When we first started raising working Great Pyrenees puppies, our dogs went almost exclusively to sheep and goat farms or occasionally to guard cattle herds. But initially, we fielded no requests at all for poultry dogs.
Fast forward to today, and sometimes as many as half the pups in a single Uptown Farms litter are being sent to farms to actively guard birds. Below are some considerations we share with our customers who are looking for poultry or small animal guardians. Please note, we do currently have birds at Uptown Farms, but this is a combination of advice and tips from our customers through the years who have successfully developed poultry dogs. For information on bringing home a livestock guardian, please refer here.
1. Start with a working dog. Starting with a working pup is the most important step for whatever type of working dog you are needing. A working pup is one that comes from actively working parents, not just parents who have “working lines”. If the parents are not actively working, and the pup is not exposed from birth to livestock, the chances of developing a reliable working dog are much, much slimmer. Although there’s some important steps a working dog owner must take, a working dog is not trained to guard, that is instinct and is already there. A working dog owner simple assists in the development of that instinct. Working pups should have been born and raised outside or in barns with livestock, not in houses or garages. The parents should be with livestock, working as well. Many working pups, including those at Uptown Farms, are raised with minimized human interaction – they are comfortable with humans, but they do not seek out people for attention. Instead, they are more interested in their mother, littermates and their livestock. More human socialization will occur as the pup gets a bit older.
Poultry dogs should come to their farms as close to 8 weeks as possible. We fully understand you will have breeders placing older pups and some breeders may argue that is best, but in our experience most poultry dogs need to be taught that birds are not dinner and if they stick too close to mom for too long, they will learn to hunt. They will also learn more aggressive play behavior with their littermates the older they get, and this will be replicated on the birds.
2. Tell the breeder you are looking for a poultry dog. Almost everyone who contacts us for the first time reaches out with a request for a certain size or colored puppy. Although we fully understand people have certain ideals in their mind when looking for a working dog, you will be much better served to pay attention to things like sociability, temperament towards litter mates , interest in livestock.
Ideally, you will inform your breeder some of the key things about your farm or ranch, and the breeder will assist in that decision. At Uptown Farms, we sort which pups go where closer to 8 weeks of age. This isn’t a science, but it does serve our customers much better in the long run than having people attempt to pick a puppy out from a photo of a litter of puppies that are 2 weeks old.
We try to avoid placing the alfa females on poultry farms and any pups that play more aggressively with their litter mates. When a pup is first placed around birds, they often see the birds as litter mates and will replicate behavior exhibited with their siblings. A pup that was aggressive with litter mates is more likely to exhibit the same behavior towards birds, and that can be time consuming to correct. However, even pups who were not aggressive with litter mates may become more rambunctious in their play with birds. This behavior should be corrected immediately.
3. Establish home base before pup arrives. Home base is our term for where the dog will eat, rest and consider his home. For a successful bonding, home base should be as close to the animals as possible. However, unlike with other types of livestock, we do not recommend direct access to the birds for the pup. (A livestock dog will need direct access to his animals upon arriving at his farm). We recommend setting up a small crate that the pup can be housed in at night for the first few evenings at home. The crate will provide additional security as well as direction on where home base is. Working pups will take great comfort being near their animals, even if the birds are a different type of stock than what he was used to before.
The most common mistake people make when bringing home their pup is thinking the puppy is too small to be left at his home base. Instead, they bring the pup to the house or garage. This makes it difficult to transition the pup to where he belongs and impedes the bonding process. You are actually putting a puppy under more stress moving him into an unfamiliar area like a garage or house as compared to putting him into a barn that has sights, sounds and smells much more familiar to him. The cold is not an issue for a Pyrenees pup as long as he can get out of the wind.
4. Make arrangements for food and water. We recommend free choice food and water for working dogs and always away from where livestock or birds can access it. If a working dog thinks they have to protect their food from their flock, it will alter the relationship between dog and stock. On our farm, we keep self feeders in the aisles that always have dog food in them.
5. Start to work on the bonding process. In addition to the dog not having direct access to his flock, developing the bond is the next biggest difference between poultry guardians and livestock guardians. You will start the process of bringing the pup to the birds supervised only. Most producers start supervised, on leash visits. Any sign of mouthing or playing with birds needs to be sternly corrected. This is expected behavior – because of the size of the birds, pups will most often associate them more with their litter mates than their livestock. They will learn quickly though and the more supervised time they spend with the birds the more they will understand correct interaction with them.
