1. After his horse, a ranch dog is a cowboy’s best four-legged companion. When it comes to herding and guarding stock, ranch dogs can be some of the best employees on an operation. In the herding and gathering categories, Border Collies, Heelers, Australian Shepherds, Catahoulas, Black Mouth Curs, and Bulldogs consistently rank at the top of the popularity charts (with Corgis as a surprising also-ran). Common livestock guardian breeds include Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherds, and Maremma. (Ok, so no one is surprised that dogs are useful ranch animals … but did you know that stubby little Corgis make good cattle dogs?)
2. Have you heard of guard llamas? Territorial by nature, llamas are instinctively wary of canines, and will charge and strike at foxes, coyotes, and dogs that try to approach the herd. Unlike guard dogs, llamas have a 15–20 year working lifespan, integrate easily into herd life, and respect fence lines. Another benefit of llamas is the fiber they produce, which can be used for wool crafts.
3. If woody brush is taking over your pastures, consider getting a camel or two for weed control. A camel’s diet consists of 80 percent brush, and camels will eat down unwanted thistle, ragweed, and mesquite—which can cause mesquite bean toxicity in cattle. Built to withstand dry climates, camels can thrive in drought states, and they don’t require any additional care than what you’d provide cattle. And their ornery nature and formidable size tend to keep the coyotes away.
4. As useful as they are charming, donkeys can play multiple roles on the ranch. Like llamas, donkeys are territorial, and larger breeds can make good livestock guardians. Also, some ranches use donkeys for roping practice or to halter break horses. The young horse is tied to the donkey, who will stand still even when the horse throws a fit; this teaches the horse to give in to pressure. And as the donkey walks around, even the most rambunctious colt will be pulled along; this teaches the horse to lead.
5. Like a feathery alarm system, a flock of guinea hens will alert everyone within hearing distance that there’s an intruder on the property. Hardy free-range birds, guineas can forage for nearly all their food and provide excellent varmint control; they’re particulary known for devastating tick, rodent, and snake populations. As a bonus, they also make great meat birds and lay tasty eggs.