We had become a farm of geriatric pets. Over the last two years both dogs died, as well as two cats who had adopted us shortly after Steve and I were married more than 17 years ago.
While the boys were eager to get new dogs, we put them off. First, until the new barn was built so we didn’t have to worry about puppies while cement trucks were driving in and out. Later, not till spring, since they would definitely be outdoor dogs.
After almost two years, I was running out of excuses that the kids would believe. Now, it seems that when you don’t want a puppy, you see boxes of them at the sale barn or signs in every other yard advertising free puppies. When you want one, all boxes and signs disappear. A visit to the Stark County Humane Society was also unsuccessful.
New additions. This summer we bit the bullet and actually paid for 2 puppies. The objective was to get not only family pets, but dogs who would be helpful. By helpful, we were thinking of help moving cows, letting us know when someone drives in, catching ground hogs and all the neat things it seems like everyone else’s dog does. After studying a book on dog breeds, we decided an English Shepherd and an Australian Shepherd had the genetic potential to work with cows and were also supposed to be good with kids.
Chuck. Chuck came first. On Mother’s Day, Steve met English Shepherd breeder Theresa Kaschak, who, with her brother, also dairies in northwest Pennsylvania, and brought him home. Luckily we all thought he was the finest pup we’d ever seen since we bought him sight unseen. Fortunately Chuck liked us, too.
Since it was still pretty chilly out, Chuck was allowed to hang out in the kitchen at night. He rapidly chewed through a baby gate, so we had to put up a solid wood partition to keep him in the kitchen so he wouldn’t chew on the rocking chair. Needless to say, his stint as a partial house puppy was short.
Time flies. Chuck quickly grew from 12 pounds to more than 60 pounds. He still thinks he fits on laps. At first Chuck showed signs of interest in cows and would go with Steve in the morning to bring the cows in from the pasture.
His favorite pastimes are riding on the back of the 4-wheeler or in the truck. Sometimes when he and Steve get back from an errand, he doesn’t want to get out of the truck. If Steve doesn’t kick him out and leaves the truck door open, he has been known to spend the rest of the afternoon laying on the truck seat. The week of the Canfield Fair was painful for Chuck because the truck kept leaving the farm without him.
Instead of growing, Chuck’s cow sense seems to be diminishing. This was confirmed late one night in October. Right behind our house is a small building that houses about 10 weaned calves that are generally pretty quiet. The calves started bawling. After about five minutes I went to investigate. In front of the calf barn, under the mercury light (in my driveway, mind you) were two cows, obviously in heat.
So, where was the cow dog who should have been sounding the alarm and sending them back out to the pasture? Twenty feet away, laying on the steps to the house – watching.
Then Mel. This fall, Mel, an Australian Shepherd, joined the family. She and Chuck hit it off almost immediately. Fortunately, Mel has a lot of spunk. They play hard and she holds her own with Chuck who is triple her size.
The boys appreciate having another pup to play with Chuck. Until he had Mel to chew on, he liked to chew on the boys. Not to intentionally hurt them, but puppy play which can be pretty intimidating to a 6-year-old who is a lot closer to the dog’s size than an adult is.
The pair of pups get into bushels of trouble. Our employees have learned not to leave coats, hats or gloves anywhere within reach of the pups. They love nothing better than to get on either end of whatever item they have stolen and run and pull.
One particularly costly week, Chuck and Mel had a nice sweat jacket shredded before anyone noticed they had it. They have been through a new pair of rubber boots, gloves, syringes, milker’s gloves, firewood, garden fence and the black plastic extensions to the down spouts. Just this morning I rescued a hat and a glove from Mel. I swear she smiled at me when I took them away. I really hope this phase passes soon.
Cow dog potential. As a cow dog, Mel has the most potential. Early on, she showed interest in barking at the cows. If a cow goes down during warm weather, she becomes a “yard cow,” getting a nice spot in the yard down by the barn where she is easy to care for, keep an eye on, can stay clean and have good footing.
Unfortunately, we had a candidate last month. The cow never did get up, but it wasn’t for lack of encouragement. Every morning, out Mel would go, get in the cow’s face and bark at her. Once we called her off she would usually leave the cow alone for the rest of the day.
Mel seems to be developing a technique. However, it needs a bit of redirection. Last week Steve found her running back and forth along the freestall barn feed bunk, all 200 feet of it, very effectively chasing the milking cows away from their feed. Talk about limiting dry matter intake. Now, if we could just get her to go inside the barn and chase them up to the feed bunk every couple hours.
Part of the family. Do they have a future as guard dogs? Only if the strategy is to kill with kindness. Two weeks ago I watched a truck pull in the drive. Chuck didn’t know I was watching from the house. He all but jumped into the truck with the visitor.
Even if they don’t develop into prize work dogs (reality says this isn’t going to happen) they are here to stay. Chuck and Mel love the whole family and the feelings are mutual.
There is one spot of good news. Chuck has started to hunt rodents. Maybe he will be useful after all.
From all of us at OSU Extension, a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May you make and take the time to let your family, friends, coworkers and employees know how much you care about them. Peace.
(Send comments or questions in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)