Working hard to make a living
Rounding sheep across the land
The next litter left to carry on
Farm life in their veins
Oh oh oh they’re working farm dogs
Dogs are many great things, and one of those is workers. From guide dogs, to police dogs to farm dogs, our furry pals almost have as many career choices as us humans! That’s why we’re launching our new series, Working Class Dogs, where we’ll be featuring all the doggy goodness of canine co-workers.
We chatted to Jo Wheaton, who along with her husband Vern, run a farm in Western Victoria – not too far from the border of South Australia, where they produce crops, mostly, canola, wheat and barley, and raise free range cattle, sheep and pigs.
Joining them on their farm are their three kelpies, Bella – the matriarch who is 12 years old, as well as Mini and Black who are progenies of Bella but from different litters. Over to you, Jo.
Can any dog be a farm dog?
The two most common dogs on farms for working stock are the Kelpie and Border Collie. They can be purchased ready trained throughout Australia, but most notably at the annual Clark Rubber Australian Kelpie Muster held in Casterton – the birthplace of the Kelpie – that includes an auction. The record price for a dog at this auction is $12,000.
What is your furry pals job on the farm?
While our kelpies’ primary role is helping with the management and movement of
stock on the farm, they are also excellent companions. We had Bella given to us and she has been one of the best dogs we have had. She is very good with sheep and is also helpful to have on duty when shifting pigs. Mini is a bit too fast for working with the pigs but she is good with the sheep and comes into her own with the cattle. She is very bold for a small dog.
We are hoping that Black will be a good yard dog, although at the moment he seems to be very easily distracted. At this point Black’s strongest suit is companionship. One of our children suffers from anxiety and Black is the first to be by her side when she’s having trouble, he seems to sense it. We still hope he’ll get the hang of working with sheep in the yards though. On our farm as our working dog gets older we then get a pup so they can learn from ‘the boss’. Training takes time and patience.
What is a typical day in the life of a working farm dog?
As with the working day of a farmer, there is no typical day. But the jobs the dogs do depends on the time of year. During cropping there is less ‘paws on’ work for the dogs while their humans are out on the tractor. Rest assured that as soon as any stock work is in the pipeline the dogs will be on the back of the ute or the motorbike or right by their workmate (human’s) side and ready to work. Besides cropping and harvest seasons the dogs generally accompany their ‘boss’ with whatever is happening from day to day.
What do your pooches like to do in their downtime?
They have quieter times of year during cropping and harvest but generally the last thing they want is time off. They love working, it is what comes naturally to them.
Bella likes to dig when she isn’t working or resting. She spends less time digging now that she is getting older and more time resting in sunny spots. But when she does want to dig she looks for mice nests.
Mini is a very busy girl and she loves to wonder around the farm and she still occasionally takes boots with her!
Black wees on things… a lot!
What makes you most happy about working with your dog?
Companionship, loyalty, reliability.
Why is being a farm dog an important job?
Nothing can replace a good working dog. And they are valued far beyond the labour they provide. During difficult, lean times on the farm (think drought) the dogs give emotional support that the farmer doesn’t even know they are receiving but they greatly need. Life can be very difficult and unpredictable on the land and, as all dog lovers know, at these times it is great to have a dog by your side.