Cota Farms' Blog

September 3, 2017

Changing of the Guard

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Our dogs are older now, they still work most nights but no more day shifts.  The coyotes and foxes became aware of this before me and helped themselves to a number of birds in the morning hours when the dogs were asleep.  This was a sure sign that it was time to bring in some younger dogs to carry the load.  We found these girls nearby…think I will call this sweet pooch Isis.

Ideally, they will be trained by our older girls Lursa and B’Etor.  We don’t live on an ideal farm though.  I’ve made a lot of mistakes with dogs in the past and I pray I have learned enough not to make many more.  Dogs are a lot like children, they both have this window of time when they are very young, when what they experience will shape how they behave from then on.  They are not like memory sticks that can be erased and rewritten. During this period of time, only a few weeks for dogs, they can be influenced to bond with other animals they live with and remain loyal, defending them with their lives. This is not true of all dogs, just those that have been bread for this purpose for many hundreds of years.  I love working dogs, they are amazing.

A child is even more malleable than a dog since they have no real instincts to draw on. For example, at a very early age a dog can, without any outside influence, feed itself and make a life, maybe even find a mate and reproduce.  A child will die of starvation unless there is food in front of him to eat, he can look but not hunt.  So the child is at the complete mercy of his mother for several years of his life; he has nothing else to draw on but what is placed in front of him.  However, once I’ve trained my dog in error, it is not likely that I can undo it and reset him to that very early time when he could be retrained. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!  This is true but I don’t think it has to apply to people.  We are much more vulnerable to influence by forces around us than a dog, and it is true that we can’t erase our memory for reprogramming, and it is also true that we are not born with instincts to help guide us but we do have one thing, we are born knowing the difference between right and wrong and if we desire can choose to act with honor.

March 3, 2014

Common Sense and Feeding Your Dogs Raw Meat – Part 3

While transitioning our dogs from having raw ground chicken in their diet and replacing that with leg quarters, we noticed a distinct rejection of the new alternative.  From some of what I have read they should have welcomed this new food.  Half of the dogs just could not seem to get the hang of it, one not even trying.   Our dogs are too important to us to just let this go; had we been thinking wrong?

I have to admit that when I offered this same chicken to the lot of them except this time I roasted it and striped the meat from the bones, they all gobbled it down.  I had even mixed in some old egg noodles.  The only difference from something I might prepare for myself was the lack of seasoning and mixing in the chicken fat.

I don’t know what this means but I am willing to employ a little dispassionate common sense to the problem.  You see the real problem is we tend to invest ourselves in a position we have chosen to take in the past and filter all new data thru the prism of not wanting to admit to being wrong, misinformed, not wanting to change.

In that spirit, I have observed from a number of different dogs, in different sizes and breeds, over several years’ time, that dogs do in fact prefer meat.  Furthermore, they do not as often as one might expect prefer it uncooked.  Also, I have noticed certain beneficial effects of feeding small amounts of cooked rice or pumpkin.  Additionally, there seems to be no ill effects from sometimes feeding macaroni and cheese mixed with a favorite meat.  I use these specific examples because of the enthusiasm in which the dogs eat those meals.

Of course roast chicken is not a balanced diet and we will continue to offer raw meat if for no other reason than to see if they eat it.  We will still feed organ meat as well but no longer ground, sliced instead.  We will offer it raw but if they don’t eat it we will cook it for them.  Our goal is to feed our dogs as best we can, see that they consume at least a minimal amount every day and if that means cooking for them, well, I would do no less for any farm workers we might employ.

May 22, 2013

Therapy Dogs

I have wondered about this for some time now.  I have heard so much…incorrect information about Therapy Dogs and their certification.  It is even more confusing as there are so many supposed therapy dog training organizations out there and the laws governing them are different in each state.  I decided to get the skinny and be done with it.  I suspected money was involved somewhere particularly since there does not seem to be a medical billing code for therapy dogs.

This next part will make me some enemies or rather it would if anyone actually read my blog.  I think I’m safe.  There really is no such thing as a therapy dog.  This whole thing with dogs has legitimacy only because of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  This federal law says that if you have a “service dog” you and your dog may not be denied access.  So what is a service dog?  Well that does not seem to be as important as how to get one and the only legal way to get one is with a prescription.  If your problem is all in your head then you can get a prescription for that too from your shrink and you can call him an “emotional comfort dog”, not a therapy dog.

