Advertisements
Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for September, 2019

st croix

Of late, I’ve been perusing various sites and Youtube channels that focus on sustainable agriculture or, rather, agriculture that can work with significant reductions in fossil fuels.  Now, I should note that I am a skeptic, and I don’t think that any one solution is the actual solution to the problem. But there are people working on it.

Among the ones I’ve been following is a Missouri grass-fed beef farmer named Greg Judy, who runs cattle, sheep, and swine using intensive mob grazing techniques, which require the use of mobile live wires.  He uses very little worming on his stock, so he has had to reinvent some of the domestication selection pressures on his stock.

For example, when he started running his worm-resistant sheep, he had a simple selection criteria.  If it jumped the live wire, he shot it. Within just a few generations, he had put enough selection pressure on his flock that he had sheep that could be contained with just a single strand of electric wire.

Just that simple idea set my mind on the process of domestication. In its initial stages, all those thousands of years ago, the process probably wasn’t any more elegantly simple than Judy’s shooting the fence jumpers.

When the idea of truly scientific selective breeding came to the fore in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we were able to accelerate innovation in our various domestic strains. We bred animals that could gain weight rapidly on grain, that were docile enough to be crowded into feedlots, and that could be more easily transported via rail or by truck.

But now, the climate is warming, and the constant burning of fossil fuels is to blame. You can disagree with me on this, but most of the world’s leaders in politics and business agree with me.  Not enough do, of course, but enough do that we’re going to see policies put into effect that will make burning fossil fuels untenable.

This shift will mean that producers of meat will be forced to develop ways of running and finishing stock that will be based more upon grass forage than upon bringing in processed feeds, and this process will mean that we will have to change our selection criteria for livestock once again.

It may mean that the fence jumpers get shot. It will also mean that animals that cannot gain weight or give birth and nurse young on grass will be bred.

This constant adaptation of domestic animals to our societies’ various needs means that domestication has always been an ongoing process. We weed out the undesirable traits. We cull a little wild in the strain there, or we try to breed it back in over here.

Societies change. Climates change. Ecosystems change. Economies change.  Our understanding of biology is that populations of organisms change, too, and domestic animals undergo similar processes to the wild ones. It’s just that the human factors are the bigger driving force with these animals.

So we never just domesticate a species, and it’s done. In reality, we domesticate and select and select and select some more.

 

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

dick's dog.png

I grew up in rural West Virginia. One of the most common types of dog during my childhood was the scenthound. People had beagles for running rabbits.  The hardcore houndsmen kept coonhounds and foxhounds, and the really die-hard ones kept what were always called “bear dogs,” usually Plott hounds or really sharp strains of coonhound, that were used to tree bears.

A beagle was put in the playpen with me when I was of formative years. The first dog that was ever designated as mine was a beagle. Unfortunately, he came home with a bad case of parvo, and in those days, that disease was a death sentence.

5-to-10-year-old me was a fan of the hound. But I noticed something early on. Most of the coonhounds and foxhounds that I knew never were kept as pets. They were usually kept tied up to oil drums or dog houses or they were penned up in the back.

The reason for this husbandry was simple. These dogs were never kept to be obedient pets. Their job was to run the trails of the quarry, give tongue, and maybe tree it or run it aground.

The dogs themselves were usually quite docile.  But they were bred to make lots of noise on the trail, and many of them made lots of noise when tied up or penned up at home. Some houndsmen broke their dogs of this behavior. Others didn’t care.

But it was deeply instilled within me that large scenthounds usually don’t make the best pets. Beagles could make decent enough pets, but one had to make allowances for their baying cries and the simple fact that they were not biddable dogs.

As I have moved on from that world, I have seen a big problem that is not being widely discussed in the dog world. Currently, adoption groups and shelters in the Northeast and West Coast are in agreements with Southern and Midwestern shelters.

