As you travel along Los Osos Valley Road, about halfway between Foothill Boulevard and Turri Road, look south and you may notice sheep in large paddocks with huge white dogs.
These magnificent canines are Anatolian shepherd dogs. They can reach between 120 and 150 pounds and stand nearly 3 feet tall. They have a double-layer coat of fur that protects them from the rain, wind and cold of winter, and the coat regulates their body temperature in the summer.
They have long, muscular legs and an intense stare — a gaze as pure as a Jimmy Webb song. Despite their weight, they are fiercely agile and can run like the wind after coyotes, mountain lions and other predators. Their breed originated in the transcontinental region of Anatolia, which later became Turkey.
They are believed to be a cross between a sighthound, which has keen vision, great speed and endurance, and a mastiff, which is an ancient breed that is courageous, social and flat out big. They were bred to resemble the color of sheep and goats. In other words, predators may not detect them among the flock until it’s too late for their escape. If you’re a stranger, these are not the dogs that one could be social with. Their loyalty to their flock is legendary.
Terri and Bob Blanchard have raised livestock on the Pecho Ranch, the land between Montaña de Oro State Park and Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, and Old Creek Ranch near Cayucos for decades. They use Anatolian shepherd dogs to guard their livestock. They raise the pups with the sheep and goats so the dogs become bonded with the herd. In essence, they become part of their family. Today, they are raising three pups — Mo, Larry and Curly — at Old Creek Ranch.
Over the years, the Blanchards have relied on these dogs to protect their animals. However, cunning and hungry predators such as coyotes will attack the flock from different flanks, which allows other members of the pack to take a sheep or goat. A solution to this unfortunate situation is to provide an abundance of wild prey to keep predators from eying their livestock.
In 1992, the Blanchards started a rotational grazing program at the Pecho Ranch. The 3,000-acre ranch is divided into 25 pastures, or paddocks. The herd grazes a pasture for several days, then rests for 45 to 60 days — or longer.
“The point is to mimic the beneficial effects of the migratory herds present during the evolution of our grasslands while eliminating or at least minimizing any negative impacts associated with continuous grazing,” the Blanchards told me.
Not only does this type of farming allow prey animals to flourish — which provides food for predators, reducing pressure on his herds — but the land has become more productive with deeper top soils and greater amounts of grasses.
The sustainable practices have been emulated by ranchers throughout the United States. In fact, silviculture and vegetation management classes from Cal Poly visit the Pecho Ranch, which is managed by PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Lands Stewardship Program, to learn techniques in land sustainability.
“The beauty and health of the Pecho Ranch has benefited immensely from our long-standing partnership with Bob and Terri Blanchard. Because of the Blanchards, these lands continue to support a thriving, healthy and active ecosystems, regularly recognized for its environmental benefits,” said Pat Mullen, PG&E’s local division director.
At first, the Blanchards were skeptical that this type of program would work. They were “old school” farmers, but they are sold on it now.
Their ranches are now all organic, including the chickens that freely roam under their avocado and citrus orchards at Old Cheek Ranch and the livestock they raise at Pecho Ranch. Because of the Anatolian shepherd dogs and the sustainable farming practices, Bob told me he rarely loses any sheep or goats to predators.
To learn more about the Blanchards’ organic practices and philosophy, visit www.oldcreekranch.net.
John Lindsey’s column is special to The Tribune. He is PG&E’s Diablo Canyon marine meteorologist and a media relations representative. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @PGE_John.