John Franson “Neighbors”

livestock guardian dog
Roxy, the livestock guardian. Photo courtesy of John Franson

This story appeared in the 2021 summer issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener in response to the theme “Neighbors.”

With the nearest house about a half mile away, most of our neighbors are wildlife. This has meant a high fence to protect the young orchard trees. The vulnerable farm animals like chickens and lambs and sheep are another matter entirely, however. Any outlying farm with small animals is a magnet for coyotes, foxes, raccoons, mink, hawks, eagles and mountain lions, and these predators on the perimeters are not always good neighbors on their own terms. Historically, most management approaches have been lethal. As an alternative, we got a white dog pup, an Akbash-Pyrenees cross, and raised her on the farm. Roxy is instinctively protective of the farm animals, particularly the younger and smaller ones. Her guarding tendencies are somewhat cyclical, ramping up when lambs are born and tapering off a little in late summer. When chicks arrive, she focuses on them. And when our draft colt was born 2 years ago, she turned her attention there. This instinctive protectiveness even extended to a baby granddaughter we had laid on the grass – Roxy wouldn’t let the other dogs near the child, wouldn’t let them look at her, and when they did, she charged them in a snarling rush before returning to lie next to the baby. Her high and natural awareness of any young or defenseless creature has been fascinating to watch, and locals are often surprised that even without resorting to rifles, we haven’t lost any chickens or lambs. And protective as she is against coyotes and hawks, she is utterly affectionate and friendly to all humans, keeping us on the best of terms with those other neighbors of our own species and letting us enjoy the coyote song that so often comes at night.

John Franson

Soda Springs, Idaho

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