Discourage any bad behavior with scolding and encourage behavior such as ignoring the birds, calmly walking among the birds, or lying down in the pen and ignoring the birds, with rewards and praise.
Eventually, people remove the leash but continue supervised visits with the birds. Most poultry producers do not recommend unsupervised access to the birds until the pup is 18 – 24 months of age. This does mean your birds have no protection until that point. Most poultry farms are small enough acreage that the scent and sound of the dog offers ample protection. The dog should still be guarding outside the bird areas and is only limited in direct, unsupervised access to the birds.
6.Human socialization begins within a few days of bringing a pup home. Poultry dogs, by nature of their development, tend to have more frequent human interaction than many of their livestock guarding counterparts. We still encourage all early interactions (before 6 months of age) to happen near home base or in with the birds to allow bonding to happen with the animals. If human interaction happens away from home base and the birds, the dog is likely to bond more strongly to his human companions and in the absence of his humans, wander off looking for them or become very nervous when he cannot see them. Instead, by properly allowing him to bond to his animals, he will be very happy to see his humans, but his guarding instincts will be reflected onto the animals, and he will not be under stress when he cannot see his people.
Ultimately, developing a working dog into a reliable poultry guardian takes a few key things - start with a dog bred and started right, supervise the dog with the birds well past his puppy stages, and give yourself and him plenty of grace and patience. Guarding poultry is not as natural to the Pyrenees as other types of livestock, but if you understand the dog’s instincts and work with them, you’ll have yourself a guardian worth his weight in gold. 🐓
It’s fall! Around here that means harvest and our harvest isn’t just corn and soybeans, but pumpkins as well.
Below is one of our very favorite pumpkin recipes. Two things to note regarding this recipe - the extra work of using fresh pumpkin purée is 100% worth it and although this is a great dish for your cast iron skillet, it can also be prepared in a cake pan.
Fresh Pumpkin Crisp
Fresh pumpkin purée recipe can be found here.
Fresh Pumpkin Filling:
2 cups fresh pumpkin purée (You can substitute one 15 oz. can of pumpkin purée)
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2/3 cup milk or heavy cream
2 cups flour
1.5 cups sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick of butter, melted
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray and flour a cast iron skillet or cake pan.
2. Whisk together all filing ingredients except the milk. Slowly add milk, whisking as you pour. The mixture will be very runny. Pour this into your prepared baking dish.
3. In a clean bowl, mix together dry topping ingredients until well mixed. Add butter and mix with fork until crumbly. Topping will be dry but crumbly. Evenly spread this on top of the filling in baking dish.
4. Bake for 45 minutes. Crisp is done when firm set.
Best served warm, with vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!
Making fresh pumpkin purée is easy and delicious. It can be frozen for long term storage as well.
Different pumpkins will have different tastes, color and texture, so if you feel adventurous, try a few different types. The seed flavor and texture can vary as well, making for a fun and unique snack if you like roasted pumpkin seeds.
The classic pie pumpkins are smaller, orange pumpkins as pictured above. If you are buying from the farm, ask the growers what their favorites are!
Fresh Pumpkin Purée
What you need:
1. Preheat over to 375 degrees.
2. Remove pumpkin stem and slice in half.
3. Clean the middle of pumpkins out. Set aside seeds for roasting if you’d like.
4. Lay pumpkins meat side down on pan.
5. Bake for 45 minutes or until tender.
6. Clean skin off pumpkins.
7. Use a food processor or blender to purée pumpkin.
8. If pumpkin is too try, add water 1 tablespoon at a time. If pumpkin is too wet, drain excess water.
“There’s always fence to be fixed.”
People say this all the time about life on a farm.
I don’t know if I heard it before I married a farmer or not. But if I did, I didn’t get it. Much like a lot of the people who say it, I wouldn’t have understood just how true it is. I didn’t know it wasn’t an over exaggeration in the least. If I had understood that, I might have thought twice before I said , “I do.”
