WISDOM-One of the first programs in the west to protect livestock against wolves by using man's best friend is taking place on the Ruby Ranch near Wisdom.
These dogs not only buy time against the next wolf attack, they're also a good investment for the health of your livestock.
5/R Stock Dogs Herdsman Marvin Dunster says, "The dishonest predators are going to come in and challenge that perimeter and that's what we're trying to buy time for. We know it's going to happen. We're just trying to put it off as long as we can."
"They had 4 dead calves, and another one that the wolves had tore the utter off of and she died," says Ruby Ranch owner Heidi Hirschy.
She lost 17 head of cattle to wolves from April 2009 to April 2010.
Her ranch lies in the Big Hole Valley, which is no stranger to wolves.
"The Big Hole Valley has historically had wolf presence, we have had conflict in the valley," says Fish, Wildlife & Parks Wolf Management Specialist Nathan Lance.
Hirschy decided to make an investment to fight against wolf depredation.
She got in contact with a Billings dog breeder.
"These dogs are not bred to be killers, they're bred to be neutralizers," says Dunster.
He and his wife breed 5 types of dogs to fit each producer's needs.
The Ruby Ranch has 6 guard dogs. The canines generally follow and bond with cattle to ward off outside predators.
Dunster says, "Any time we place a dog with any producer, no matter what the situation is, the dogs presence is 90 percent of the success of what happens there."
Since Hirschy placed the guard dogs on her ranch, she has suffered only 1 depredation.
But her dogs can't cover the 6 mile area alone. Hirschy says, "My dogs need some help. They can't cover the whole valley."
"I think if we had another 2 or 3 ranchers get involved and everybody got 2 or 3 or 4 dogs it would relieve some of the pressure on the existing dogs," adds Dunster.
Guard dogs can also reduce the stress of your cattle herd. "They're not doctoring as many calves, they're not losing calves to pneumonia," says Hirschy.
Fish Wildlife and Parks and other organizations will continue to track the progress of the guard dog project. Montana State University and Utah State University are researching it also.
Dunster says he breeds his dogs for intellect and not aggression against wolves.
For more information on the dogs call 406 248-7060.
This story ran in the January 31 online edition of KXLF News.
Click here to read a bulletin published by the US Deptartment of Agriculture on Livestock Guarding Dogs.
Photo credit: David Chudnov