Life lessons for a dairy dog

Patch was just sniffing about while I was moving a temporary fence this morning when all of a sudden, he yelped, dived into a drain in sheer panic and splashed over to the other side. The dousing must have done him some good because he emerged calm but with a reproachful look that suggested I had committed a terrible crime.

Patch, you see, has working dog blood running through his veins but this town-bred pup has had a lot to learn since we adopted him from the volunteers at Homeless Hounds this Easter. One of them is to treat all fences as though they are electric.

After that disgusted stare, he took off down the paddock, refusing to answer my calls. All I could think of was: “What will I tell Zoe if he disappears?”. Zoe and Patch have become inseparable. A sample of her writing exercises from her school book includes:

“I have a nu dog and i love mi nu dog” and “i love mi dog and he love me” and “This is mi star and this is what it says homeless hounds rescue dog” and so on and so on.

Zoe and Patch in the paddock

Zoe and Patch on Sunday. Yes, they were running very fast!

Thankfully, the bedraggled Patch ran home and was happy to be reunited but it got me thinking about some of the lessons he’s had to learn about farm life.

Lesson 1: When mum says to be quiet, listen!
Remember when Patch met the cows for the first time?

Lesson 2: Bulls are bullies
Patch decided to take on a bull and lost. Nothing broken but he was sore for a couple of days.

Patch and the bull

The working dog instinct needs to be matched with experience

Lesson 3: Sometimes it rains ice
Patch didn’t want to ride in the Bobcat the day after the hail incident.

Lesson 4: Don’t run too close behind the Bobcat when the track is muddy

Muddy Patch

What mud?

Lesson 5: Don’t run into the Bobcat
Ouch! Patch ran into the side of the Bobcat while it was motoring along (slowly) and ended up with a black streak on one leg. He’s now aware of traffic.

Lesson 6: Shade sails are fun to climb but don’t try to get down at the top

Patch on the shade sail

Nice day to go for a sail

Lesson 7: Farm life is fun
Patch is one of the happiest dogs in the world.

Zoe and Patch

“Mi dog Patch is cleva”

Herd meets hound

Our dairy cows are used to being rounded up morning and night, seven days per week and love routine. They amble in at a very leisurely pace at about 1.5 to 2km an hour. This is frustratingly slow if you’re in a hurry but it’s great for their well-being.

Now, we took Patch out with us (tied up in the back of the Bobcat) to round up the cows for milking last night. As soon as we got to the paddock, he decided to bark in a very commanding fashion and I had to growl and rap him on the nose. Ignoring my warnings, he barked again. It was then that the herd decided to take control.

Took moments for Patch to get the message, sit down and stay quiet. Took a long time to get the cows heading in the right direction. I suspect today Patch will be a better dairy dog.

Charlie and Lola the maremmas

Charlie and Lola love their bovine friends

We’ve had Charlie and Lola since they were just 10 weeks old but, while they love us, we’re not their real family. The calves are. Now nearly two years old, they’ve slept, played and eaten alongside calves ever since they arrived.

The idea is that these beautiful Maremmas, bred as paddock-dwelling livestock guardians, will protect our calves from foxes and chase kangaroos and wallabies from the paddocks.

You see, I am a bit of a softie. Although I have a permit, I can’t bear to shoot at the 200 or more kangaroos and wallabies that visit us every day even while they’re decimating our fodder reserves and quite literally eating us out of house and home. The solution? I’m not sure I’m onto a winner yet but bonding the maremmas with the calves has been a two-year training phase in a grand Milk Maid experiment in macropod control. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been training Charlie and Lola to respect the 4km boundary fence and will soon let them out of the calf paddock to roam their 200-acre domain. I can hardly wait to see how they, the livestock and the wildlife respond and am practically twitching with excitement. Will keep you posted.