Our Maremmas are Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs). They don’t herd, they guard, or as my brilliant friend Tara says, they are the body guards, not the events planner.
While it’s true they are the muscle, there is more to keeping flocks safe than merely chasing predators away. They are also empaths and will tell their handlers when they sense something is not quite right. Maybe it’s a sick sheep, or a member of the flock has gotten lost or trapped, much like Lassie broadcasting Timmy fell down the well. Or maybe a new lamb has just been born and they want to make sure their people are aware.
We are lucky enough to live across the street from our friend Jenny and Opal. Opal is a puppy from our 2014 litter and she lives with over 30 sheep and a couple of horses. Jenny and I work together during lambing season because I’m an early bird and she’s a night owl so we take turns watching each others ewes when one or the other of us has to be away from home for work or travel. Because of this relationship Opal knows our chore routines just as well as we do.
Thursday evening I came home from work and parked in my driveway. Jenny was at work but I know it’s lambing time for her flock. Everything was quiet on both sides of the road so I let myself into the house and changed into barn clothes preparing for chores. Tom had picked up some feed that was in the trunk of his car so we started the 6-wheeler to carry the feed to the barn. Opal knows the 6-wheeler means we are headed to the barn so she yip, yip, yipped like a coyote several times which is quite different than her normal bark, and exactly like her mother. This yipping we have learned means come here, now, I need help. Without missing a beat, Tom and I abandoned the 6-wheeler full of feed and jumped in my car and zoomed over to Jenny’s.
Jenny has 3 ewes in jugs, small 6′ X 6′ pens that are basically private labor and delivery rooms, because we are sure they are going to be the first to lamb. Opal was glad to see us and very quietly watched us as we looked for the cause of her alarm. I was focused on the 3 ewes in the jugs when I heard Tom say “It’s over here”. And sure enough, there was a brand new lamb in the middle of thirty ewes milling around in the big pen.
Momma was easily identified so the duo could be jugged for some quiet bonding and to make sure baby wasn’t stepped on or kidnapped by another momma. Sometimes when momma sheep are really close to lambing their momma instincts take over and they mother lambs that aren’t even theirs. This new little ewe lamb, was pretty dry but we had a fair bit of wind blowing so I put a coat on so she wouldn’t get chilled.
It’s been pretty warm for “winter” in Alaska, and lambs are pretty cold-hardy even when it’s freezing outside. As long as they can get dry they can keep warm. We have been battling ice simply everywhere and this warm wind is melting all that ice creating huge puddles, or small lakes, making it hard for sheep to get dry or stay dry. This little girl felt warm to the touch and I wanted to help her stay that way.
Opal was so pleased with herself. Her communication skills get an A+ from this momma. I had to laugh when someone told me today that I need classes to learn how to communicate with my dogs. Um, I think I’ve figured it out, thanks, it’s all just a matter of knowing your dogs and paying attention.