Berlusconi, The Territorial Livestock Guardian Dog

Berlusconi the LGD at Work

With the prospect of literally spending thousands of dollars on animals in the next few months we’ve been researching the different options for protecting the livestock. The first line of defense will be permanent perimeter fencing. It helps keep predators out and our animals in, although it’s not foolproof. We’re using some fencing leftover from the prior owners and also putting up some new fence as needed. Predators will find a way to circumvent the fencing, no doubt. In order to deter them further we plan to have Livestock Guardian Dogs, or LGDs. Very simply, these are big dogs (normally white ones) that live outdoors with the animals and do what their name says, guard. The ability is genetic, although a certain amount of training and level of maturation is necessary for them to succeed. More to come on that later, but for now I wanted to share a story I was reminded of while researching our various dog options.

If you’ve read some prior posts you may have seen that we went on a transhumance with about 300 sheep on our honeymoon last summer. Walking with sheep through the remote mountains of Abruzzo requires protection for the flock. Bears are the primary culprits. Our shepherds used LGDs for flock protection. Our particular flock was guarded by a younger pup that was just learning the ropes (click for photo). At the end of the hike we met up with another flock of about 700 sheep on the top of a faraway mountain. They had the real deal older guard dogs.

One such dog was Berlusconi.

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Twenty Mile, Three Day Hike with 300 Sheep - You Call that a Honeymoon?

I can hardly believe that it’s already been a week since we were with the sheep. Anversa degli Abruzzi is a small town tucked neatly into the Sagittario Valley between the picturesque mountainsides of Abruzzo, Italy. It was our mission to take Nunzio Marcelli’s sheep flock from Anversa to the top of the mountains in Chiarano. It was a ~20 mile, three day journey, full of cured meats, aged cheeses, many gallons of wine, bottles of moonshine grappa, and 300 sheep friends that we will never forget. Click on the thumbnails to see a rough approximation of our route.  

Click each image to enlargeTranshumance RouteTranshumance is the ancient practice of moving ruminant animals to fresh pastures on a seasonal basis. Before feed could be imported to the farm, shepherds would walk with their animals to faraway pastures in order to graze at various times of the year (see our previous transhumance post). Nunzio Marcelli has been practicing this tradition for many years and has recently opened it up to visitors who would like to participate. Check out his site at for more information. Even if you can’t go on the transhumance you can still adopt-a-sheep! For the final three days of our honeymoon we decided to join him and his shepherds on the trip, it was a great decision.

The night before we set off on transhumance we celebrated with the townspeople of Anversa in a “Sagra degli Gnocchi del Pastore”, which is basically a Shepard style gnocchi-fest in the town piazza. The whole town of 300 was out in full effect. Tables lined the plaza streets,

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The Fading Art of Transhumance

Transhumance is the ancient process of seasonallt shepherding animals through large tracts of fresh pasture. Back before our animals were fed grain and kept inside warehouses or fenced in permanent dirt lots all day, shepherds would guide ruminant animals across public and private lands to consume forage at the optimal times of the year. In the summer the animals were brought to higher elevations as grasses and shrubs matured in the low country. Before humans came along animals would just do it themselves.

In Abruzzo we're staying at La Porta dei Parchi, which is owned and operated by Nunzio Marcelli and his team of farmers, shepherds and cheesemakers. We'll be participating in a couple days of transhumance starting tomorrow morning. We got a little practice yesterday morning with the goats and rams, check out the pictures below.

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