In some rural parts of the country,  scenthounds make up a large percentage of the dogs available, and they then get shifted to the more urban environments, where they are usually offered for adoption pretty quickly.

Most of these dogs are quite docile and social, which makes them quite attractive to potential adopters.  However, the staff at urban shelters often have no idea about these dogs. For example, I know of a dog that was offered for adoption as a greyhound mix when he is actually a Tennessee Treeing Brindle, which is a sort of standardizing Plott cur.

Greyhounds don’t make much noise at all. They don’t have much activity level either. But this dog loves to bay and bark, and he needs a lot of exercise.

If adoption groups and shelters are not familiar with traditional American scenthounds and the potential problems in owning one, they will be doing the dogs and the adopters a disservice.

I ran into a older woman on Facebook. We were in agreement in politics, and she liked a lot of what I had to say about various issues.  She friended me, and it was all fine.

Until I saw that she had taken in two Trigg foxhounds from Mississippi as foster dogs. They had been found wandering the edge of a swamp during hunting season, and they were taken to a pound, where they wound up going to New Jersey as potential pets. The woman was excited because the dogs would “never be forced to hunt again,” and they would love living with her small dogs and cats.

I left a comment on her page that I didn’t think this would be a good match.  I told her that those dogs were never forced to hunt. They were probably going to miss not being run around the pine forests and swamps down there, and they might not be the best friends with her cats. And they might not be friends with her little dogs either.

But, of course, she didn’t want to hear it. And our short little “friendship” ended.

We see lots on social media about the problems with pit bulls and poverty and pit bulls and neophyte owners.

However, the same sorts of issues apply to hounds. I remember hearing stories of  someVirginia deer hunters who would go into the West Virginia “dog trades” and buy up all the incorrigible deer running beagles.  In West Virginia, dogs are not allowed to chase deer during the season, and many hardcore deer hunters will shoot a dog if they catch it running deer. In Southeast Virginia, running scenthounds on deer is a time-honored tradition, but not everyone does right by the dogs.

Beagles are a dime a dozen in much of West Virginia, and selling them to Virginia deer hunters is a good way to get rid of a dog that is no longer wanted.

But at least, Virginia deer beagles get to live lives doing something very much like what they were bred for.

Foxhounds and coonhounds in apartments and suburbia could be quite disastrous.  It is one thing to have an AKC-registered black-and-tan coonhound, which you got as an eight-week-old puppy. It is another to get a Treeing Walker that has been started on raccoons or even bobcats or bear and expect that dog to fit in nicely in civilization.

The amount of exercise such a dog requires is not trivial. The sound it will make will annoy the neighbors, and if it is really been trained on the raccoon or bobcat, it will probably not be safe around cats or possibly small dogs.

These dogs not make good pets for the average dog owner. They simply don’t.

You make think I hate these dogs, but I have seen enough people trying to make adopted scenthounds into tractable pets.  And no, they don’t have the potential issues that one might get into with pit bulls and BBMs.

But there are issues.

Now, a lot could be done on the supply-side of this problems. In some parts of the country, there are too many hounds being bred and offered to people who will not do right by them. If a foxhound or coonhound fails as a hunter, it is going to be a hard dog to pet out. No two ways about it, and it is incumbent upon people breeding and training these dogs to find these homes.

And no, the racing greyhounds are not equivalent. Most racing greyhounds transition better as pets than large scenthounds do.  Most of them will lie around the house all day, and if you ever hear one bark, you will be lucky.

These scenthound problems go even deeper than this adoption problem. Once a large scenthound breed loses its quarry, it isn’t long before it becomes defunct. Otterhounds are one of the rarest breeds in existence.  Virtually no place with otters allows them to be hunted with dogs anymore.

The dogs do have their devotees.  But they have the problems of all large scenthounds.  They make the noise. They aren’t particularly biddable. They have a lot of need for exercise.

How you adapt such a breed into modern existence is a good question. Either new quarry is found for the dog, and for a time, they were used on invasive American mink in the UK. But then the UK banned most forms of hound hunting, and the dogs became truly obsolete.

