Transferring Old World traditions

As some of you will recall, husband Jim and I just had a paper published in the Sheep & Goat Research Journal in which we summarized the problems western livestock producers are having in dealing with expanding and increasing populations of large carnivores, including grizzly bears and gray wolves in our area. The livestock protection dogs (LPDs) we’ve been using have worked wonderfully against smaller and medium-sized predators, especially coyotes, but when it comes to larger carnivores, our dogs have been taking a beating – too many of our dogs have been killed while guarding their herds. That prompted Jim and I to go back through the published literature and take a fresh look at those regions of the world that have all of the following components: bears, wolves, domestic sheep, and livestock guardian dogs. We found that there are LPD breeds more suited to facing wolves than most LPDs used in the Northern Rockies today.

I’m thrilled to be able to report that the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board has decided to support our research project on what makes Old World livestock protection dog/ agricultural systems sustainable in large carnivore country. With funding from the ADMB and sponsorship from the Wyoming Wool Growers Association, Jim and I will travel to Europe and Central Asia in October to interview livestock producers who use livestock protection dogs in areas of dense wolf and bear populations to learn what they are doing there that might be of assistance to producers in similar situations here in Wyoming. This knowledge transfer will be the beginning of our work, with the eventual goal of establishing a program to distribute LPDs more suited to facing wolves onto western ranches, directly from working lineages in their countries of origin. We’ll also meet with non-government organization representatives, government officials, and dog breeders in those countries who sell into the countryside.

Our short list of breeds includes Transmontano Mastiff of Portugal, Central Asian Ovcharka, Karakachan of Bulgaria, Shars of Macedonia, and Turkish Kangal. At this point, our travel plans call for us to visit Portugal, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania, and Turkey. We would welcome the opportunity to see other LPDs not on our short list while we are in those countries, so we aren’t limited to just the breeds listed (for instance, we want to see Romania’s Bokuvina, Carpathian & Mioritic shepherds, and the Kars dogs in Turkey. Our general criteria is the breed must be canine aggressive, but not human aggressive, and must originate from areas of large carnivore occupancy.

We will need to hire English-speaking guides/interpreters everywhere we travel, and would prefer to hire local people who can drive us into areas where we can see LPDs at work with sheep or cattle, and interview their owners. Of course, we are not opposed to hiring professionals either, but we would like to help rural economies if possible.

In addition to seeing the dogs at work, we need to learn about the traditions and animal husbandry practices used in these regions, and of course we want to learn all the specifics about those spiked anti-wolf collars used in certain regions, as well as bring some of those collars home with us.

I don’t want to take up too much space on the blog, but wanted everyone to know what we are planning. If there is something you think we should try find out about in terms of LPDs in these regions, hit us up about it. Right now our questionnaire hits on about 30 topics, so it is fairly comprehensive. We have an intensive information dissemination campaign planned upon our return, and I’ll be blogging and posting photos while we travel. We feel so fortunate to be given the opportunity to do this research.

We are excited about the possibilities for this project to be beneficial to livestock producers in the United States who are continuing to struggle with wolf and bear issues in their livestock operations. We sincerely welcome input, contact suggestions, and advice from those interested in assisting our efforts. Comment here, or private emails to catu2 at macdotcom.

Further adventures of Lauren

Mostly photo- blogging this week- it’d amazing how much time maintaining some level of competence takes when you have ANYTHING else to do. But I have been sent lots of good photos and stuff from Mongolia, England, and closer to home…

Lauren has been visiting nests:

“This was the nest we visited in April when the mother was incubating. There were 5 eggs then, now 4 fledgelings. They were feisty and very loud! With little hypodermic needle talons.”

Then eagles:

“This nest was only about 150 feet high, nestled in a rock face, and easy enough to scramble up to…getting down was the hard part!

“There were two eaglets in this one – one significantly bigger than the other – I’d assume a clear male and female. There were all sorts of odd stuff in this nest — fox bits, goat heads and hooves, raven remains! For nesting material there was also the blue prayer flags.”

“One of the adults was nearby – we only noticed as we were driving away from the nest. It looked like the male to me – I snapped a photo just as he flushed!”

“By the way, I had an awesome time at the Asian Raptor Conference. A ball. I’ve got leads now for doing all sorts of research. I’m really becoming interested in the Eurasian population of Golden Eagles, and found some researchers in Siberia and Kazakhstan who are, too! Its generally believed that these eagles are non-migratory, but the local knowledge says otherwise – as well as the telemetry work done on Golden Eagles in Alaska, that shows them undertaking a long migration south. I think one could find out all sorts of fascinating things about their movement patterns in Russia, if studies were done.”

Looking forward to seeing you and hearing about it, Lauren!

Pursuit Hawking

Terence Wright was kind enough to send two splendid photos of the kind of hawking that I can probably no longer do– coursing with dog and pursuit falcon, sometimes over miles. I’ll still try with others this fall, but suspect I just can’t keep up. It was a good run!

