REAL WORLD WORKING AUSSIES
by Kay Spencer
Almost any homestead, farm, or ranch can use a good dog. Used to be, every farm had an Old Shep who brought in the cows, guarded the children, and did hundred small and large jobs, often ones he had taught himself to do. This kind of dog still exists, if you know where to look. The working-bred Aussie is an all-purpose stockdog who will move ducks, chickens, hogs, sheep, goats, and cattle, and is also a loyal family companion and guardian. They will snooze on the porch when there’s nothing to do, but when they are needed they spring into action.
Here are some stories recently submitted to Working Aussie Source about real working Aussies and what they do.
SAVING THE ALFALFA
On the way to town from the farm one evening, my wife, Anne, noticed that a bunch of cattle had escaped from our neighbor’s close-in holding pasture, and were standing knee-deep in an adjacent fully ripe twenty-acre alfalfa field. She called me on the cell phone, and I grabbed Rory and headed to the Baldwin’s farm. On the way, I called to alert them of the impending disaster. When I arrived the owners were ripping about on their ATV trying to chase the steers out of the field. However, the draw of all that fresh alfalfa was just too strong. The steers would just scatter, lower their heads, and refuse to move. The Baldwin family all knew that these young steers would eat so much of the succulent ripe alfalfa that they would surely lose them to gastric founder. They tried, repeatedly and unsuccessfully, using their four-wheeler to budge those steers off that lush meal.
Eventually, I asked them if Rory and I could help, and we joined the activities. The yearling steers were not “dog broke” and had never seen a working dog. Consequently, Rory’s appearance really took them by surprise. They stopped eating, were very curious, a little worried about this thing that looked like a predator. They actually grouped up into a protective circle while they figured out this dog’s intent.
Rory went directly into the bunch, and when they did not move off her directly, she raised her level of influence. After just two or three good firm “hits” on noses, and some well-placed badgering, Rory forced them to abandon all hope of remaining in the alfalfa. She kept them grouped up and moving in a tight bunch, and fetched them directly to me at the pasture gate. If any tried to turn back, she was right there to head them off, and turn them back to the prescribed direction.
With the stock safely returned to where they needed to be, Rory jumped up onto the ATV and got a well deserved ride back to the barn. Due to Rory’s intervention and skills, we learned that none of the steers foundered.
A few days later, Rory got her reward, when the youngest Baldwin son brought her over a nice steak for dinner.
— Mark Hodges, Ad Astra Farm, Lawrence, Kansas
FINDING SHEEP IN THE DARK, FETCHING EGGS
I really appreciate being able to send Lin, Ron, or Rowan out in the back pastures after dark to find the sheep. With the various tree lines I don’t know where the sheep are, so I just tell the dogs to find them, and am grateful when I don’t have to go out and help them …
My friend Tish reported that her Aussie Stan learned to go into the duck cage to get those out-of-reach eggs, and he would bring them back without breaking them.
— Andrea Hoffmann, Istari Aussies, Memphis, Tennessee
SORTING, GATHERING, TENDING
My dogs are very useful for bringing in the sheep so I can sort them for feeding different groups. I can’t imagine the hassle of trying to do this without the dog, and probably wouldn’t bother so I would have some sheep too fat and some not fat enough. When I sold 3 ewes last week it was so easy to sort them out of the flock, move them through the barn and load them in a trailer in just a couple minutes with Kip’s help — and a great back saver to not have to lift, haul and manhandle the sheep to where we wanted them.The time my sheep escaped and got mixed into my neighbor’s sheep I relied on Cinder to shed my sheep out of the group and bring them back to our property.It took me probably 5 minutes vs. who knows how long without the dog.
My neighbors are part-time sheep owners; they feed some lambs for market during the summer, and they do not have a working dog. One time I was out walking the fencelines and noticed my neighbor chasing her lambs up and down the field, so I stopped to see what I could do. She was trying to get them up to the pen for worming but the sheep were not interested in cooperating. They would not be tricked by grain when they had a lush field to eat and they easily dodged around her. Their dog, a German Shorthair, was the lambs’ buddy so they didn’t realize a dog could move them around.
I went home to get Cinder, came back and she had the lambs in the pen pretty quick with no running on my part and my neighbor was very impressed with how quick and easy it was.
The dogs also make it possible to take the sheep out to graze in unfenced areas of the farm. They help me get the ewes into the barn after they lamb, they help me hold the sheep in a corner for worming, or pen them up for hoof trimming. They keep the sheep from trampling me and climbing in my bucket when I go to feed.
A good dog is a big investment of time and training, usually of money too, but once you have that partnership established they can be an amazing partner — doing most of the work while you stand and open the gate.
— Anne Jespersen Birch Hollow Farm, Wisconsin
HELPING WITH FEEDING CHORES
My favorite command “Watch em” … I use that when I want them to guard the gates, the feed buckets or anything else. All my dogs love it. Sometimes they deliberately look away so a sheep walks up just so they can push them away. it is so cold here now that all the livestock is up top where the shelters are so the dogs do not need to go find them. But that is a job that Ebbie really loves. Aussies are great. I would be lost — and in trouble — without them.
