Beebe the Livestock Guardian Dog

Last week, we welcomed Beebe the livestock guardian dog to Runamuk Acres. This was one of those amazing opportunities that just lined itself up for me and was too good to pass up. I love it when that happens lol. The resulting journey to Downeast Maine was an epic adventure, and the canine protector I came home with will be a valuable asset to the farm. I am one happy farmer.

ISO Livestock Guardian Dog

I am always on the look-out for opportunity. That’s been a big key to the successes I’ve had as a farmer. Simply keeping an open mind, and being ready to seize the moment has led to so many wonderful opportunities.

At the same time though, I’m not one to simply sit and wait for Fate to do all the work. I decided to create an advertisement on Craigslist: “ISO Livestock Guardian Dog”─putting the concept out there into the ether in hopes the Universe would see fit to provide. In the meanwhile, I joined a number of LGD groups on facebook. Following other LGD owners through their struggles and successes helped me learn more about these animals. It gave me a healthy appreciation for what it was going to take to do a good job raising one to serve Runamuk.

A Long-Shot

Thank you @magicallyflatyeticorn for tagging @RunamukAcres on Instagram!!!

The biggest hang-up I had was that I didn’t actually have the $1000-$1800 that an animal like that costs. The farm is gaining momentum now, but that kind of money is currently out of my reach. I had to hope against hope that someone out there would be kind and compassionate enough to work with this farmer to hash out some kind of payment arrangement or barter for goods and services. I knew it was a long shot, but I put it out there anyway. If you never ask, the answer will always be no. And sometimes─just sometimes─the answer might surprise you.

The chance to score my LGD came to me through Instagram and one of my local followers there. I am blessed with a supportive network of followers both in real life and online, and I am so grateful for it. Laura Casey @magicallyflatyeticorn tagged @RunamukAcres in the comments of a post on Instragram asking, “Do you folks know anyone looking for a guardian?”

I didn’t have any expectations when I reached out to the dog breeder @dawnland_wolfhounds on Instagram. Bravely, I asked my question and waited hopefully, for his response. It was a pleasant surprise when he returned that he was fine with a payment arrangement. He said he just liked seeing his dogs go to good, working homes. Overjoyed at this news, I made an appointment for the following day.

Downeast

From the farm, it was nearly 4 hours downeast to Crawford, Maine. Having never been further east than Bangor and Hampden, this was quite the adventure for yours truly. Though the color was past peak foliage, the majority of the trees still had most of their leaves despite it being mid-October. The burnt yellows and orange hues made for a beautiful ride on a sunny Tuesday morning.

As I went further east into Washington county, I saw vast hillsides painted a burnished red by the scrubby, low-growing blueberry bushes. Our nights here in Maine have grown cold, most plant-life is dead or dying. They are withdrawing their energies back into their roots, deep down in the ground. But, oh! What a display the wild Maine blueberry makes across those barren fields! That is a sight I won’t soon forget.

After a couple of false stops thanks to Google Maps, I eventually arrived at my destination. I met Eric Bacon, who raises Central Asian Shepherds, as well as chickens and goats.

The Central Asian Shepherd

Even with all of the research I’d done on LGDs, I’d never heard of the Central Asian Shepherd─apparently they’re still fairly rare in the United States. This breed is a product of natural selection, bred not by men, but by climate and circumstance. Only the hardiest pups survived, and only those with strong guardian instincts were allowed to stay with the flocks. CASs come from a vast territory of land that spans from the mountains of Mongolia to the deserts of Kara Kum. It is a legacy that is merged with the civilization of man, and their timeline can be found by tracing the history of the ancient Silk Road. Today they continue to be widely used in Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kirgyzstan, Tadjikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

The Central Asian Shepherd is considered an “extra-large” dog, heavily built and powerful. They are extremely intelligent, brave, and self-assured dogs, hardy and adaptable. These are territorial guardians bred to guard people and their possessions. The CAS is extremely affectionate, completely and utterly devoted to their families, and they absolutely love children. They seek out human attention, bonding first with their humans and then with the flock. They will guard whatever is placed in their perceived territory.

Since I have 2 male dogs kicking around the farm already, Eric suggested I pick out a girl-pup to avoid potential conflict. He warned me that even then, I should be aware this breed is very territorial and protective by nature. He advised me to always be careful with visiting dogs.

Beebe

There were half a dozen female puppies to choose from, many with the badger-faced markings that I’m so partial to. Only Beebe, though, had the pretty brownish-grey 2-tone coloring, with longer fur than some of the other dogs, and oh-so-soft to touch. Eric separated her from her siblings so that I could spend a little one-on-one time with her to make up my mind.

I knelt there on the ground, fishing peanut butter flavored training treats out of my pocket, while the other dogs barked in protest and goats bleated nearby. Patiently I proceeded to coax the puppy’s affection, feeding her the little nibbles, and loving on her the way that all dogs adore. When I would get distracted by my conversation with Eric, Beebe began nosing the pocket where I’d stashed the treats, demanding another and another. It wasn’t long before she rolled over for me to rub her tummy, and I knew I’d won her trust.

