After saying “I do” to a farmer I was dropped into a farmer’s world. In a farmer’s world, people work. And I mean work. From age 3 until age 93, they work, sunup to sundown, often seven days a week.
Conventional thought would tell you this would make a person miserable, drive them crazy even. People need a good work/life balance, heavy on the life, to be happy and healthy.
Yet, with my own eyes, I was witnessing the complete opposite.
Farmers, especially the old ones who had been around to see it all and still kept working, were genuinely happy people. Not “LOL” happy, but content. Farmers are people who work everyday and never really talk about quitting.
The more years I spend in their world, the more I’ve come to realize - work makes us happy. We need work.
While some of my generation is screaming for work/life balance - which is often slang for less work and more life- I am silently thinking, “You don’t need more life. You need more work.”
Work gives us purpose. It gives us meaning. It allows us to experience frustrations, accomplishments, joys and angers - all things that are uniquely human. Work forces us out of bed and out the door. Work keeps our minds fresh and bodies fit.
Now I’m still a millennial. So don’t hear me wrong. I don’t mean we need to spend 70 hours a week in a dark basement pushing papers for suits upstairs who don’t know our first names.
What I mean is that we need to find work worth pursuing. Work that matter to us, and to others. Work where we can draw a straight line between what we do and why it matters.
For some of us that might be our day jobs. For others, it might be the work we do before and after our day jobs - at home, in our communities.
Maybe it is a career with mission so powerful it lights a fire inside you. Maybe that work is volunteering for a cause that’s changing the world. Maybe that work is right in your home, raising babies that will someday move their own mountains.
Whatever it is, what we are all chasing isn’t a break. It isn’t a vacation (although the occasional one is good). It isn’t more time to sit or sleep or scroll Facebook.
What we are after, what our maker designed us to pursue, is work that matters. And when we find it, we should chase it like crazy. And then, when we are called home, we can look at God and say, “Father, I did the work you created me for. I did it well and I did for as long as you allowed.”
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” Colossians 3:23
On a farm, there’s ALWAYS work.
I try not to lose sight of the blessing that is for our family. Today, a snow day, it meant we could say yes when our oldest asked if he could go to work instead of going to daycare.
He’s had his eye on an expensive LEGO set and he’s looking for ways to earn a few more dollars for it.
So today, like a lot of farm kids, he will go to work. He will sweat a little. He’ll freeze a little. He will probably get hollered at a little and likely goof some things up.
More importantly, he will experience how good lunch tastes when you’ve been working longer than the sun. He will experience some pride in completing a job or two, and he will experience some frustration at failed tasks.
He will very likely learn a few things he shouldn’t, and hopefully a few things he should, from working side by side with Dad, Papa and Great-Grandpa all day. (Great Grandpa is really the one we have to watch.😉)
At the end of the day, he will walk away tired and dirty, but with a few more bucks towards a lego set that I’ll undoubtedly step on in the middle of the night.
And at the end of his childhood, built around days like this, he will walk into the world with a true grasp on the importance of showing up, working hard, and providing for himself and others.
“A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.” Proverbs 13:4
You’ve made the decision, you’ve found your pup, and you’re bringing a Great Pyrenees livestock guardian home! Now what...
The following are steps we recommend to our clients that are bringing a pup to their farm to serve as a livestock guardian.
These steps assume that your Great Pyrenees was bred as a working dog, comes from working parents and was imprinted and lived with livestock for his first 8 weeks of life.
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 livestock as possible, preferably with direct access to the animals (with the exception of poultry).
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 with their livestock - it’s where they were made to be.
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.
A working dog must always have access to food and water away from where the livestock can get to it. If stock smell dog food, they will try to eat it. Once a puppy thinks he has to protect his food from the livestock, he will no longer view them as part of his flock and instead will view them as a threat. A timid pup can be scared off by this and never bond correctly. An aggressive pup can start down the road of aggression towards livestock and also will not bond correctly.
We have self feeders in the walkways of our barns. Our dogs have access to dog food 24 hours a day, but never where sheep can get to it.
Working dogs will have spent their entire lives up to this point with livestock. They will have been imprinted from birth with the scents and sounds of their animals. Once your pup arrives home, an important process is starting - the critical bonding period. The pup, having been pulled from his litter mates, is now searching for his flock to bond with. The first weeks at his farm are the most crucial to establishing his bond.
If you expect your pup to be a working dog and truly bond to the livestock, he needs to be placed in his home base and spend nearly all of his time in the first few weeks with the animals. His human social time should always happen at home base but kept to a minimal during the first five days or so.
A dog who spends his time with his human family will bond with them, and view his humans as his flock. This is a great way to create a loyal family guardian and pet - but it is not a great way to create an loyal livestock dog.
A Pyrenees who bonds to his human family first will be less likely to engage in evening guarding of stock and more likely to wander during the day. Wandering often starts when a dog bonded to his human family goes off looking for them when they have left for the day.
This step will be done to different degrees at each farm, depending on expectations of the dog. At a minimum, most of us want to be able to catch our working dogs for health checks and routine vet care, although some of the best working dogs in the country are near impossible to catch.
After a week or so of minimal contact, it’s time to start introducing human interaction to your pup. You should have already been socializing some, but now you can increase the time spent and even have some play time. If your farm needs dogs to stay strictly with livestock, your human socialization will be minimal. If you’re wanting to enjoy companionship with your dog as well, you can gradually increase the time you spend with him.
Socialization time should still always occur at or near home base.
Some other quick tips to think about:
Good luck and enjoy your new security system! A good LGD is quite literally worth their weight in gold.
Kate Lambert grew up in northern Illinois, not on a farm but active in FFA and showing livestock.
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