— Tracey McPherson, C-Me Aussies, Iowa
SAVING STOCK FROM DROWNING
Winslow has been my go-to-guy for getting my sheep out of flood waters. They have gotten themselves stranded several times when the waters have risen quickly. He gently but insistently makes them go through the rushing water to safety. Its been pretty scary a couple of times here when I had the Sheriff ready to bring in boats to save the whole flock who were on a spit of land with maybe 3-4 ft. of raging water between them and safety. Thankfully, the waters receded enough in a couple hours for me to send him through to get the ewes and lambs back to dry ground. It sure is awful standing and thinking you are going to have to watch your whole flock get carried away before your eyes! That same flood carried a car off the road into the water right in front of our place.
Now Eli is old enough to hopefully take over that job should it happen again! However, his most fun chore for the moment is keeping the sheep from eating the livestock guardian dog’s food! One is a pup and will let the sheep force him from his food. Eli doesn’t even look at the food, he just can’t wait to get in and block the sheep from getting there! When we were feeding heifers, he loved to keep them off the feed bunks so I could safely put in the feed. He took to it like a duck to water!
— Linda Bell, Winslide Aussies, Texas
My Aussie Drifter is useful in many ways. Two come into mind, though. We have a pen set up for ram lambs. Whenever we have to sort or treat it’s impossible to do it without a dog. They are handled the least so are the most spooky. No amount of corn bribery works to get them to go into a catch pen and even if you get some you never get them all. So Drifter is the ram wrangler — he gets those boys bunched up and in a group around my legs in seconds flat. At the opposite of the spectrum are the breeding ewes; all spoiled and pushy, no respect for human bodies. Feeding them means whacking them with empty pop bottles to avoid being trampled or putting feed in a pen and then letting them in later. Or, using Drifter to teach them manners. Some of the oldest ewes have the least respect for dogs and humans, but just tell Drifter to “watch em” and he paralyzes them with a stare. Even our most belligerent ewe, “Spot”, a Barb x Romney cross, is afraid to even set down a foot as Drifter locks on to her with his eagle stare. It’s amazing to watch how much power he has with just his eyes.
— Cindy Ghent, Belwood, Ontario, Canada
PROBLEM SOLVING RANCH HAND
Max, our Aussie, is my husband’s right hand man. He is there to move the cows, but is happy to lay on the sofa in the barn office, when the work is done. Max is not just your typical ranch dog, he is special.
There was one occasion when Jim was fixing fence and put his cowboy pliers down in the grass. He couldn’t find them for anything. He said that he was looking around and commenting rather negatively, when he heard a muffled whine behind him. There was Max with the pliers in his mouth.
Another time his chain dropped off the back of his gator while going through the pasture. He stopped and started looking for it. Max however was standing a distance away, barking at him. When he walked over, Max was standing on top of the chain.
Max greets everyone with a deep bark, until he gets the nod that they are friends. He has been known to herd children back to their car, if he feels that they are out of control. He took on another dog that had attacked one of our dogs in our arena, going across the arena to save her. But yet he doesn’t pick a fight.
On top of all that, Max is a thinker and a problem solver. While Jim was in town one morning, our cows had popped the gate open and gotten out on the road. Jim came home to a blue dog holding the cattle in front of the neighbor’s driveway, with the neighbor sitting there waiting to go somewhere. Jim got out of his truck and asked the neighbor how long she had been there. She said about 10 minutes, did he know whose dog and cows those were. He told her that they were his. Meanwhile Max was still keeping them from going to the highway. He told Max to bring them home. At that point Max jumped the herd back over the cattleguard and had them in their pasture by the time Jim drove down to the barn. He was just waiting for the boss to give him directions.
On another occasion, Jim was discing the arena and had
left the pasture gate open. He didn’t think he’d be that long and the polled Herford bull was up at the other end of the pasture. Max, who doesn’t normally hang around when Jim is on the tractor, was running along side the tractor, jumping up and barking at him. Jim said that he stopped and told Max that he knew that he didn’t want to ride on the tractor. Max kept on barking and turning around in the direction of the pasture gate. That’s when Jim noticed that the bull was headed up the lane towards the house. He just told Max to go and get him. By the time Jim was out of the arena, Max had brought the bull back down the lane, kept him from going in the barn, and had him back through the pasture gate.
Max also turns back when Jim is working a cutting horse. He’ll lay around in the shade of the arena until Jim signals him to turn back. At that time, he goes to the head and turns the cow. He actually will almost time the cow before he makes his move. He knows to wait and see if it will turn on its own. He then puts the cow back in the herd when Jim is finished with it.
This is the same dog, who at one time gathered the buffalo used to train the two year old cutting horses. Yet he can turn off that side of his personality and go in with two bottle baby goats,cleaning them up after they’ve been fed. My sheep and goats never run from him, they treat him like they treat my Pyr. However, when necessary he can move them for me. It’s just not his favorite chore, he’s a cattle dog.
Thanks for taking the time to read my tales of my boy.
— Terri Carver, Brenham, Texas