Sad Hard Day on the Ranch

I am writing this post in the aftermath of this weeks hard sad decisions that had to be made.  Many folks have a romanticized idea of homesteading, ranching, farming, living in the country ect.  It is great but it is hard work.  It is rewarding but sometimes you have to make seriously hard decisions.  City folks do NOT get that.  When I first came out to Colorado, I didn’t really get it but I had some ideas of it as even living in Michigan as a child I saw some things where hard decisions had to be made.  Today’s children do not know reality or what a hard decision is.  Life is too soft, folks are too dependent and most don’t even know what self sufficient is.  I had someone tell me once that eggs do not come from a chicken’s butt, they come from Styrofoam cartons in the store.  ummmm…yeah..OK!!

Mitch in the early days when he was trusted

LGD is short for Livestock Guardian Dog.  There are many breeds of LGD.  Most breeds commonly known in my area are Anatolian Shepherd, Great Pyrenees, Akbash, and Mareema.  For more in depth information on what a Livestock Guardian Dog is and what breeds fall into that category you can see this article on Wikipedia.  I have had Livestock Guardian Dogs ever since I got my first goats.  In the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, I have just about every predator on my ranch.  Mountain Lions, Bears, Rattlesnakes, Coyotes, Hawks, Owls, and other assorted flying stuff.  I have even had a raccoon terrorize my chickens for a while until I padlocked the pen.  No matter how smart he was, he did NOT know how to pick a lock!!  I have never lost a goat kid or lamb to a predator.  What I did not know was that one of my LGD was hurting his charges!

It is a good idea for every rancher that raises livestock and does any breeding to have a camera system for the critters.  Obviously we can not be with them all the time and they don’t always act the same when we are not there.  With our new system, I have been able to ascertain that one of my dogs must have had something go haywire in his head as he is hurting his charges and my livestock.  He has been the boss lead LGD for over 6.5 years.  If he had this flawed thinking all this time, I would have seen many injuries over the years before I had the monitor.  I never saw any real damage.  Occasionally I saw a goat ear that had an injury but never knew for certain if that was caused by the dog or getting it caught in the fence.  I did have a large amount of bottle babies but know now that was Mitch’s interference with taking the baby from the mom at birth.  Unfortunately, Larick has learned that behavior as well.  If I have the mother and kid separated for the delivery and let them bond for a day or two before putting them back in the herd, I do not have any problems with Larick.  With him, it is only a labor and delivery issue.  And to my knowledge he has only done it one time.  Once however is enough.

Mitch’s behavior has escalated and this week ended in him attacking one of my goats after she head butted him away from her daughter whom Mitch was chasing.  I saw it on the monitor.  It was horrible.  He did not kill her as of yet, but she has serious puncture wounds that I am currently tending and hope that the infection will stay under control.  Mitch was one of my Great Pyrenees and I have a special bond with him.  He has attacked on two other occasions but with extenuating circumstances both times.  Should he had attacked either time?  NO!!  but I do understand why he did so and after deliberation we decided to not put him down and watch him closely.  He appeared to be OK….for a while.  Months would pass…then… After this attack I could no longer make any excuses for him.  He looked all sweet and innocent but I watched that horrible video at least 6 times to imprint it on my mind.  I did not want to forget what I saw.  I had to wait over night to take him to be put down and it was hard to walk by him in the pen and even look him in the eye.  He was 8 years old, healthy and in the prime of his life.  I felt awful.  I cried so hard I could hardly speak or breathe…I cried for hours.  Then I cried more.  I sat on the floor while they sedated him telling him I loved him, crying on him and making him soggy.  He just had this sweet innocent look on his face.  But I knew differently.  I had seen what he did, I had heard his viciousness and I saw the damage to Sweet Pea’s throat and heard her screams!  This is a hard part of ranching and livestock raising that has to be addressed.  Many people think that this never happens but it is not so.  As a responsible person and ranch owner I had to make a decision.  A hard decision.  A sad decision.  One of, if not THE hardest decision I have ever made in my life.  Putting Mitch down has broken my heart.  The pain and anguish others may understand as they may have had to put an older sick dog in pain down.  But what they and others can not understand is the pure anguish and guilt that I feel because he was a healthy younger dog.  I feel like I murdered my dog.  Charlie said that I did not murder my dog I saved my goats! I know that my feelings are not logical and they are flawed yet they are there and strong.  Why is the dog more important to us than the goats?  The Goats cost LOADS more money and have earning potential.  The dogs are there to guard and protect them but when one of the guards turns on his charges, he becomes a liability instantly!  Re home him people say to me.  HOW the hell do I do that knowing that he can’t be trusted, that he has attacked stock on a few times.  That he bit me before.  HOW??  I can’t in good faith.  It would be wrong.  It would be irresponsible.  As his owner and his care giver, it was my responsibility to take care of this.

