Seven-stone turkey dog used to guard Somerset flock

Image source, George Ford

Image caption,

Bear spends five months outside with the flock of 600 turkeys guarding them day and night

A pair of Italian sheepdogs, trained to ward off bears and wolves, have helped protect a flock of Christmas turkeys.

Farmer George Ford, from Blagdon, uses two Maremma sheepdogs – Bear and Holly – between August and December to guard his 600 free range turkeys.

Mr Ford, said: “When Bear was a puppy he would play and try and pick up a bird in his mouth but now we can leave him in with them all day and night.”

He added without the dogs he would not be able to raise his turkeys outside.

Mr Ford, who runs Nempnett Pasture, got Bear three years ago to guard his turkeys which live outside 24/7.

Image source, George Ford

Image caption,

Recently, Bear (right) was joined by rescue dog Holly (left) another Maremma

He said the large white fluffy Maremma has been bred as a livestock guardian dogs.

“It’s an Italian sheep guardian dog breed, so they’re bred to live up in the Alps with flocks of sheep to protect them from wolves and bears,” he said.

“Bear’s big, he’s about 50 kilos and three to four times the size of a fox so he’s a real deterrent for foxes, badgers and other predators.”

Despite his size, Mr Ford said there were no bird fatalities or casualties during Bear’s early training.

“As soon as we got him we put him in with the birds, behind a poultry net,” he said.

“There was one chicken that got in to Bears’ enclosure and when I saw the chicken on its back with its legs in the air covered in slobber, I thought ‘oh no’.

“But when I put it back in with the other birds it stood up on its feet and was fine. And it only happened the once.”

Image source, George Ford

Image caption,

Mr Ford, says Bear is three to four times the size of a fox and is a “real deterrent”.

The turkeys, the majority of which have now been slaughtered, were delivered to the farm in August.

Eight weeks later, once they were fully feathered they were released outside with the guard dogs.

Mr Ford said the turkeys “just love it “being outside “pecking at the grass, pecking at bugs”.

“We used to put the turkeys in a big building and shut them in at night for protection,” he said.

“Now there’s no shed to house them at night. So the dogs are there to keep predators away.”

Recently, Bear has been joined by rescue dog Holly, another Maremma.

The pair live outside with the chickens from April to August and are split up when the turkeys arrive in the summer.

“Holly’s not as gentle as Bear, she’ll just run through the flocks as if there they’re not there but she’s very protective,” he said.

“They [the dogs] stay out the whole time. We provide them with a shelter but they don’t use it – only in the summer for some shade – they’re built for the Alps.”


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