By Linda Barnard,
Like any crack security team, Mordecai and his brother Raleigh split up to provide maximum protection for the assets of Little Seed Farm in Lebanon, Tenn.
They’re among the five white canines – most a mix of Great Pyrenees mountain dog and Anatolian Shepherd – that watch over the goats that form the production team for the organic soap and skincare products maker.
Started about five years ago by ex-New Yorkers Eileen and James Ray, Little Seed Farm uses organic goat milk from their pasture-raised dairy and locally grown herbs for the handmade fragrant soaps and skin treatments.
Eileen, a onetime fashion designer for clothing lines including Rachel Roy and James, a former Wall St. financial analyst, traded the rat race for country life and a chance to run a sustainable business and raise a family. Little Seed Farm products are sold online and at retailers across the U.S. and at Pointe Claire Nursery in Quebec and West Elm in Vancouver.
They moved to the rural area, about 45 minutes outside Nashville where James and Eileen make the products. Eileen, the creative director of the operation, also provides the fanciful illustrations for Little Seed Farm packaging.
They rely on five working dogs to keep the herd safe, whether they are in pens near the house and barns or in a pasture grazing. After trying out a Maremma Sheepdog, they settled on Great Pyrenees mixes.
While the goats are in the enclosure – each wearing a colourful plastic chain necklace to make identification during milking easier – Mordecai and Izzy stick close to them. Sheba, Raleigh and Navet and work the perimeter whether they are out grazing or not, scaring off predators including bobcats, coyotes, turkey vultures, hawks and large birds of prey that can attack or even carry off a small goat.
“It’s what they’ve been bred to do for centuries,” says Eileen of the friendly cream-coated dogs that keep their dairy stock safe. “It’s an innate skill that they have.”
Another talent the dogs have is the ability to teach each other the ropes. Older dogs Sheba (on the perimeter) and Izzy (with the herd) helped school two-year-old youngsters Mordecai and Raleigh in the fine points of protecting their charges after they arrived with an eye to replacing the older dogs when they were ready to retire.
Rounding out the team is Great Pyrenees Nevat who came to the farm after their babysitter found the weak, abandoned puppy alone in the forest behind her house during an ice storm.
“She was this little white fluff ball,” Eileen recalled of the skinny pup. “We couldn’t say no.”
While Nevat “bonded with us instead of the goats and she feels we are her herd to guard,” she has taken to her job and works the perimeter with Sheba and Raleigh.
The friendly dogs live outside the house in a mobile shelter and are gentle with young family members, as well as respecting the chickens that roam yard and the beautifully pattered flock of guinea fowl the Rays use to keep the tick population at bay.
“They are great dogs and great with children and people,” said Eileen. “If anything, our dogs will crush your feet looking for you to rub their bellies.”
The canines “seem to have agreements with some of the local dogs” that respects paths coyotes take to get from the woods to the pond to drink, Eileen observed.
“The most successful guard dogs develop a relationship with other animals and its a pick-your-battles kind of thing,” Eileen said. “They’ll let the coyote drink from the pond but if they stray from the path, that’s when the trouble starts.”
And they do their jobs well.
“We haven’t lost a single goat to a predator since we’ve been out here,” Eileen said with pride.
Linda Barnard is a Toronto-based freelance National Award-winning movie writer, who also covers travel. She has a soft spot for cats but also thinks highly of goats.