I am sad, heart broken, filled with anguish and so utterly disappointed and upset.  It was a sad hard decision that I had to make.  I made the right decision.  Why does it not FEEL that way?

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Update:  Another 7 weeks or so has passed and the ranch is a totally different place these days.  I believe that Mitch was harassing the stock for many years.  He might not have been outright attacking them; but he was harassing them, pushing them, biting and grabbing them without doing damage and generally being menacing rather than protecting.  The difference in ALL the animals on the ranch is so overwhelmingly obvious that there was something definitely wrong with Mitch.

The llamas NEVER spent much time at the barn area and now I can hardly PRY their butts out of there.  I can shoo them off and run them out of the pens and they come right back.  The other LGD Larick, NEVER hung out at the barn.  I always assumed it was that he was the perimeter guard and Mitch was the close personal guard.  However, Larick has attached himself to the barn, has taken over one of the huts as HIS dog house and does his perimeter guarding some but is much more accessible to the barn and his charges.  I think a certain amount of that is grief, but some if that he just likes being up at the barn.

His brother, Rowan, was brought over to the house dog side when he was only 8 months old as he never got along with Mitch.  He does guard on the stock side in an emergency situation but never will do more than 2 weeks at a time.  One of those times, Mitch and Rowan got into a fight and Mitch almost killed him.  I did not think that Rowan could or would guard stock.  He NEVER stays at the barn.  Was never near the stock, but looking back now I believe that he never wanted to be near Mitch.  Mitch never left the barn or the stock.

Two weeks after Mitch was put down, it was clear that Larick was grieving and depressed.  I decided to take a chance and watch closely while putting Rowan into the pen with Larick.  Larick and Rowan had fought many times they had been together in the last 5 years.  They have not only NOT had any fights, they are guarding together, playing together, and both stay close to the barn and their stock at all times.  Rowan has been in with Larick for about 5 weeks now and he seems to be loving it.  I am not certain if he will want to continue guarding once the snow and cold comes because to be honest he is MY dog and likes to lie in the cabin by the fire.  Right now, he seems to have found his place after 6 years and is doing his job and happy with it.  He has always been our first line of defense.  I always know when ANYTHING comes remotely near this ranch as Rowan has always told me his entire life.  Except when he is off duty, in the cabin and pretending to be my lap dog!

Larick is still very skittish around me.  He is allowing me to pet him very occasionally.  He does come to the gate and fence, will wag his tail at me, and will eat from my hand.  I am very glad that I did not put him down that horrible day.  We have made some progress but he does not trust me and it will take some time before he and I can be friends again after the Mitch thing.  He was never a close human dog.  He has always preferred his humans at about 20 paces away.

Larick

Another surprise is the way the goats are acting.  Sweet Pea has not head butted to my knowledge either Larick or Rowan since they have been in there.  She does walk a wide bit around them when they are playing and running.  Since the boys never pay attention to her, she seems to be settling in with them rather well.  Odd that since she was always trying to HIT Mitch.  She knew that Mitch was not safe.

It is nice to look into the monitor now and see the llamas all lying down in the pen, the goats milling about in between them, Larick crashed out in his hut with only his paw sticking out and Rowan lying flat out in the road kill position in the middle of all the llamas and goats in the middle pen.  THAT never happened when Mitch was here.  The llamas are happy and humming, the goats are happy and playing, Larick is still grieving but getting better, and Rowan appears to have found his niche on the ranch.  All seems well and only because we removed ONE dog.  The difference is stunning.

3 Comment

  1. Sending you love and support.

  2. I wanted you to know that I mistakenly clicked on How the hell did you do that? not realizing that it was part of a response selection. I thought it was someone’s actual response so I clicked to see what they had to say…I really do agree with the way you handled Mitch. So substract one of the How the Hells…you really truly did the right thing, as evidenced by the change in the farm livestock and LGDs.

  3. Cheryl,

    That is OK as I believe I clicked on “how the hello did you do that” for my emotion because I couldn’t figure out how I managed to have the strength to do what needed doing that day. so I suppose that emotion means different things to different folks. I can only know what folks mean when they comment like you did 🙂

    Melisa

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