to Glacier Park on the Blackfeet Indian Nation, I observed that certain cultural ethical husbandry principles had emerged through historical time. 
Wolves and Grizzlies have been present since the Ice Age in my home country, where over time many a livestock folk has had aspirations to raise sheep because of the nutritious grass. I am here to report no sheepman succeeds amidst wolves.
Sheep, the longest domesticated herbivore, have become the most human-dependent and reliant. Livestock protection dogs cannot defend sheep against wolves or griz like livestock protection and sheepdogs can rather successfully defend sheep against coyotes. Livestock protection dogs should never be expected to defend sheep from wolves and griz, as the attempted practice is counterproductive for the dogs and sheep. 
Cattle can generally take flight or defend themselves against griz and wolves when given the opportunity to range away from hungry predators, provided the cattle are otherwise appropriately bred and managed. Presently, cattle successfully share habitat with griz and wolf in Montana and Alberta. Indeed, the wild predators thin out some of the lungers and gimpers, but otherwise generally leave the healthy cattle alone. As well, the Rocky Mountain cattle become wolf and griz savvy, and avoid them, giving way and moving on when such predators so much as lift a nose their way.
Sheep, on the other hand, are helpless against wolf and griz, and cannot be successfully or humanely raised near those predators, nor should they attempted to be. In areas where wolves are re-introduced (unlike the Blackfeet country which has always harbored wolves) the livestock folk seem to be slow learners. 
Those pastoral livestock and dog people who have had the pleasure to live with wolves and grizzlies for thousands of years have learned to live with large predators rather harmoniously. From native cultures symbiotic animal/human relationships can be gleaned and appreciated.
Sheep should not be attempted to be grazed where Griz and wolf take up residence as trouble can be counted upon when nutritional protein resources become seasonally limited. 
Aggressive dogs should not be bred or used to attempt to defend sheep from wolves and griz, as they cannot handle wolves or giz, however selectively or aggressively bred. The spiked collars the sheep folk have devised for their dogs make that clear, it seems.
Selection for canine aggression does nothing more than create opportunities for emergency-room doctors, behaviorists and dogtrainers, as has become clear with current human attempts to select dogs for aggression for whatever purpose.
Sheep cannot be grazed with wolves or griz, and should not attempted to be raised amongst such predators. Furthermore, livestock dogs should not be selected for aggression, and should not be utilized to defend sheep against wolves or grizzlies. 
Those are the empirical if not ethical conclusions from the pastoral/wilderness interface in OldMan's country.
Cheers, Sid

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