The dog, lurcher Percy, has also retired; Gyr- Prairie Cog and the fantastic little Gyr Peregrine tiercel Zhel (first and my photo of Terence and his team, last– can you believe anything that small has killed HUNDREDS of jacks?) are still hunting.

Johnny UK

Meet (“officially”) Johnny UK and his wonder dog Petra. John Hill is one of our most frequent commenters, an old friend (we met through Darne shotguns), an East Anglian, an honorary Magdalenian and frequent patron of the Golden Spur bar here. He plays blues saxophone and loves good shotguns, wine and French food. Here he is with Petra and his retirement toy (I am glad I don’t pay his “petrol” bill, especially in England).

And here is Petra posing like a model in a gun punt at the Game Fair (you know punt guns are legal in the UK?) I have asked John the bore– I believe they may go all the way up to ONE, on the same scale as 12 and 20 gauges!

John checked in before we could get the pix up, with further info:

“The UK law limits punt guns to a bore diameter of 1.75 inches – so I presume
that this gun complies!! There are now less than 50 punt guns in use in UK,
and the estuaries that you can use one are restricted.”

Guest Post: Jess vs the Breed Box

Regular readers may know that I have long taken a stance against closed studbook breeding registries, which I consider to be unscientific Victorian relics that are causing actual harm to “breeds” by decreasing genetic diversity.

Recently a perfect example has surfaced in salukis, where “traditionalists”— ie, people who want to limit the breed’s ancestry to about 40 dogs brought out of what is now Iraq and Syria by English diplomats in the early 20th century– have objected to the striped marking called brindle, common in dogs like mine from the eastern, Asian, and arguably ancestral region of their huge natural range (I have brindle dogs and may put in a pic or two later). Some say that brindle comes from greyhound, but I have seen a Chinese image from about 1100 AD that seems to show a brindle “tazi”– were there even real greyhounds then, never mind in China?

A saluki breeder has asked for everyone’s opinion on the “Brindle Question”, and by extension on the whole antiquated AKC breed definition. I answered, but Jess, of DesertWindHounds (which recently fissioned off Demonpuppy’s Wicked Awesome Art Blog as the dogs began to take over), did such a comprehensive thrashing of the anti- brindle, pro closed- book faction that I asked her if I could reprint it here.

(See this essay on her blog).

Jess Ruffner, take it away:

I am pro-brindle. Disclosure: I am also pro-landrace, pro-genetic diversity, and pro-open registries. I also keep and breed cross-breeds.

There is ample photographic evidence that brindle Salukis exist, both currently and in the past, in the countries of origin. The proximity of ‘Saluki territory’ and ‘Afghan territory’ (Iran and Afghanistan) and the movement of people and goods (including dogs) along the Silk Road almost guarantees that there has been an exchange of blood at some point. Brindle occurs naturally in Afghans and it is no stretch to assume it would occur in genetically related breeds like the Saluki as well. The Saluki and Afghan share a mutation that causes the grizzle/domino color, a mutation so far found in no other breeds, and the Ancient Dogs study grouped the Saluki and the Afghan using microsatellites in the nuclear DNA. They are quite obviously genetically related.

Of greater concern to me, is the assumption that Salukis in the country of origin remain completely static, that there is, and has been, no exchange of blood from one area to another, and absolutely no exchange of blood between ‘breeds’ at all. Especially since the Saluki was ‘discovered’ by the West. It is a serious mistake to consider the Saluki in it’s native lands to be a ‘breed’ as Westerners see it, existing only within a closed registry system. It is far more scientifically correct to consider the Saluki not a single breed, but a landrace with a wide range of types, occurring over a large area and adapted to a variety of climates, terrain and game. There will be variation in both the dogs and breeding practices, including what is considered ‘pure’ by the breeder! This is as it should be; native breeders are, of course, the ultimate arbiters of what they consider a saluki to be. If their criteria is different from that of the Western show breeder, who is right? To me, the native breeder, the one who uses the Saluki for it’s original purpose, is correct. If that breeder’s stock includes brindles, then brindle is correct. It is arrogant in the extreme for the Western breeder to point to the Saluki standard of any country and say “this is more correct” than the native breeder.

What is ‘pure’ anyways? If it looks and acts and produces offspring that look and act like Salukis, is it then a Saluki? How many generations of breeding define ‘pure?’ Three? Five? Twenty? It seems to me, that ‘pure’ in the Western context means the dog has a known ancestry for many generations and can be shown. Even if DNA evidence were to show that the brindle in Salukis came from another breed, you still have the question: how long does it take for the dog to be ‘pure?’ Is 99.9% pure still impure? Seems a silly contention, to me. And what if the genes show evidence of other breeds, evidence not visible due to color or pattern? What will the purity police do then? I can hear the heads exploding.