But true it is. Fence isn’t a one and done kind of thing. You put it up. You fix it. You adjust it. Weeds and trees grow into it. You tear it down and build it new. Just when you do that a crazy cow comes along and rips it all down.
So, you put on your gloves and put it up again.
Fence goofs up all sorts of plans when it doesn’t work right. It makes a person sore, and tired when they have to fix it. Only a handful of people are left in this country that are willing to deal with it.
But that handful are unlikely to give it up for much of anything. It’s in their blood. They need the work. The sweat. The sore.
A few years into this life and I hated fence. I would have told a woman to run like hell from a man who thought he needed it around.
But time has a way of bringing perspective.
And now I’d tell you this.
Hang on tight to any man with the patience, the strength, and the sheer grit to lead a life of building, fixing, and redoing fence. It’s a job that never ends, never gets any easier, and often leaves you exhausted and sore. The only reward comes from knowing you’ve done what you could, in the time you have, for what you’ve got.
And if he can do that for fence, you’d better believe he will do that for you too.
Monday morning I was curled up at my desk, and glanced down at my hand.
My heart stopped.
My diamond. Gone. What?
My mind started racing to where it could be. The morning before at church, I remembered spinning my ring around my finger while our preacher was challenging us. The diamonds were there.
But since then? Oh Lord help me.
I’d been picking pumpkins in a 3 acre pumpkin patch. I’d been all over the house, the farm, in with the calves and the lambs, the goats.
I’d gotten up and run 5 miles around town and been back to work around the house.
It was hopeless. There was no way I’d find it. Feeling that weight, I closed my eyes and I prayed.
And instantly felt foolish. And guilty.
Who am I to pray over a lost rock?
Here I am, sitting in almost new house on a farm we’re blessed to call ours. My family is healthy, our crops are good, I get paid to do work that I love. Our bellies are full, our bodies are clothed.
And I have the audacity to ask God to be concerned with my diamond?
There’s a global pandemic. An election. Injustices. Cancer. Hunger. Slavery.
And I bothered Him with my diamond.
Now granted, it’s not just any diamond. It’s the diamond that the man of my dreams spent an entire summer stashing cash away in a safe to be able to buy. A rock he gave me when we were to young and dumb to have anything figured out beyond the fact we loved each other. It’s the rock that sits on the ring I’ve only taken off three times since he gave to me: once when it was getting attached to my wedding band, twice when I swelled up from carrying his children so much that it wouldn’t fit.
But still. It’s a rock.
And God has bigger problems to be concerned with than a rock.
I text Matt. I made a note to call the insurance agent. I cried. Then I got up to get some more coffee. I’d have to worry about it later.
On my way upstairs I swung into my bedroom to grab a notebook. On the way back out I noticed I’d left the lamp on, so I went to switch it off and a small glisten on the floor caught my eye.
There, deep in the carpet, was my diamond.
I laughed at myself. Thinking this was too small of a problem for Him. Thinking that he couldn’t balance carrying the weight of the world with also helping me find my diamond. Thinking that he didn’t have time.
That’s not God.
That’s me, projecting my human inadequacy onto God.
“But in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6
Every situation. Even a lost diamond.
“Maybe when I’m done with college I can come back and run the pumpkin patch for you Mom. Because you’ll be old, right?”
Our oldest asked, while helping to harvest pumpkins this weekend. And although I will definitely not be “old” when he is done with college, it melts my heart that he talks about wanting to come home to the farm.
Bringing children back to the farm isn’t an easy, or automatic thing. Generating enough income to support another family is a huge hurdle, one that almost any small business owner can understand.
So although it’s by no means a guarantee, right now we take as many steps as possible to move in the right direction of securing an opportunity for both our boys here, should they elect to pursue it.
That looks like this:
1 - Diversification: From cash crops of corn and soybeans to cattle and sheep and now the pumpkin patch and corn maze, the more diverse we can make the income streams here the better we can weather the ups and downs of agriculture. We also want the boys to see that farming can take on hundreds of different forms so hopefully they’ll continue like their Daddy to think outside the box on this business.
2 - Conservation: Every decision we make around here is ultimately about being good stewards of the resources God is allowing us to manage. We have to protect our land and water and everything surrounding it to protect the boys’ future opportunities on this farm. Our goal is that this farm is in better shape when they take over than when we started here.
