Sheep tend to travel greater distances in the presence of a guardian dog, likely because they’re less concerned about predators, according to new research led by Idaho State University (ISU).
The Idaho State University did a study in the spring of 2010 where sheep and the guardian dogs that accompany them on the range lands were outfitted with GPS collars. The movements of the stock, as well as the guardian dogs were tracked and later analyzed.
Another group of sheep, which was not accompanied by livestock guardian dogs, was used as a control group. Their movements were also tracked, analyzed and compared with the group which did have guardian dogs.
“The whole idea of the study was to see if sheep that were accompanied by livestock guardian dogs behaved differently,” said Keith Weber, director of the Idaho State University Geographic Information Science Center, who is working on these studies with ISU graduate student Bryson Webber.
Researchers from ISU are also working in co-operation with Oregon State University and USDA Agricultural Research Service at the at the 28,000-acre U.S. Experimental Sheep Station near Dubois, Idaho.
From these initial results the following could be concluded:
In one study, the researchers found that sheep accompanied by livestock guardian dogs moved more freely (not at a greater speed) and covered a greater distance than sheep that were not accompanied by guardian dogs. During the time frame of the study, the sheep also moved increasingly more, as the study progressed.
” What we found was that sheep accompanied by the dogs moved more freely,” Weber continued. “And we now have the statistical data to back up anecdotal observations. The sheep are probably spending more time feeding and moving, not looking up so often to check for predators.”
The implications from study are huge; as sheep feel more comfortable moving further afield with guardian dogs, allows them to access more grazing.
Sheep that are less stressed (not having to be constantly alert for predators) are healthier animals that may gain more weight, have lower health costs and are of higher value. This group of researchers would like expand the initial research by also testing the stress level of the livestock through simple available tests in the near future.
Weber would like ranchers and herders to begin recognizing the value that these livestock guardian dogs have, not only in reducing predation but also by lowering the stress level for the grazing livestock and allowing for more free movement while out foraging.
Utilizing guardian dogs is definitely a “win- win situation” says Weber, “for livestock producers, the livestock guardian dogs can protect their sheep and cattle, without predators being removed. Having guard dogs can be very cost effective for livestock producers.”
Source: Peace Country Sun- Alberta- 2012- By Louise Liebenberg