Guard dogs are seeing off foxes and badgers to protect one Somerset farm’s poultry population

An experiment using guard dogs to protect poultry on one Somerset farm is going great guns

A fascinating agricultural experiment in Somerset is taking place, as a farmer is training up two specially-bred puppies to protect his poultry.

Oliver White had seen for himself how Maremma Sheepdogs worked to protect sheep, poultry and even cows while studying in the US.

Back home and running his own business Farm2Fork at Greenway Farm near Ilminster, Mr White found his poultry being taken in broad daylight. Having unsuccessfully tried using alpacas, he was determined to locate some guard dogs to see whether they would be able to do the job.

‘The Maremma Sheepdogs we needed to get hold of are rare in the UK,’ Mr White told Country Life. ‘People breed them as show dogs but not often as working dogs.The breed is from Italy, where the dogs have been used to protect sheep flocks from wolves since Roman times.’

He eventually found two Maremma puppies for sale online, and has been training them up slowly, and socialising them with the rest of the farm.

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Oliver White from Farm2Fork and his Maremma puppies

‘We have been taking it little by little, acclimatising the dogs, and making sure they get to know the geese under supervision while they’re still puppies.. they are currently in a pen within a pen,’ Mr White explains.

‘But they are guard dogs through and through; it’s in their blood and you can see that what they really want to do is to protect the animals they are around. The most at risk points for our geese are dawn and dusk, and the puppies sleep often during the day and are at their most alert at night.’

Mr White says he believes the Maremma breed could have many uses in the UK beyond poultry protection. For instance they could be enormously helpful to farmers where re-wilding threatens sheep populations; he also adds that, anecdotally, the dogs seem to keep badgers away, which could be an enormous help to dairy farmers in the south west.

It is early days, but there are hopes that on Greenway Farm at least, there will be fewer geese disappearing from under their owners’ noses thanks to the efforts of the new canine residents there.

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