I had no doubt that Beebe was the one. Just in the span of a few short minutes the pup had already proven herself a quick learner. Already she’d given this farmer her trust. Having learned long ago to go with my gut instinct on such matters, I asked the man how much, and we proceeded to hash out a deal that suited both of us, though I think Beebe was the real winner this day.

“Seeing them go is hard, but once they’re settled in their new homes, that’s when their personalities really start to show. That’s when they become the dogs they were meant to be.” Eric told me as he said his goodbyes to the puppy he’d raised.

Life at Runamuk Acres

beebe the livestock guardian dog
Beebe at 5 months.

Beebe is acclimating quickly to life at Runamuk Acres, but she is not yet ready to assume her role as livestock guardian. Because of her size, it’s easy to forget that she’s only 5 months old─still just a baby. She has quite a lot of growing and training to get through before Beebe will be ready to take on a pack of coyotes. Right now we’re working on the basics: where to poop and where not to, “Come”, “Sit”, “Stay”, and “No”. We’re building a relationship, she and I, building trust and growing love between us. That is the most important thing, for it is love that will drive the dog to protect all that this farmer holds dear. And afterall…love is everything.

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Confessions From a Female Farmer: Part 1 – Mom Issues

I confess to keeping secrets from you, my loyal readers and dedicated followers. This past year at Runamuk has been filled with some big changes for both farm and farmer. I’ve faced down some serious mom-issues, restructured my financial situation, and fallen in love with the man of my dreams. I took a long hiatus from writing, giving that energy to the farm and to my family. Waiting to see how events would play out before I dared validate them, I’ve kept my cards close to my chest. Now, as we slip deeper into the Dark Days of the Year, I am ready to write once more. I’m ready to continue for you the story of my journey as a female farmer in the western mountains of Maine.

Mom-Issues

the boys
My 2 handsome sons: BraeTek (left), William (right).

This part of the story is about the farmer who is also a mom. These are fairly personal issues and therefore harder to share publicly. Yet, I feel strongly that these are the issues steering the course of a farm─any farm─and things like this need to be acknowledged. Family is at the heart of farming. Ask any farmer why they are willing to work so hard for so little pay, and I’m willing to bet that he or she will tell you they do it for the lifestyle it provides their family. They do it for love. With that in mind, I confess that I’ve faced down some pretty challenging mom-issues this year.

William at 17

Early this past spring, my son William stopped coming to the farm for his regular weekly visits. Now 17, he had long since decided that he no longer needed a mom, he loathed going back and forth between two homes, and he preferred to reside full-time at his father’s. Finally my ex and I capitulated, and I was forced to accept that my baby was grown up and no longer needs his mom.

World’s Okayest Mom

I have long since accepted the title of “World’s Okayest Mom”. No where near the worst mom, but a far cry from the best. I used to think it was me─my own maternal failing. It took another mother to recognize the cards and point out to me that I’d been dealt a particularly challenging hand.

I have 2 sons, William and BraeTek, born 4 years apart. At the age of 3, William was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Now 17, William has been reevaluated and labeled level 2-autistic─meaning he needs support to be able to function within normal society.

william
William at 17

“Can you tell?”

Someone asked me recently if you could tell by looking at William if he was different, and I said yes. He is a handsome young man now. Tall and slender─like my father was─with the same dark hair. But it’s his mannerisms that set him apart instantly.

On a good day, William can be charming and engaging. He loves to tell stories and be the center of attention. He’s very dramatic, and will wait for just the right opportunity to play out some prank he’s been scheming. William loves to read and research, has an obsession with old comics like Garfield, TinTin, and Foxtrot. Quick-witted and smart, with a memory like an elephant. I love those days.

On a bad day, William can be surly, or grumpy, withdrawing from the world to the sanctity of his bedroom. He has a fairly rigid perception of the world (The World According to William) combined with a significant lack of tolerance and some impulse control issues. Thanks to his everlasting memory, he holds a grudge like no one’s business, and will sometimes fixate on an event or particular conversation from the past. On a really bad day, that combination can cause him to self-combust. He might even work himself into an angry tizzy in which he is a danger to himself, and to those around him.

William’s Wrath

me n my son
It’s getting hard to get my boys to take a pic with their dear old mum!

I admit that I have been a target for William’s wrath for years now, and his resentment toward me seemed to grow with every passing birthday. He resents the bees. He resents the farm. BraeTek is 13 now, and William still resents me for having a second child lol. He resents the divorce. Change is hard for him, and going back and forth between two homes upsets him. Most of the time he is even offended by my unconditional love (but maybe that’s more a teenager thing than an autism thing?).

I could write a full-length book about what it was like raising William and trying to raise a farm at the same time lol. Maybe some day I will…

Suffice it to say that William’s behavior escalated to the point where my ex and I could no longer deny his right to choose where and how he will live. Shortly after his 17th birthday William stopped coming to the farm every week. I was left blaming myself, questioning my priorities and my maternal capabilities.