3 - Hard Work: If they want to come back home and be happy, they have to learn now that pleasure and contentment can be found in long days and hard work because although farming changes daily, one thing that will never change is the hours and sweat it takes. If they can learn to find joy in dirty hands and a sore body, they’ll be better set mentally to succeed here.
We don’t know what the future holds. But if the boys want to come home, we’ll do like any farm family we know and work everyday to try and make it a possibility.
We are laying out the red carpet for our guests...
Well actually it’s green. Or it will be, once it comes up.
It’s our goal when people visit our farm that they not only have fun, but that they also learn just a bit about modern agriculture. When visitors make their way through our corn maze, they’ll be walking along a path seeded with a combination of cover crops.
Although we hand seeded the maze paths, the rest of our fields are seeded by an airplane flying over top, a tractor and drill, or a broadcast application.
Cover crops are grown on our fields in between the cash crops (corn and soybeans for us) to keep our soils and the millions of organisms that live in them healthy. Cover crops also hold our soil in place, minimizing harmful impact from erosion and protecting water quality.
But for our corn maze visitors? The immediate benefit is that even on wet days they won’t have to walk in mud!
Come see us for some outdoor, socially distanced fun (and learning) in October!
Here’s a view you rarely get from a drive-by of a soybean field! Our beans are flowering right now and are beautiful up close but the flowers are harder to see from farther away. The varieties of soybeans we plant have purple or white flowers, others can have pink flowers.
Estimates are that somewhere between 60-70% of the flowers will abort, with the remaining turning into the pods we will harvest in the fall to be made into soybean meal (mostly for animals) and oils (cooking and biofuels).
The rumors are true.
I thought we had gotten over this conversation the last go round, but I’ve got two boys so I understand the stay ability of a good fart story.
Cows burp too, which actually releases way more methane than their farting but isn’t nearly as fun to talk about (apparently).
You know what else is true?
Cow farts do smell. Bad.
Farmers have already worked their tails off to shrink our total footprint - production agriculture makes up less only 10% of total GHG emissions and we are on track to reducing that even more.
You know what might be true?
Feeding lemon grass to cows MIGHT reduce their release of methane. Contrary to Burger King’s cringe worthy new song, we don’t actually know because as the lead researchers at UC Davis explained - The study isn’t done yet!
You know what definitely isn’t true? Cows being the problem and whoppers being the solution (burgers or lies).
Cows are not the problem. Our total ag industry makes up only 10% of emissions and only a fraction of that is from cows themselves.
Buying a whopper will NOT make a difference in our drive as a nation to become more sustainable or reduce our impact. All of us want to do something to make a difference and Burger King is trying to manipulate our desire to do good into more sales for them. Don’t fall for that type of advertising.
Farmers and ranchers are committed to raising food better. That means raising more food, more safely, with more quality - on less. Less impact, less resources, less emission. We’ve been moving the needle on this for decades and we will continue to get better each day.
If the science ends up showing that lemongrass reduces cow farts in a meaningful way you can bet we will be on board - we are, after all, the ones that wall behind them everyday at the feed bunks!
In the meantime, why don’t we let Burger King stick with grilling whoppers instead of telling them and let farmers and ranchers focus on raising beef.
The lightning must have woke me up. It was pitch black, early, early morning. I turned an ear to the window and heard the steady fall of a good rain. I checked the radar on my phone to confirm it - a solid zone of green and yellow, and fell back to a peaceful sleep.
Before I married a farmer I didn’t pay much attention to rain, other than when it interrupted my plans.
Over a decade into this union, my ear is fairly well trained at identifying rains. There’s storms that blow in loud and obnoxious but don’t actually deliver much in the way of water. There’s rains that come drizzling in that barely get the ground wet. There’s rain that comes so hard and fast most of it will rush off into the ditches without ever seeing the roots of our crops.
Then there’s good rains. They are long and steady and completely ground penetrating. You can almost always hear the difference in just a second of listening.
For us, this rain was critical. This was the difference in getting to play or being put on the bench.
There’s few things that bring an engulfing peace like a good rain when it’s badly needed.
Kate Lambert grew up in northern Illinois, not on a farm but active in FFA and showing livestock.
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