There is even a law about what happens if you claim to have a service dog and she is not.  I imagine this is more about whether you have a legal script rather than the qualifications of the dog.

So then what does it mean when you see these “therapy dogs” walking around with their vest and patches attesting to their kind intentions?  It simply means that someone has spent time working with the dog and allows others to enjoy their company, probably for tips and treats.  If they are lucky they have found a nursing home or maybe even a hospital that will allow them to visit.  But I have to ask myself why?  I can’t imagine tips coming close to paying for the insurance.

March 10, 2013

Komondor Puppies

PUPPIES!  We have puppies, roly poly, cute and cuddly, adorable and precious.  And not just any puppies but Komondor puppies!  For many years I had watched the dog shows and marveled at the Komondorok as they floated around the ring.  How many times did I remark, “I want one of those”?  Well much has changed since I saw my first Kom on TV, changes that allowed for me to actually have one of these magnificent dogs.  The biggest change is I now live on a farm that uses working dogs, the perfect place for such a dog.


These are not your average dog and don’t thrive in the cities.  They were breed to endure some of the worst weather that nature has to offer and defend their charge against fearsome predators I love these dogs!  I can put them in the pastures in the midst of a blizzard to fight off packs of coyotes and then turn in for the night without fear of what I will find in the morning.  Nothing can do that except a LGD, not a llama or donkey or other such animal I have read about that some have claimed guard their livestock.  A U.S. Marine could do it but otherwise, no.

We have Great Pyrenees that handle most of the work now as we are just developing our Komondor training program so I will say something about them.  They set a very high bar for our new Kom puppies to reach.  Our dam is Paige, of the Montgomery Kennel as is the sire, Zenta, a Hungarian import.  Paige is the fourth Kom to live at Cota Farms and her litter is the first born here.

In addition to offering our puppies for sale, I hope to have sales of trained pups.  Ideally these pups would be purchased along with the rest but remain here for an additional period for training.  In this way we hope to develop a more modern training approach to livestock guard dogs.  Most of the present training methods are focused on a type of sheepherding that is used less today and far less here in America.  Much of the sheep production that goes on here is done on small farms or on limited acreage.  There is also the likely hood of some other livestock on the premises, like chickens or geese.  In the old countries the dogs may prey on these birds in an attempt to feed themselves but today dog food is abundant and so the dogs can be expected to protect everything in their domain.

We have had rather good success so far.  I can say that our losses under all circumstances are much less than when we did not have the dogs.  I have noted the drive to attack waterfowl seems to be greater than with chickens or turkeys.  This is something I will keep track of.  The smaller predators that like to prey on chickens or ducks are also deterred by the presence of the dogs as we seldom find their carcasses anymore and the dogs don’t usually consume the whole animal even if they do take a bite out of it.

January 29, 2013

Living With Dogs – Chapter 3

Why do dogs hate furniture, is it jealousy?  You discover your couch has been chewed and you’re still mad about the kitchen table.  So you pound on your dog a little, the walls shake from your rage and the dog retreats under the bed.  Thoughts of why do I need a dog creep into your mind, and I certainly don’t need two or three.  You love plush carpeting, beige, but not with Rover running in and out and sweet little Cookie always goes and pees in the corner.

I’ll be honest, I often hate what my dogs are doing.  But if you love your dogs and cats you make allowances for such things just as you do for the people in your life.  But you can’t keep replacing furniture to accommodate your animals.  In general I don’t believe that altering your animals is an acceptable solution to this problem.  For example, de-clawing a cat is a very serious thing to do despite the common practice.  Doing this to a cat is like removing a dog’s teeth because you are afraid it may bite someone.

A more reasonable approach in dealing with the animals in our lives is to make adjustments on our part.  Animals are perfect and we can’t make them better.   Yes, I said that, but I will explain.  Animals are the culmination of a very involved process to make them exactly what they are.  They are the best available solution for a life form to thrive in the given environment.  We can’t even come close to doing that without our technology that allows us to survive so a little respect is due.  My livestock guard dogs thrive on our farm in the dead of winter in ice and snow that would end my life in hours without the use of clothing and shelter and central heating.

It is true that we have re-engineered certain animals, mainly livestock, to better serve our needs but it is no improvement for the animal itself.  And we have created breeds of dogs that suite our fancy but in some cases these new animals require us to now care for them as they can no longer survive in nature or sometimes they can’t even reproduce on their own.

