Guardian of the flock

Posted 6/25/21

When Jeff and Gwen Olson were approached by the Wyoming Department of Transportation about selling a portion of their property along U.S. Highway 14-A to widen the road, they made a trade instead. An …

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Guardian of the flock


When Jeff and Gwen Olson were approached by the Wyoming Department of Transportation about selling a portion of their property along U.S. Highway 14-A to widen the road, they made a trade instead. An adjacent parcel of property was swapped for the piece WYDOT desired and everyone was satisfied — until the new parcel began sprouting weeds and tall grass. 

That’s when the Olsons bought some goats to keep the vegetation under control.

“We got the goats for weed control, then we got to liking the goats,” Jeff said.

Soon, though, the local coyotes that ran along the creek bed behind the property were helping themselves to the goats. That’s when the couple made contact with other sheep and goat breeders to find out how they kept their flocks safe. They found a sheep breeder south of Otto who swore by Great Pyrenees dogs to keep predators out of the livestock.

“They said Pyrenees worked for them and they were good to stay with the flocks,” Gwen said. So the Olsons selected a female puppy they named Emmy and brought her home. 

The instructions were a little difficult to comply with, though. For the first 30 days they were not supposed to pet or play with the puppy so that she bonded with the goats. 

The Olsons put the pup out with the goats right away, and sometimes that winter they would find her curled up, covered with snow that had blown into her shelter. She was socialized enough to get along well with the couple, but also deeply bonded with the sheep. 

The coyote predation stopped, but that wasn’t enough for Emmy. “She wouldn’t let anything in with them, and she hated eagles, ravens and crows,” Jeff said. It took some time for her to accept horses pastured across the fence from the goats, and she patrolled the perimeter of the fences so often there was a path worn in the dirt. In the winter, her tracks showed in the snow, detailing the multiple rounds she made every day and all night.

But age started to tell on the Great Pyrenees and by the time she was 12, her arthritis was very bad. Last winter, the Olsons got a new puppy, an Akbash with a little Spanish mastiff thrown in for good measure. They chose that breed combination because they are a little more aggressive with predators. While a Great Pyrenees won’t let anything in, the Akbash might go out to a predator. Basically, they require a larger personal space for the flock than do the Pyrenees.

The new puppy was 8 weeks old when the Olsons brought him home and he was introduced a little differently than from Emmy. Auckie, as he is known, was sheltered in a divided shed, with goats on the other side of the partition. In two weeks, he was with the goats around the clock, no partition needed. 

He is 15 months old now and seems to have learned well from Emmy, who passed away in January. Auckie is leaner, with less hair than his predecessor, but just as in tune with his flock.

On this particular day, he was on hand as a doe goat gave birth.

He led Gwen to the birth place, where she gathered up the firstborn and placed it in the shed, then returned for the new mother. Auckie was overseeing the entire mission, and kept his nose to the gate into the shed as two more kids were born. Even though the doe was inside, he seemed to instinctively understand she was at her most vulnerable during birth, as were the newborns.

Once the last of the triplets was up and nursing, Auckie turned his attention to a little goat that was struggling. It had been one of four and its mother did not want to let it nurse. The Olsons held her several times a day to let the little one nurse, but he wasn’t thriving.

Auckie licked the baby, giving it the care it wasn’t getting from its mom. And he allowed it to curl up close — even trying to cover it with his own body. Gwen interceded then, because the dog, at nearly 100 pounds, was too heavy for that. After a time the baby drifted off to sleep, and Auckie, seemingly bored, went out into the pasture to check up on his other charges. Satisfied everyone was present and accounted for, Auckie climbed to the top of a dirt mound and began a fitful nap of his own, tormented from time to time by the other baby goats. 

He would need the sleep. In a few short hours, it would be sundown, and his time to keep the demons in the dark at bay.