I wonder─do all mothers and fathers feel that same sense of self-doubt when their children leave the nest? If you have any experiences or sage words of wisdom to share, please feel free to drop a comment below─or shoot me an email if it is too personal for you to share here.

Quiet House

William having fledged the nest was a rough adjustment, for sure. This big old house was a lot quieter with only BraeTek and I in it. Eventually, I worked through my feelings of inadequacy, putting into perspective the challenges that I had faced in raising my children. Though it still pains me, I accept that William is just more comfortable at his father’s. I can pick myself up and carry on, knowing that I have always done the best I could to do right by my children, while still being true to myself and my own dreams.

In the wake of that acceptance, I began to see a new opportunity to focus my maternal energy on my younger son, BraeTek.

Tradeschool for BraeTek

It was a long series of events, actually, that led me to induct my son into “Runamuk’s Tradeschool for Recalcitrant Teens”. BraeTek had been struggling at school for the last couple of years. He was having trouble keeping up in class, had fallen behind in math pretty significantly, and his handwriting was atrocious. He was depressed and lacked confidence, but played it off as indifference.

BraeTek_Summer 2020

He railed against what he perceived as injustices against himself or his friends amid the junior-high society, and I was being called into school frequently for one incident or another. In the face of these struggles and the stress of having an autistic brother at home, BraeTek had become resentful─withdrawing into internet media just as so many kids today are inclined to do.

Lazy

Then he started bragging about being lazy…. My son!

I was aghast. Lazy is the ultimate dirty word in my book. While I feel taking the occasional lazy-day is completely acceptable and sometimes necessary to recharge, lazy as a way of life makes me cringe violently.

child with pine cone
BraeTek at age 3

Maybe it is the active farmer inside me, or the naturalist closer tied to the land than to society, that cringes when she looks around to see so many people, young and old, lost to the cell-phone void. I see tomorrow’s generation of up and coming bright minds─seemingly with no clue of how to actually do anything. Young people with no motivation or work ethic to accomplish much in life─largely because they are completely and utterly addicted to their screens: tablets, computers, cell-phones, and video game boxes.

Then the covid pandemic set in, and kids everywhere were suddenly home fulltime. Though BraeTek had a few chores, there was so now much time in the day that he was spending hours upon hours in front of a screen─either his phone, a computer, or the TV. That just wasn’t acceptable to this mom.

A Valuable Opportunity

I decided this was a valuable opportunity to instill a sense of work ethic in my son. I offered him $25 a week, or $5 a day, to work for Runamuk Monday through Friday. Still in it’s infancy here in New Portland, the farm cannot afford to hire outside help. It can, however, afford $25 a week for an unskilled, underage apprentice.

BraeTek has always been something of an entrepreneur─motivated by money. At 9 years old, he was selling lemonade at the Madison Farmers’ Market. By 11 he had added homemade dog treats to his stand. Now he leapt at the chance to earn his own money by working for the farm.

BraeTek as my apprentice.

Over the course of the summer, I began to see how I might create an education for my son right here on the farm. I had homeschooled my kids before─William til he was 12, and BraeTek til he was 7. There was no reason I couldn’t pick that back up. I’d always enjoyed learning with the kids, exposing them to new things, and sharing my days with them. By the time school started up again this fall, my mind was made up. BraeTek would not be going back to public school.

Acclimating to Working Life

It was a little rough at first, as BraeTek acclimated to working life. He had a new routine, higher expectations, and increased responsibility. The money was great─$25 a week is a lot when you’re 13─but he learned pretty quickly that he would actually have to work for it and that mom has some pretty high standards. Runamuk is growing and gaining financially, but $25 a week adds up to $100 a month, and that is still a lot of money at this stage. As a farmer, I have to be able to justify that expense even if it is my son.

I’m excited, though, to have this opportunity with BraeTek. He needs to be able to work at his own pace, maybe with a little extra support, and a lot more physical activity. I can give that to him right here on the farm. What’s more, looking around at the masses of humanity zombified by their screens, effectively rendered useless to society, I can’t help feeling fairly passionately that learning to work, and developing a strong work ethic is going to be a huge asset for him.

Steered by “Mom”

I know that parenting is never easy, and perhaps letting go is the hardest part of the job. William fledging the nest was certainly a tough adjustment for this mom. Of course I will still see him from time to time, but he’s beyond needing me at this point. BraeTek on the other hand, will need me for at least a few more years, and I have big plans for him. It will be interesting to see the impact this young man will have on the farm─and how much of an impact the farm will have on him.

fresh carrots
William has always loved fresh veggies straight from mom’s garden!

In truth, Runamuk has always been steered by “Mom”─by the choices this farmer has made as a mom. Afterall, it was for my children that I ever started growing food in the first place. It was our family’s low-income situation that drove me to make my own, to DIY. Learning to bake and cook from scratch allowed me to stretch our grocery budget so that we could eat better. Now that we have settled in New Portland and the farm is really growing, I can’t wait to see how my children will steer Runamuk through the next phase of it’s journey.

Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest posts directly to your inbox; OR follow us on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm.