Home > Alpaca Library > NEAOBA Newsletter Articles Archive >
Anatolian Shepherds: Protecting Herds for 6,000 Years
Author: Steve and Claudia Coleman
Youre gonna raise alpacas out here? And keep em out to pasture? the man asked incredulously. He was a kind new neighbor, but he had us scared to keep anything alive outdoors.
Theres coyotes out therecoyotes and black bears, he continued.
And humans, my husband Steve added, referring to the risk of owning such expensive animals.
This was the summer of 2003 and we had just relocated to Vermont from sunny California to follow our long-time dream of wanting to start a farm, move to a more peaceful and comfortable environment and switch to less stressful professions. Hence, Alpacas of Tabor Valley in Topsham, Vermont was born. Funny that in all of those late night talks, when we would discuss the layout of the barn, the fruits and vegetables we would grow and the possible names for our farm, we never once thought of coyotes or black bears. The semi-suburban alpaca farms we visited in California faced no such threats, and at most wed heard of guard llamas intended to keep the alpacas from harming each other.
As we began visiting alpaca farms in Vermont in search of top-quality animals for our herd, one alpaca owner told us about a type of guard dog that seemed to be bred with the alpaca in mind, a dog pleasant to work with but strong enough to protect the animals from danger: the Anatolian Shepherd.
Originating from what we now call Turkey, Anatolian Shepherds were developed about six thousand years ago to help goat and sheep farmers keep a safe herd. These nomadic people often traveled great distances and lived in a range of climates from cool, hilly plateaus to the harsh weather of Mount Ararat (17,000 feet), so they needed a strong dog that could stay healthy in temperatures ranging from -40°F to 120°F. And because the nomads traveled with their families, herds and dogs, they needed a breed that was temperate enough to keep around, both near their children and other animals.
Our visit to the alpaca farm with working Anatolian Shepherds convinced us that this was the breed we wanted to guard our animals, so we took the plunge and bought Rex, our first working dog.
And what a cute puppy he was, rambunctiously running around investigating every little thing in the barn, in the garden and in the pasture. And within months, surprisingly, he had fallen into a comfortable rapport with the other animals. Kept in the male pen, he supervised the alpacas, ensuring they wouldnt become too aggressive with one another. This was especially the case as we introduced young (one year old) males into the herd with the older males, who sometimes have the tendency to be assertive as they attempt to establish their dominant role.
Joggers, walkers and passers-by also became accustomed to the attention of Rex, who saw fit to bark at anyone who came near the fence. While initially we figured that this barking would only serve as a deterrent to malicious individuals, we soon realized that occasionally Rex had alerted us to an interested alpaca buyer eager to examine our herd. And this wasnt the only time he helped out.
Within a few months, one of our male alpacas, Dorito, proved our original 4 x 4 panel fencing wasnt adequate when he got his head stuck between the panels as he reached through for more grass on the other side. Rex barked nonstop until we came out to see what had happened, enabling us to replace the fence at the first opportunity.
Before two years had passed, we knew we needed another dog. Rex, kept only in the male pasture, had no way of protecting the females. Even though they were usually kept in the barn at night, neighbors had reported spotting a coyote in the daytime less than three miles from our farm. Enter Roxie, Rexs companion across the farm.
With a pair of Anatolian Shepherdsboth temperate, hardworking and dedicated dogs who came from working bloodlineswe decided to breed them for a litter. And what a fine litter it is! With seven adorable puppies on our hands we now continue a tradition that began some six thousand years ago.
What weve learned about the breed:
Anatolians have an unusually long life span for a large breed dog14 years! They are extremely independent and will be the Alpha dog wherever they go. Females, though, tend to be intolerant of other females. Owners of these dogs need to have a real understanding of being the Alpha human in charge. These dogs have huge hearts and they are driven to please their master, making them putty in your hand so long as you assert your Alpha status.
Anatolians spend most of the day dozing. They can go from apparent sleep to a dead run at 25-30 mph in seconds toward any threat to their charges. Since they nap a lot, they have small appetites. Rex and Roxie, when not pregnant, eat about half as much as our house dog, Paris.
Anatolians learn what is normal by observation. Quietly watching all the comings and goings, they will only bark at unusual things. Animals, birds, people, noises and strange carseven cars that slow down to view the alpacas grazingwill trigger them to bark once or twice. If they feel that danger is imminent no amount of hushing them will work; they will ignore your call to do their job of protecting.
With his stature, grace, and strong legs and shoulders, the Anatolian Shepherd is an awesome sight. Rex and Roxie are a part of our family and our farma part we couldnt do without.
If you are considering an Anatolian on your alpaca farm and have any questions, we would be happy to talk to you about them and their role as livestock protectors.
< Back to Spring 2007