As something of an outsider (I have only been keeping Salukis for fifteen years, and I have no interest in showing them in conformation), I find it highly ironic that the Saluki standard is held up as ’embracing the variety inherent in the Saluki’, but this contentious arguing goes on regarding brindles. Very funny. Also quite hilarious is the fact that not only do Salukis have a great deal of genetic diversity, probably more than any other breed, they also have a way to increase that diversity, by registering COO dogs, and yet breeders quibble about something as cosmetic as color, based on a standard not even written in the countries of origin. Strange priorities.

In addition to Salukis, I own both Afghans and Azawakh. All brindle in the Western Afghan comes from a single imported bitch, Pushum. No doubt if Pushum had never made it to the UK, the Afghan standard would exclude brindle, even though there are photographs of brindles in Afghanistan. How lucky we are to have had Pushum!  Azawakh are not quite so lucky. In it’s native Sahel, the Azawakh exists in a huge variety of colors, including parti-color; the FCI standard, unfortunately allows only light sable to dark fawn, with white required on all four feet. Brindling is acceptable. Like the Saluki, the Azawakh occurs across a large geographical area, and varies quite a bit in type. The FCI standard limits the gene pool for no good reason at all. I frequently hold the FCI standard up to show how pig-headed the ‘purebred’ dog community can be. How sad to see some in the Saluki community act the same way.

Steve again. See also this site. The way to really drive an AKC fancier of salukis or show Afghans to frothing at the mouth is to note calmly that every breed of Oriental sighthound can be found as coat type in one litter in a random peasant village in Afghanistan.

Is this a mongrel??

Dog Rant

The Lady With the Black Dogs (who happen to be “real” fierce staunch old- fashioned Afghans, rare today) sent me a note and a link, knowing it would provoke me and push all my buttons on genetics, bombast, and bullshit, not to mention on the kind of dog commercialism that makes AR types try to ban “backyard” breeders like me.

She gave me a link and wrote: “This bitch [the hound!- SB] is apparently desert bred – brought back by a GI … the woman is trying to make a lot of money apparently … didn’t know if you’d seen it or not …”

I have no intention of giving her a link and further publicity, though I am sure anyone here could use Google and find the site. I just want to present the issues to an intelligent audience, and sad experience has taught me there is no arguing with people who make statements like the ones below. What follows is a mildly edited version of what I sent to TLWTBD:

Re: And Now – Saluki-Doodles …. words fail me.

Well, not really

Eagle predation on pronghorn fawns

On July 1, as I drove down a two-tract road on the sheep allotment, I came upon two golden eagles on the ground. The raptors rose heavily into the air, weighed down by a recent meal. I drove straight to the spot in the sagebrush where the eagles had been grounded, and discovered the fresh remains of a pronghorn antelope fawn. This predation event was about three and one-half miles from a similar occurrence I witnessed on June 21. That earlier event also involved two golden eagles, and I’ve every reason to assume it was the same two. I photographed the eagles and the remains of the fawns in both events. If these two eagles are keying on pronghorn fawns, imagine the success they could have in this vast sagebrush steppe.

I wondered what the impact of eagle predation on fawns is in areas with abundant eagle populations. Sheep producers in eastern Wyoming have told us that golden eagles sometimes take a big toll on their lamb crops, until pronghorn fawning begins and the eagles switch to fawns. I see golden eagles frequently on the sheep allotment, even perched on hillsides above the sheep, but am thankful to report we haven’t had any problems with them. I think the fact that our guardian dogs don’t like big birds has something to do with it.

Note from the range

As the days grow hot in summer, the hillsides erupt in pink beauty – the rock rose, or bitterroot blooms. The bitterroot is a completely nondescript presence until it blankets the sagebrush steppe with its colorful spray, ranging from white to bright pink. This year the landscape is honored with deep pink flowers. Although delicate in appearance, the bitterroot is actually a succulent plant, with carrot-like roots that provide for water storage, allowing the plant to thrive in desert or semi-desert regions. The bitterroot was once an important food source for Plains Indians, who dug them up in the spring and peeled and boiled the roots before eating them.

Birds that nested earlier in the spring are now tending to their broods, as my recent trip to a nearby spring revealed. The spring is surrounded by a high-walled earthen reservoir, so I never know what animals I’m going to meet up with until I come over the top of the reservoir and the meeting occurs. Earlier this week, I came over the top to find a half-dozen killdeer chicks scurrying around on the ground, wading through water on their long legs, and generally making the two mothers that accompanied them very nervous. One of the females took to the air, flying close to my head as she let out a shrill call, while the other dropped into the broken-wing ploy. I apologized to the harried mothers and backed out of the situation, laughing at the trouble I can get myself into without even trying.

Late yesterday afternoon the wind picked up and the skies threatened a storm, and I arrived at the spring to find one of the killdeer hens hunched down, with six extra legs sticking out from her wing feathers. Three of her babes were huddled underneath the hen, seeking shelter from the weather. Although I’d seen domestic chickens do something similar during a rainstorm, I was pleasantly surprised at the eight-legged hen I met at the spring.