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Guardian Animals – Practical Insights from Dorper Producers


Dorper mothers are renowned for being fiercely protective of their young. However, the threat of predators – foxes, feral pigs and others – pose enormous risks to the animals at their most vulnerable times – mothering. We asked our members to share their insights into how they use guardian animals protect their flock. Here is what they had to say.



Coutts Crossing, NSW

“We have been raising Dorpers for 20 years in an area where wild dogs/dingoes are an inevitable periodic threat to livestock. We initially tried alpacas to protect our flock and found them huddled in the middle of the mob of ewes with dead lambs scattered around following a dog attack. We have since increased our reliance on Maremma guardian dogs. Packs of dogs in excess of six are not rare and so having several Maremmas with each mob is critical for effectiveness. To be effective, Maremmas must be bonded with sheep from eight weeks of age. If they are not properly bonded with sheep from eight weeks, you are likely to have difficulty getting them to stay with the sheep.  Alpacas or Llamas are likely valuable guardians in protecting sheep from foxes and individual dogs but for groups of wild dogs we found they are simply not a reliable guardian.”



Coomboona, VICT

“We have been using Maremmas, six donkeys and a Lama with our goats and sheep for about 20 years now. All work well. The donkeys work best in a group, and they will form a circle around the goats (does) when close to kidding. When kidding is complete, they will call out to let you know of the new arrivals. The Lama is happy living with the older bucks and has chased away cattle from the neighboring property after they jumped the fence into our paddock. Our dogs have their own routines and ways of working with their groups. All the dogs, donkeys and lamas are used to each other, and we have not experienced any problems with them being together. Overall, I would highly recommend any of these for herd guardians.”



Big Hill, NSW

“We use Maremma dogs and have found, as with all guardians, they have their pros and cons. My reason for choosing Maremmas over alpacas is why would I have a shedding breed of sheep and then have a guardian animal that requires shearing – and is also not easy to shear either.

Additionally, we have noticed Alpacas seem ineffective against larger feral dogs or at keeping feral pigs out of the paddocks.  We live in an area where there are plenty of unprofessional weekend hunters and we are within close range to some bigger population areas. Unfortunately, this opens the area up to having escaped “hunting dogs” and dumped unwanted pet dogs as well.

These animals create or join other packs of wild dogs and become problems in the region. We have observed over time that the Maremma’s presence has meant now there is less of a feral pig presence in the paddocks, which in turn means less pasture damage, worm spread and unexplained loss of stock.

Before we started using Maremmas we had lost ewes lambing on their own due to feral pigs taking them as an opportunity feed.  Maremmas also chase off crows and wedgetails that are looking to take advantage of a lambing ewe or take young lambs away from their mothers. Additionally, their skill in minding the lambing ewes is nothing short of commendable.”



Denison, VIC

“We have found donkeys are risky guardians. More of them appear to kill or neglect their sheep than protect them. They also require handling and some hoof maintenance if the ground is soft. An annual tetanus injection is recommended, as they are quite susceptible, as well as drenching when necessary.

Alpacas can be hit and miss. It comes down to the temperament of the individual animals. Both single and paired or even larger numbers of alpacas have been used successfully to guard sheep. They need to be sheared, drenched, hooves trimmed and a vitamin injection annually, and many shearers do not like doing them. They do not seem to eliminate losses, but a good one/pair will certainly keep the majority of lambs safe.

Good Maremmas are extremely effective and can guard sheep and lambs from foxes, wild dogs and eagles. They often require strong fencing with an electric component to keep them from wandering and may disturb closer neighbours with constant night barking.

Good Maremmas can just about eliminate losses completely, but many take up to two years to mature into their duties and learn to guard. They require the same basic health care as any other dog and usually farm vets (if willing) are better for administering routine treatments, as Maremmas are often sensitive and don’t cope well with long trips to the vet unless socialised to this from a young age.”



Willawarrin, NSW

“We have a stud in bushland mid north Coast NSW.  The area has a high population of dingo and wild dogs and foxes.  They can gain access around the waterways, so we need protective animals despite the fencing. Since introducing Alpacas, Maremmas, and wild dog fencing we have not lost any of our flock.”

Sonia Lovemore, ALGOA DORPERS

Dubbo, NSW

“We started with a Maramma dog that worked very well until he went through the fence and was killed by a vehicle. We then tried Alpacas which we have used successfully for about 15 years. We were told to have a pair, however this failed as they stayed together and not with the sheep, but they become distressed when separated.

We therefore found having one with the flock is the most successful. The alpaca will chase the working dog until it has become acquainted with the dog.”


Helen Darlington, YARRABEE DORPERS

Goombungee, QLD

“I have been including Maremma guardian dogs as an essential part of my operation for more than 25 years.  For the first half of that time, the dogs guarded only goats, but since the start of my Dorper enterprise in early 2011, the dogs have also guarded sheep.

It is possible to encourage dogs used to guarding goats, to also guard sheep, but if they have grown up with goats, they are fairly disinterested in sheep, especially if both species are in the same paddock. From the experience I have gathered, it is best to avoid having sheep and goats in the same paddock, for optimum protection using Maremma guardian dogs.”



Moonbi, NSW

“I’ve been using Maremmas for about 8 years. I find them incredibly useful, and they never cease to amaze me!

I currently have 13, some are adults and I have some young bitches in training.

Some I run in pairs, and others are free rangers and constantly roam and put themselves in paddocks where they think they are needed. As example if there are ewes lambing, you’ll always find them with the ewes and the lambs.

They all have totally different personalities and traits.

I choose what bitches to breed from and are very selective on a sire. My Maremmas have proven themselves time and time again with many people coming back to purchase pups from me to add to their operations.”


2023 DSSA Journal, Page 36 – 37.



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