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TAMU honors unsung heroes of the livestock industry

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) are superstars in the canine world, even if they may never be seen performing live. 

These unique canines are imperative to the ranching industry and Texas A&M (TAMU) AgriLife Research and Extension Center in San Angelo, Texas created an entire program dedicated to these livestock protection professionals.

LGDs provide producers with a way to combat predators and save the lives of valuable sheep, goats, poultry and other livestock, which reduces financial losses associated with losing livestock. 

Utilizing LGDs

According to TAMU, until the turn of the century, LGDs were not popularly used nor needed in Texas, but coyotes and other predator populations have grown and now threaten the livelihoods of ranchers.

“Early settlers of major sheep and goat producing regions of Texas had nearly eradicated the common predators of small ruminants,” explains Reid Redden, TAMU AgriLife Extension Service specialist and associate director in the Department of Animal Science, in the October 2023 edition of AgriLife Today.

“When numbers of predators began to rise, most ranchers lacked the understanding of how to best manage LGDs under Texas ranching conditions,” he states.

“Predators took a toll on animal numbers, financially hurting ranchers and in turn, driving down livestock numbers while driving up costs for wool, meat and related products.”

The LGD Program in San Angelo, Texas was established to help address persistent predator problems by giving ranchers an alternative, cost-effective means of keeping livestock safe.

“We have seen lambing and kidding increase up to 100 percent in less than a year when a producer uses LGDs to protect their livestock versus trapping and other methods,” says AgriLife Extension LGD Specialist Bill Costanzo.

Increased survival rates for lambs and kids – often an easy meal for predators – show LGD’s direct impact to ranching operations’ bottom line.

Specialized breeds

LGDs have been utilized around the world for hundreds of years and have the natural instincts, temperament and talent to protect livestock.

On Feb. 15, TAMU AgriLife Extension hosted a LGD webinar focusing on the Maremma breed.

Sarah Letts, president of the Maremma Sheepdog Club of America, works with organizations to improve breeding practices and provide mentorship for those new to LGDs in general and to Maremmas in particular.

“The characteristics of close and intentional guarding, the general friendliness with people and the ease of training to poultry and other livestock are essential,” Letts says.

“Maremma dogs are a breed that work well as protection dogs for many varieties of livestock due to their style of close and intentional guarding.”

The Maremma breed originated in Italy, where it was used for thousands of years to protect flocks from predators – particularly wolves – sometimes known as the Maremmano-Abruzzi in Italy, where it was originally found.

The Maremma protects livestock through territorial marking, warning barks and when required, it will display protective behaviors. 

While the Maremma is not an aggressive breed, if a predator persists, it will protect its flock by force.

In November 2023, TAMU featured the Karakachan breed in their educational webinar.

Dr. Phillip Sponenberg, veterinarian and professor of pathology and genetics at the Virgnia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, in Blacksburg, Va., was the guest speaker.

“Sponenberg has played a direct role in establishing the Karakachan LGD in the U.S. through the initial importation of dogs and then serving as breed registrar until recently,” states Costanzo.

The Karakachan is a large dog evolving over many centuries from Bulgaria and its neighboring countries. 

“They are known to have patrolled local mountains, protecting livestock by warning off any predatory threats with deep, guttural growls and barks,” Sponenberg states. “These dogs are strong and courageous, and they would fight any predator without hesitation if it continued to pursue its prey.”

Guardian dog program

The TAMU AgriLife LGD Program was established in 2017, and in 2019, the LGD Bonding Project was formed. 

No other university or Extension system has a program as large and as effective as the one in place where AgriLife Extension specialists collaborate with TAMU AgriLife Research scientists and students.

These animal science experts study LGDs to improve all facets of their health, life and working success, from puppy to professional protector.

Redden noted the program was designed to dispel commonly held myths of LGDs, including that they cannot be socialized to people. The program was also implemented to improve best-management practices from weaning to adulthood so more dogs are trained and provided guidance and tools to do their job.

The ongoing research and educational programs done by AgriLife Extension and research helps ranchers and producers protect their livestock, not just in Texas, but across the U.S. 

Melissa Anderson is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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