Dogs have long been considered humankind’s best friend but, for Aussie sheep and cattle farmers, they’re also hard working, highly valued employees.
Counting sheep is a well-known mental exercise for sending yourself to sleep but for Adrian Allbut, husbanding several thousand of them has the opposite effect. The farm manager of seven family properties in the NSW Central Tablelands region, Adrian is kept busy raising and trading around 15,000 ewes a year, along with some 200 cattle. The bulk of his days are spent outdoors mustering, branding, shearing, crutching, dipping and yarding.
At his side, or wherever in the yards and paddocks he needs them to be, is a selection of black and tan kelpie working dogs. They’re chosen each morning from his stud kennel of 19 dogs according to the requirements of the task at hand.
Bred for endurance and agility, the toughest of their number are capable of working 12-hour days in harsh conditions, herding mobs of sheep to fresh pastures and relentlessly rounding up the strays.
“If I’m working with older stock that are broken in, I’ll take pups to give them experience,” Adrian explains. “If I’m mustering in steep, shaley country, I’ll take older dogs with experience. If we’re in the shearing shed or yards – I’ll rotate the dogs, because they can all do that work and it’s pretty easy for them. Some of my dogs will work five or seven days solid and then have a good spell; others do much less.”
Running on their Stomachs
An intense weekend in the paddocks can see the kelpies run upwards of 100 kilometres and Adrian is passionate about ensuring these tireless, loyal ‘employees’ receive the very best of care.
“I look after my kelpies better than myself because they help me so much,” he says. “A lot goes into producing and training a good dog. If you look after them right, they’ll perform for 10 years and pay for themselves many times over.”
A big part of that care is ensuring they’re well fed, particularly in winter when the mercury dips below zero overnight.
“It gets so cold that to keep their condition up you have to feed them a lot; almost double what they eat in summer,” Adrian explains. “We can rug up, but the dogs are often on the back of the ute first thing in the morning in minus five degrees and they only have food to keep them full and warm.”
Feeding the dogs in the evening means they’re not struggling to run on a full belly the next morning. A high protein, high fat working dog food diet enables them to get the nourishment they need without consuming enormous volumes.
“I give them two large scoops of Black Hawk Working Dog food each and I’m happy to still see some biscuits in their bowls the next morning,” Adrian says. “If I were feeding them a basic [dog food] brand, they’d be eating double that amount but with Black Hawk they don’t need to have as much of it to get all the goodness they need.”
They’re also healthier and more energetic when they’re on the job.
“One of my oldest and best kelpies would battle to do a full day’s work but after two weeks of being on Black Hawk Working Dog, his coat went from a dull black to shiny black. He was also jumping on the back of the ute a lot faster because his bones weren’t so sore,” Adrian says. “When I tell people he’s nine years old, they look at me like I’m mad.”
Helpmates and Perfect Pets
A respected breeder since 2006, Adrian’s Drovers Dream pedigree kelpies are in high demand from fellow farmers around Australia and the pick of his pups have fetched record prices at auction.
Friend and neighbour Tori Jeffress keeps five of them at Kurrajong Park, her father’s 1200-hectare sheep and cattle holding, outside Orange. Early starts and long days in the paddock are common but when they’re not working the stock, her kelpies love to hang out on the veranda with the family.
“They’re working dogs, but they also make really great pets,” Tori says. “They’re such kind and loyal dogs – mine all enjoy a pat and when people come to visit, they’re in their faces, looking for attention.”
Current ‘senior citizen’ and family favourite Danny had started to slow down but switching to Black Hawk Working Dog food has provided him with a new lease of life.
“The difference in him was huge,” Tori says.
“He’s eating half as much as before, yet he’s put on weight, and he has a lot more energy. He used to work for a bit and then go and lie down but he’s not doing that anymore – he’s quite happy to keep going.”
While some farmers look for new homes for dogs like Danny when their droving days draw to a close, Danny won’t be going anywhere and nor will any of the other Jeffress kelpies.
“I become quite attached to my animals, so I get them with the intent of keeping them,” Tori says. “Mostly they end up staying here their whole life. For us, they really are like part of the family.”
Whether you have a working dog or a family pet, keeping them in tip-top condition will allow them to live a healthier, happier life. It’s a good idea to talk to your vet about the ideal diet for your dog’s needs.
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