So then, with all that in mind I have begun a project to address those areas of incompatibility that we have with our dogs, specifically, redesigning our home to better allow us the interaction with our dogs (and cats and other animals as well) that we want without sacrificing our humanity or living in filth.  Yes, this is the dark side of living with animals and I have witnessed what happens when someone abandons reason and turns their home into a de facto kennel, but that is not what I am talking about here.

I want to go beyond the mud room concept and create a common area for us to interact in.  In times past, when people where not so far removed from the animals that we still rely on for food and other things, homes were designed in just this way.  One common structure had animal quarters on the ground floor while people lived above them.

I realize that my desire is not shared by most people and unfortunately many people have a sort of general contempt for all animals but they are to be pitied.  In future chapters I will give details and photos of my progress toward this dog/people house.

September 19, 2012

Somebody Ought To Write A Song

Somebody ought to write a song about livestock guard dogs!  Yes I am enamored with these dogs and want to tell everyone, but maybe you already knew about them.  Since we are relatively new to the whole farming thing we are still fascinated by what some people have known about for centuries.  Working dogs in general are marvelous creatures but to actually be able to work with them is a special experience.

If you have read my past blogs you know that we lost many lambs to coyotes before we got these dogs and have enjoyed no losses since.  It is very interesting that a domesticated canine can be trained to defend your property from its wild cousin.  We are doing something a little different in the way of training though.  We I first began to work with the dogs and did my research, I found mostly just books and articles from long ago.  What more recent writings I found were still focused on dogs protecting flocks of sheep in vast areas of grasslands.

There is still some of this going on but for my purposes, and other farmers like us, we contain sheep on acres of fenced land, often with neighbors nearby.  This is a very different environment.  While the general job description is the same, the specifics are not and so some of what I was reading did not apply or was not going to work.  But what I really wanted and needed was not addressed at all.

On a small farm like ours, close to the city, we have a lot of different things going on; diversity is not just a word here and neither is free range. Our dogs don’t just protect our sheep from coyotes, but they protect all that we produce from a variety of different predators.  I had to make some significant changes to the traditional livestock guard dog training regiment but it has worked far better than I expected.  So we now not only have no more losses of our sheep to predators, but we no longer lose chickens or turkeys or even plants!  Yes I tell you, even the herons are denied the fish from our ponds and the hawks the ducklings on the ground.  We have always had large losses of young birds so we had to steal the day olds from their mothers when she took then from the nest and put them in brooder boxes lest they disappear one by one.  What a labor savings to be able to allow the mothers to raise their own young!

Here is one of our LGDs, his name is Doodle and he is watching over this sheep as she has her lambs right out in the open.  She and her lambs are most vulnerable now but she (and me) need not worry; should something smell what is going on and decide to take advantage, Doodle will sound the alarm and the other dogs will quickly come to help.

February 4, 2012

Living With Dogs – Chapter 2

A custom built bin to hold dry food as part of your kitchen cabinets places the food in easy reach and saves a few steps every time you feed.  For us that means feeding 8 dogs and some odd number of cats twice a day and that doesn’t count the extra treats here and there.  Here’s a tip, with conscience shopping you can find all meat wieners for $1/lb and that is less costly than dog treats that often have no meat in them at all.  We pile on the treats for our outside dogs in the winter to help fend off the cold.  The only dogs we keep outside thru the harsh winter months are those that are designed for such a life like our Komondork and Great Pyrenees working dogs.  These dogs are amazing; they usually don’t even go to their shelters in weather that would kill the average dog.

It is during particularly bad weather that the whole issue of living with your dogs comes to mind.  Our dogs don’t care about the cold or the rain or the snow, they don’t like thunder and lightning but even bad winds don’t faze them much.  A mud room, if you have one, can be a convenient place for feeding when the weather is bad but you don’t want to hang out there with them and unless you have a dog door in that room for them to get out and do their business you have to clean up more than just the mud.  So we need a place with the convenience of a mud room but the comfort of a basement, easy access for you and the dogs while allowing you to retreat to the house while the dogs can move freely outside to earn their keep if they are guardians.  The room needs to be warm and dry enough to contain a chair and television or computer, phone, etc., but not uncomfortable for the dogs.  The point is that you want the dogs by your side, why else have them?  I won’t even go there as that topic will anger me.  Anyway, you don’t want carpet of course nor an expensive floor or furniture to worry about because the dogs will often be wet or muddy.  You are thinking enclosed deck or patio, right?  Absolutely!  Maybe a small woodstove to take off the chill and windows all the way around, save money by using translucent plastic for the roof.

