Monday, March 03, 2008

My gentle giant

I call McComb my gentle giant. McComb is my Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dog. He lives with my Katahdin sheep. He'll be four years old this summer. I've never regretted getting him.

McComb takes his name from McComb, Mississippi, where I got him in the fall of 2004. My parents and I were attending the annual meeting of Katahdin Hair Sheep International. Someone had brought a litter of Great Pyrenees puppies to sell. I couldn't resist picking the puppies up. Who could? They were big balls of white flufff, with gorgeous eyes.

McComb as an adorable puppyAt the time, I was considering getting a livestock guardian, but hadn't decided yet between a dog, a llama, or a donkey. It goes without saying that a dog is a big responsibility, one that will be with you for 10 or more years. I already had a pet dog, Sly, an 85-lb. Black Lab x German Shepherd mix. I wasn't sure I wanted another big dog, even if it was going to live with the sheep (and the goats that I had at the time). Plus, I didn't want to drive a puppy all the way back to Maryland. My mother certainly didn't want to share her ride with a yappy canine.

My fellow Katahdin breeders were encouraging me to buy a puppy. I told them I wasn't sure if I wanted one. Then I said, if I was meant to have one, there would be some kind of "signal." Perhaps, lightening would strike. I'd know the sign when it came. As the event was drawing to a close, one puppy remained. No one had bought it. One of the Katahdin breeders said this was the signal. I should get the puppy. Still unsure, I resisted.

Not wanting to take any puppies home, the breeder donated the unsold puppy to the Katahdin association, to be auctioned off during the business meeting with the proceeds going to the association. As the bidding started, I remained silent and held my arms crossed. I was not going to buy that puppy, even one as cute as McComb.

The president of our association started the bidding at $20 and said he was going to give me the puppy. Several others joined in the bidding, with the same intention. I don't remember what the final price was, but McComb was mine, compliments of Katahdin Hair Sheep International. How could I have refused the puppy? My mom thought I could. He came with a box of toys and food -- and a name.

McComb loves snowWe bought a dog crate, a leash, some dishes, and puppy food at the local Kmart. It was going to take us two days to drive home to Maryland. We picked McComb up on a Sunday morning, in the pouring down rain. Not long after we left, McComb started to wimper and cry. It was going to be a long trip. My mom was probably thinking, "I told you so."

We took McComb out of his crate and let him stretch out on the floor of the car. This contented him. He didn't make any more sounds. Sometimes, we would hold him on our laps. He walked on the leash without any coercing. When we stopped, he did his business quickly. He was frightened by the big trucks that went whizzing by. While we slept in the hotel, McComb slumbered in his crate. He was an excellent travel companion. My mother was amazed. What a good puppy he was turning out to be.

When I got McComb home, I placed him in a pen (in my hoop house) by himself for a week or so. It's good to raise a guardian puppy with baby lambs, but it was October and all I had left were two adolescent ram lambs and a wether kid. I put McComb with the lambs and goat. He got knocked around a few times, but eventually they accepted each other. McComb liked licking their butts and perhaps they liked it, too.

After the lambs and goat were sold, McComb went in with the ewes. He spent much of his first winter under the hay feeders, trying to determine his role on the farm. He was intimidated by the goats, who were always trying to eat his food. McComb liked when the new lambs came. The lambs always accept him as one of their own. They play with him and he with they.

McComb the livestock guardianMcComb was an adorable puppy. After I put some pictures of him on Flickr™, he was named "puppy of the week" by a web site. He grew rapidly. His rate-of-gain was comparable to that of a lamb or goat. Full grown, he is a magnificent looking dog, true to his noble heritage. The last time I weighed him, he was 106 lbs. His fur is 5 to 6 inches long. He stays relatively clean for an outside dog. I had him clipped this past summer. He had a couple of hot spots on his hind legs. His fur grew back rapidly. I think I'll have him clipped every summer to make him more comfortable and allow his fur to regrow.

McComb loves cold weather and the snow. After all, his breed is meant to live in the mountains. While he always has access to shelter, McComb prefers to lie in the snow or on the cold ground. During the summer, he sleeps under the trees or other places where he can find relief from the heat.

The only problem I've had with McComb was when he was about a year old. There was a lamb whose front legs were scarred. I suspected McComb had caused the injury. He wouldn't leave the lamb 's side. So, I took McComb away from the lambs and used the opportunity to have him neutered. I also had his back declaws removed. I don't put him in with ram lambs anymore. They are too frisky. Sometimes, they try to mount him. I guess you can't blame McComb for biting back.

In another incident, a lamb was running and collapsed (it died of unknown cause). McComb ran to the lamb and stayed with it until I came, as if he knew it needed my help. A neighbor related this to me. She was amazed at McComb's response to the incident. In fact, watching McComb relate to the sheep and lambs is one of the greatest enjoyments of having him. His relationship with them seems so natural.

At one time, I thought McComb was chasing the ewes too much. It was during breeding season, so I was doubly concerned. Then I realized that the ewes often run when he's running, but not after them. During the lambing season, the ewes are very brave towards him, but the rest of the year, they try to keep some distance. The lambs always trust him. He is one of them. Eventually, all of the flock will have grown up with him.

Sometimes, McComb slips through an open gate. He's taken a few strolls around the neighborhood. He's got an ideal life for a dog, but sometimes I think he longs to know what life is like outside of the fence. He always comes back -- if I don't catch him first.

McComb the magnificentMcComb has an incredible personality. He is sweet and gentle. He does his job well. He patrols the perimeter of the pasture. Nothing approaches the perimeter fence without his notice. Usually, he runs to whatever or whoever is near the fence. He follows the neighbors as they drive up their driveways. At night, he barks a lot. It took me awhile to get used to the barking, but now it's soothing to me. The sheep don't seem to mind. The neighbors have never complained.

Everybody loves McComb -- my family (especially my mom), neighbors, and everyone who visits my farm. McComb loves people, especially children. He gets along well with my pet dog, Zak, and my cat, Max. On occasion, I put Zak and McComb together to play. Sometimes, Max joins them. I give McComb a treat every morning. Sometimes, I sit with him and stroke his fur. Sometimes, we play. He romps around like a huge, goofy puppy.

I give more attention to McComb than I could if I had a large farm. But since the farm is small (40 ewes and 7 acres of pasture) and he can't get out of the high-tensile, electric fence, I can give him a little bit (maybe a lot) of attention. After all, he's my gentle giant.

Pictures of McComb on Flickr™


Steven Martin said...

Susan, Nice pics of McComb. I esp. like the one in the snow. This is your first Baalands post that I got automatically by way of my Bloglines RSS reader. Our lambs due next week, like yours. Please post when your first lamb arrives. Talk to you soon.
Steve (and Ruth) Martin

sparrowsandsparkles said...

that is all so cute!