Farmer’s Best Friend: A Farm Dog Overview
The iconography of the working farm dog in American culture is undeniable, and this established post in film, television and literature is certainly well earned. For hundreds of years throughout North America, Europe and other parts of the world, dogs have worked alongside man – and often on their own – to facilitate and carry out many jobs found throughout society. Canines have delivered messages during wartime, helped the handicapped make their way through day-to-day life and most importantly – for our purposes at least – helped with a number of farm jobs.
Using a dog on your farm is a safe, cost-effective and efficient way to get work done, and with a number of breeds that are ideal for farm work, there is no shortage of quality dogs. Dogs are most frequently used on the farm to guard or herd livestock and for rodent control. We’ll go over some of the basics of farm dogs, and if you’ve been thinking about implementing one on your farm, we’ll help you out.
Livestock Guardian Dogs
Common Guardian Dog Breeds: Great Pyrenees, Tibetan Mastiff, Kuvasz, Komondor, Anatolian Shepherd, Akbash, and Maremma
Just as humans seek livestock for food, so do many of the animals found in nature. However, these natural predators don’t wait until livestock has hit the store shelves, and instead seek out livestock on farms throughout America – a premise envisioned in Roald Dahl’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox”. Livestock need constant protection, and this is where a guardian dog, or pair of dogs, can offer help.
For an effective guardian dog you’ll want something that is large enough to scare predators and strong enough to defend livestock when needed. Guarding behavior is instinctual, and due to this most breeds aren’t suitable for use as guardian dogs. Herding breeds are also not suitable, because they can act out towards the livestock and sometimes even harm them. A good guardian dog is kind and gentle towards the animals, while still being intimidating to potential intruders. Conditioning plays a big part in the relationship and demeanor between dog and livestock, and this bond needs to be initiated at a young age. Interaction between livestock and guardian dogs should start when the dog is about seven weeks of age. Consistent interaction will allow the dog to create a relationship with the livestock. When first introducing the dog, make sure that none of the animals are aggressive towards it. If they are, remove that animal. If the dog and livestock get along, leave the dog with the livestock, and increase the amount of time they spend together each day. This introduction period should last about 16 weeks, and after this, dog and livestock can be moved outside of the pen and into larger areas. However, it can take up to two years for a guardian dog to be considered reliable.
Guardian dogs allow you to worry less about your livestock when you aren’t with them. They can save you thousands of dollars in the long run, and any farmer that lives in an area with natural predators should consider a guardian dog.
Common Herding Dog Breeds: Collie, Australian Shepherd, Australian Cattle Dog, Puli, Shetland Sheepdog, Border Collie, Mudi, and Cardigan Welsh Corgi
Herding dogs are a great way to move animals around your farm. They can even move stubborn animals, which endanger humans, or help you during feeding time by keeping unwanted or already-fed animals away. Herding dogs use a derivative of predatory behavior to move livestock. Overtime, breeders have been able to limit the dog’s natural instinct to attack, while still maintaining their hunting skills. This results in a dog that is able to calmly and efficiently move livestock.
When searching for a herding dog it is important to research breeds in order to see what herding style they are best at. The style you choose depends on the work that you’ll need to get done, and styles include:
- Driving – The dog pushes the livestock across the farm, and can do so without assistance.
- Mustering – The dog goes to livestock in pasture and returns them to their pen.
- Boundary – The dog prevents livestock from wandering.
Clearly a herding dog needs to be intelligent, and you’ll have to decide on whether you want an older, trained dog or a puppy to train yourself. Training a puppy to herd can take up to a year, and it requires constant work and attention. The process can be extremely difficult and frustrating, and it is often suggested that both dog and master take classes.
Herding dogs are great for farms with livestock, because they can quickly get to livestock and herd them back to pasture or housing facilities. They can prevent livestock from wandering off or straggling behind, and their ability to move faster than humans make them a cost-saving solution.
Ratters and Mousers
Common Breeds: Rat Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Jack Russell Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, Lakeland Terrier, Dachshund
While most think that cats are an ideal way to keep rats, mice and other rodents out of barns and facilities, dogs are actually the better option. Cats can become complacent and let intruding rodents pass unmolested, while dogs are bred to instinctually hunt them, and even dogs that aren’t bred to hunt rodents can be trained in pest control.
Terriers are the most commonly used ratters and mousers, and they have been used in rodent control for hundreds of years. Inevitably, many are turned off by the energy and frenetic temperament displayed by terriers, but there are other options. A Miniature Schnauzer, while still a terrier, is much easier to deal with. It is intelligent and able to calm down when needed, making it an ideal dog for both farm and home. A Dachshund is also an option for those that want a calmer dog. Dachshunds also feature strong digging skills, making them a good option for those looking to remove gophers or moles.
For the most part these dogs require little training and will go after rats and mice on their own. If you have these dogs untied or outside of a barn or enclosed area, it is important to keep an eye on them, because they can easily chase after a passing squirrel or car. Other than that, ratters and mousers can be great dogs that present both pest control and companionship.
Farm dogs can help you get important work done and make life easier. They can guard and herd valuable livestock and provide effective rodent control. While this is far from a complete guide to farm dogs, hopefully it put you on the right track.