There are many advantages to this type of construction.  Other than basic good building practices, it doesn’t have to meet any particular code, you can do it yourself if need be, it doesn’t have to be completed all at once, some materials may even be salvage like windows for example.  This doesn’t mean that this space that you and your animals share has to look like a hovel.  A modest deck with pony wall and roof can be architecturally appealing if you use a little imagination.  The rest can simply be stretched screen and that can be covered with plastic during the winter months.  Surplus windows or glass can be added a piece at a time later.  With the proper dog/cat/pot bellied pig door, you shouldn’t have to clean up much poop.  Treated decking and outdoor furniture can be sprayed down when necessary.  For you bird fanciers this room can also serve as a grand aviary.

Why do this, go thru the effort and expense?  Well, the truth is that we live in a world where many people do not share our love of animals and there are times when we need to interact with those people. The amount of time that we spend with our animals verses time spent with these other people in our homes should order the partition of the house.  Unfortunately I can not build another house nor greatly modify the existing house but if I could it would be partitioned 35% such that the other people would see and 65% where I would spend most of the time.  Practically speaking that means two thirds of the house would be Spartan, designed to be easily cleaned and free of stuff.

January 29, 2012

Living With Dogs – Chapter 1

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For most of my life, the part where I worked for some corporation or other, I had no dogs around me because I didn’t want any.  I have never been anti dog but I was definitely indifferent toward them and small dogs did not have any appeal at all to me.  Angie had a small dog in the past and always wanted another but didn’t press the issue.  Then during a particularly difficult part of nursing study, I offered a dog as a reward.  Sadly for Angie the little dog decided he liked me better and I couldn’t remember why I ever wanted to resist such an adorable creature.  Cota and me and spent a lot of time together; we went to the park almost every day.  I decided I would build him a park of his own and started a search for suitable land.  I imagine that this all seems a bit much but that’s OK.

Eventually we did purchase land and started to build a small park.  Actually I built a house first and then worked on the park.  It had a variety of trees and there were lots of plans to do this and that.  In the mean time we acquired other animals, ducks, geese, llamas, chickens and then some lambs.  The park was sacrificed to the sheep as they ate the trees, yes, they ate the trees.  All the while Cota seemed to enjoy the country side and chasing the ducks and chickens.

So, moving into the present, the park turned into a small farm and we now have eight dogs!  Most of these dogs I consider farm employees, they are in fact working dogs and the latest dogs to arrive saved our farm from predators that ate nearly all of our other animals.

Had I known at the time I designed and built our modest home that we would have so many dogs I would have made very many changes to the house we have now.  We rely greatly on our dogs for security, help moving the sheep around, and companionship.  We don’t put chains on our dogs or keep them in cages, they move freely about the farm as we do.  The small dogs sleep in the house while the large dogs, which are breed to handle the elements, sleep outside.  They have houses but don’t always sleep in them, they are on duty even during rough weather, they are well suited to their positions here on the farm.

In times past, when people had a relationship with animals, relied on them for food, labor, clothing, fertilizer for crops, protection and even heat in the winter, they lived with their animals.  Before we had the luxury of barns, living quarters were built above the animal shelters.  This was a very practical home design much like the convenience of having garages integrated into modern houses.

There are homes nearby us that even today use similar designs for certain valued and loved livestock, usually llamas, alpacas or horses.  It is interesting to note that these homes are generally in the upper price range, with heated mud rooms and areas for animal health care.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately and have already begun remodeling our home to be more supportive of the way we live.  There are limits to how much I can change our house and we don’t need to move our livestock in with us, but there are some changes that would greatly benefit us, make our daily chores easier and allow our dogs to have more access to us without sacrificing our furniture or having to constantly clean up after them.  I’ll go into more detail later about changes to the house, but we have just got our first piece of cabinetry that will make it easier to feed so many dogs every day.  Typical kitchen cabinets don’t allow for the storage and handling of large quantities of bulk dry food, so I designed a piece that will replace the standard under counter cabinet.

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