Cathy Kimmorley isn’t sheepish about using maremmas to look after her livestock.
“They’re a great dog to have on the farm,” Cathy said, “and they do a terrific job of protecting the sheep, rather than having to resort to poisoning and other methods.”
Cathy and her husband Michael, of “Anvil” Wiltipoll Sheep Stud, Kellys Plains, have used these Italian livestock guardian dogs for 20 years.
Their current two – Marlie, 7, and Bella, 4 – guard their sheep and chickens.
“We’ve had all our lambs here, and we haven’t had a single loss,” Cathy said.
“I can hear the foxes yelping at night, and I can hear my dogs barking, keeping the foxes away.
“As each ewe has their lamb, the dogs will sit beside the lamb, and make sure that they're up, drinking and safe. Probably for a day or two, they'll stay very close to make sure that nothing will come to get them or eat them.
“When twins are born, often the fox will scare the ewe with one twin until they separate them, and grab the other twin.
“We've got all our twins; we haven't lost any. They've done a great job once again!”
Australian farmers have used maremmas since the 1980s to protect their livestock from foxes, crows, eagles, and domestic dogs.
One dog, Oddball, even defended fairy penguins in Warrnambool from predators.
Maremmas make excellent guard dogs because they bond with their charges.
The puppies are placed with the livestock, and grow up thinking of them as its family.
“We just put the puppies in with young lambs,” Cathy said, “then they sleep with them, play with them, and live in the yard with them full-time.”
Italian shepherds have used this intelligent, independent dog since Ancient Roman times to guard sheep and goats from wolves and bears.
“Because they're a 2000 year old breed,” Cathy said, “they've been continually bred to think for themselves and not to obey humans.
“If you socialise them really well as pups, they're great with people; and if you introduce them as pups to different strangers, then they think all people are OK.
“Some people on bigger farms have their dogs right out, kilometres out from the house.
“They don't see people very often, and they end up being more protective, and won't let people near them.
“It's important, especially in areas where there are a lot of people around, to socialise them. Ours are really friendly – very gentle with people.”
Puppies should be quality bred animals, from parents that are good guardian dogs, so they have that innate protective instinct.