By Woody Woodruff
If you have never spent a fair amount of time on a farm, this article might not hit the same chord as those that have grown up beside a farm dog. I have nothing against farm cats, I’ve always had several, but their focus on mice and birds seems somewhat limited to me. Farm dogs, on the other hand, can have a variety of focuses depending on their breed and bloodline. In addition, farm dogs can actually be trained and will listen to a boss. The bottom line is, farm dogs can be a huge help to your farming operation if you choose wisely and can serve a variety of purposes on your farm. I’ve had several farm dogs and breeds over the years and all of them have had different roles.
My first dog was a Shetland Sheep Dog named Rosie. Rosie was from an excellent bloodline and a great breeder that kept healthy care of all of her shelties. I had about 20 head of Angus cattle at the time and Rosie spent all day long with the herd as they grazed. She would sit in the shade of the oldest cow in my herd and occasionally get up to go over to the farthest animal that was away from the herd and yap. Rosie would stand right in front of this cow, calf, or even a young bull. She would just yap and yap, yap, yap. They all knew the protocol. If you wanted the dog to shut up you had to move back into the group of the other cattle. Rosie did this all day and every day until the cattle came back to the barn at night or I called her to the house.
My second dog came to the farm because it was not working out at a horse farm. The dog was a high pedigree Australian Shepard. I was surprised how well the Aussie and Sheltie would complement each other. The Aussie’s name was Buckie. Buckie could drive cattle through timber, from pasture to pasture, or load them into the cattle trailer. The best part was that Buckie was satisfied to just watch Rosie do all the work while I was away and only worked on the herd when I would tell him to do something. As a side job, Buckie was also a great guard dog for the cattle and the homestead. Buckie would keep any wild animal away from the herd. Buckie also had a trait that I should have never ignored. The dog only barked at people and mainly people he didn’t know. One night Buckie began barking at two in the morning. It just didn’t register what he was saying until I finally got up to shout at Buckie. About that time a truck with an extra fuel tank drove away with 500 gallons of diesel fuel. Buckie looked at me with such disgust. I hate to admit that I really didn’t teach either dog what to do. It was just their instinct and an overwhelming desire to make me happy.
I purchased my third dog to protect my grove of English Walnuts, Pecans and Chestnuts. It needed protecting in a way Rosie and Buckie were not wired to do. I found a breed called a Mountain Cur. I named this dog Corky and Corky was a squirrel dog. She would not allow a squirrel to enter the grove day or night. At night I would have to call her up to the house and pin her up in a totally enclosed pen, or else when I went back inside she would sneak back out to the grove. Corky and I would go over to the timber and hunt squirrels for supper. She loved that more than anything. That breed has a skill like no other dog. If she chased a squirrel up a tree and was able to jump up to the first branch, she would keep climbing up the tree after the squirrel. That was part of the reason why I had to totally enclose her pen, because she just kept climbing out over the fence. If Corky could not reach the branch she would always move the squirrel around to my side of the tree. Corky has long passed away and my yard has been infested with squirrels ever since.
The last dog that I am going to reflect on was Momadou. Momadou was the first and last cross-breed I have ever owned. I know she had some Border Collie and Labrador, but what else I am not sure. I got Mamadou about the time we had our first child. That dog never wore a collar and never learned to do any tricks. I kept a bowl of food full and she only ate a little of it each day. I kept water in a bowl for a while but she always went down to the pond to drink. She was not too interested in the livestock. In fact I am sure the chickens ate more of her dog food from her bowl than she did, and she was happy to just sit and watch. But if the kids came out the door she would follow them wherever they went. She followed them to the bus and back when they got dropped off, slept outside their tent when they would camp, and never begged for food when we cooked out. At the age of 19 Momadou just vanished from the yard never to be found. Man I miss that dog.
If you are looking for a farm dog for yourself, consider the skills and attitudes that are inherent to their breed. The actual sex of the dog matters less. I have had both male and female farm dogs, and in my experience the breeder has always made more difference in performance than the sex. If you choose wisely, you can have a farm dog that not only helps keep your farm in line, but also provides companionship for years to come.