North American houndsmen have generally avoided all griffon hounds, such as the otterhound. All of the traditional American hounds are smooth-coated. Maybe if the dogs were found to be good at hunting coypu (“nutria rat”), they might have a future as a North American hound.

But that is an uphill battle.

The truth of the matter the otterhound’s problem is the problem of all these scenthounds. They are hard to fit into modern society.

And yes, there are people who love their dogs of these breeds, but just because you love your dogs and have no problems doesn’t meant that most people will have no problems with these dogs.

They just aren’t easy, and we need to be honest about them. Nice, docile dogs, yes. But they have real challenges.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Dogs are blessed and cursed by their co-evolution with our species. They are blessed in that their numbers greatly exceed any wild canid species. Many of the ones in much of the developed world receive better access to heath care, good food, and clean water than the poorest people on the planet.

As animals relating to people, dogs go more than half way in trying to communicate with us.  They go even further in how tightly they bond to us.

But this ease of relationship has certain negative consequences. Because dogs are “almost human,” as goes the cliche, we tend to think their entire existence is much like ours.

However, these assumptions are often faulty. We forget that they are still very much carnivorans, very much wolves. Yes, modified by domestication and co-evolution but still they are of that lineage, that natural history. And we cannot deny this simple reality.

We live in world that is increasingly alienated from nature.  The West is heavily urbanized. and fewer and fewer people understand other beings in ecosystems or even in agriculture.

So many people now get dogs without understanding the full context of the animal.  It is the only large carnivoran that most will ever see outside of a zoo, and it will certainly the be the only one that most will ever know on an intimate level.

And herein lies the problem.  The dog’s co-evolution with us gives it special status in our society, but we are largely operating on an understanding that dogs are just like people.

So we have “fur-kids” and “fur-moms” and “fur-dads.”  People are afraid to correct their dogs. They are afraid to train them. They are afraid to cut nails. They are afraid to understand them.

At the same time, the transient nature of modern society has alienated us from each other, and dogs become that ersatz human connection, and this problem compounds with the previous one.

So when I see someone attempting to walk a dog on a harness with a retractable leash, I see two beings in conflict. I see the human, who is seeking to have some sort of communion with the dog, and I see the dog, which has no idea about what is expected in proper society. It is craving essential communication, but this communication it will never receive. If it had received it, it would have learned to walk on the lead attached to its flat collar.

But the retractable leash gives the dog the illusion of freedom, a freedom that it does not seek as much as it would like to know the person on the other end of the line.

The person on the other end, though, either does not know or does not want to know that the dog is not a child. It is no way Homo sapiens.  To confront this reality is too difficult for some, for to admit such a thing is to admit the horrors of modern existence, all alienated from human connection and the natural world from which we sprang.

But there is a profound egocentrism in this convenient anthropomorphism. It is saying that no only does the world revolve around us, even our companion animals must fit our narrow paradigms.

This is the tragedy of the dog in the modern era. It lives better than ever in so many ways, but in so many ways, it is removed from what it is at its core, every bit as much as we are.

Yes, it is weird that I feel a sadness when I see a dog in harness being walked on one of those horrendous leashes, but the sadness I feel is justified.

Because I know dogs for what they are, and I love them for it. I try to give them what their animal side truly needs. The best I can anyway. For I am also short of the Pleistocene hunter-gatherer’s skillset and privilege, but I can try.  Yes, I can try.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Dare is getting a little better at working sheep. She is extremely confident with these Cheviot cross lambs. She’s only four months old, but she has the extinct. Learning to work the sheep has done marvels for her confidence and drive, too.

sheepdog

rounding up

black sheep dare.jpg

sheep dare 2

dare herding

out of corner

sheep dare.jpg

on sheep

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Dare got some practice being stacked. She looks pretty good for four months old.

dare stacked 4 months

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: