The snow washed in sheets from the roof of the small barn. There was nearly a foot of snow already, covering the dry grass and piles of sheep droppings, casting a clean white wash over the field. When we walked up to the barn, squinting through the near whiteout conditions, the sheep had all squeezed together out of the snow, their wool sprinkled with flakes like powdered sugar. At first our new guest was invisible. We looked for him in the corner where his bed of straw sat empty, and he wasn’t curled up under the barn either. After a moment we spotted his amber-eyed face, orange eyebrows standing out from black fur and the gray of sheep wool. Baavgai the Mongolian Bankhar was snuggled up completely in the middle of the eight sheep, content as can be, with the sheep paying him no mind at all.
Baavgai arrived at the Connecticut farm only three weeks ago and has already adapted to both the environment and his new community. Because he is a working dog, Baavgai lives outside with the sheep. He is perfectly warm even without cuddling up, as his thick coat is made for temperatures much lower than those of a New England winter. When we go out to bring him food and make sure his water isn’t frozen, it is clear that this is where he is meant to be. Whether he is sleeping or sheltering from the snow with the sheep, or outside surveying the field, watching for hawks or foxes or coyotes, he is always calm and content. He also always gives us a ridiculous, blinding smile, and wags his fluffy tail so hard it could fall off.
Though Baavgai is a working dog on this farm, and his job is to guard the sheep and chickens, he still has a lot of fun. Three other dogs live with us here; Keeta, Gaffer, and Diesel. Keeta and Gaffer are both livestock guardian dogs like Baagvia, a Portuguese livestock guardian dog (LGD) called an Estrela Mountain Dog, and a Turkish LGD called an Akbash. With three canine friends who often visit him to play, two being even larger than himself, Baavgai has plenty of fun-time. He is also aware of his social standing in the group. Being the newcomer, he has been put in his place by Keeta, because she is the alpha of our little pack. Each time he’s willingly shown his submission, something that is important while training a young livestock guardian dog, and thus they have all gotten alone very well.
The chickens are more vulnerable to predators than the sheep are, and so it was even more important to make sure that Baavgai knew that he himself isn’t allowed to get a hankering for chicken tenders. For more about that process, check out this post. The sheep can hold their own against a livestock guardian dog, but we still didn’t want him to think he could play with the sheep and chase them either. Luckily, he already knew exactly how to behave towards sheep from his training in Mongolia. He sometimes follows them around, but mostly watches them from a distance, either sitting in the snow or at the opening of the sheep barn. Often he’ll curl up with them in the sun or in the barn as well.
Baavgai is one of the sweetest Bankhar we have met. He is calm and stoic for the majority of the time, but is also goofy and excited as any young dog should be. His smile is perhaps his most enchanting feature, as well as his wonderfully soft fur. It is so thick and long that it’s very hard to find his skin under there! Out of all of us, he is probably going to be the warmest this winter. Baavgai already is showing remarkable potential at barely one year old and will provide valuable data on how Bankhar dogs work and behave in US farm communities and climates. We can’t wait to keep sharing his journey with you and the progress he makes in his new life!