By Mille Whitehead
Farmers are always looking for ways to be more efficient and effective in everything they do. After all, time is money in the farmer’s world. When it comes to operating our cattle, we would not be who we are without the help of our faithful working animals. Our ranch horses and working dogs play a huge role on the farm when it comes to managing the herd.
We choose to operate cattle with working animals for a few different reasons. It should be no surprise that the owners of a cattle farm, or any type of animal farm for that matter, love animals. We genuinely enjoy providing for our herd of cattle, and even more so being able to incorporate our bond with our other animals into the whole mix. The jobs that our horses and dogs complete literally cuts our working time in half because they are just a whole heck of a lot better at it than us. Not only do they help us by being more efficient on the job, but the cattle also tend to function better when they are being moved by an animal rather than a human, truck, or ATV. Not to say that we don’t use trucks or ATVs, because every situation calls for different measures, but we do prefer to use our working animals if possible.
Horses are a part of who we are and we are lucky to be able to include them in on our day to day jobs. We use the horses for rotating the herd, roping a sick or injured cow or calf to care for, or for sorting and checking calves.
Cattle can be difficult to work, especially if you do not know what you are doing. You literally have to think like a cow and study their body language in order to be successful in moving or sorting a group. Working animals on the other hand, are just naturally good in decoding other animals. There is something magnificent about being on your horse and being able to feel it in his body as he successfully predicts a cow’s movement before she even takes a step.
We have had a few great working dogs to call Brush Creek home since the farm’s establishment in 1993, but my favorite story is that of our current cow dog, Duke. Duke is an Australian Kelpie that my husband, Matt, began training at six months of age. Between Matt’s incredible talent for training animals and Duke’s natural sense of cattle, the dog quickly learned his job.
Unfortunately, after a short nine months, Duke had an accident in the field that broke his back leg. After failed attempts of surgery to save the leg, we were forced with the decision to amputate it. We were convinced that Duke would never work cattle again, but became comfortable with the idea of him just being our family pet for the rest of his life. Those who are not familiar with working animals, you must understand that these animals love their job… they live for it. Once Duke recovered and became accustomed to getting around on three feet, his desire to continue working was so apparent that we eventually, but very cautiously, introduced him back into it. To our surprise, Duke works cattle just as well on three legs as he did four! The fact that you can send a dog into a pasture to gather a whole herd of cattle up is amazing within itself, but one doing it on three legs is just miraculous!
Teamwork is beautiful, especially when it is between human and animal.