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The AGgregator

From the Field: Champion Cattledogs Sit, Stay and Herd 'em In

Farm Credit is a proud supporter of the National Cattledog Association (NCA), an organziation that encourages efficient, low-stress and humane cattle handling by promoting the use and demonstrating the value of well-trained cattledogs.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel to Steamboat Springs, Colo. and visit the Flying Diamond Ranch where the National Cattledog Association (NCA) was holding the first annual finals competition. Was I ever in for a treat! I spent two days with some of the most intelligent of our four-legged friends and talked to ranchers from across the United States. From Oregon to Louisiana, handlers and their specially trained cattledogs showcased their skills.

The NCA Finals featured four different classes of dogs working the fields over five days. The dog was required to gather the cattle and direct them through an obstacle course in a specific direction for points. The courses were timed and each had a time limit. The preliminary rounds consisted of three head of cattle while the final round had five. Approximately 180 head of cattle were used during the event.

Many of the friendly ranchers I spoke with began using cattledogs when they realized the efficiency and intelligence of the dogs. Many mentioned how difficult it was to find well-trained ranch hands and when they did it was costly. They then turned to man’s best friend.

The Border Collie breed is typically used because they do not nip and bite the cattle like other breeds are known to do. They mainly use eye contact and movement to herd. When these dogs are in their zone, nothing can distract them.

Border Collies begin their highly specialized training when they are about seven months old. They are first introduced to lambs or small calves in a controlled environment and are usually partnered with a more experienced dog during the entire process. It takes about 60-90 days for them to start picking up commands and 180 days to be fully trained. From there, fine tuning the training for competition takes place. Depending on the temperament of the dog some handlers choose to use whistles so that the dog doesn’t get too excited and others use voice commands as it is more soothing.

The handler has to understand the mentality of their dog as well as the cattle. Often times ranchers have to “break” the cattle to accept the dog and then “break” the dog to accept the cattle. Once the relationship is established the cattle experience less stress during a round up and become friendlier which results in fewer injuries on the ranch. Prior to this competition, the cattle were introduced to cattledogs over the course of seven months.

From time to time cattledogs can suffer minor injuries but they are very resilient. They have such an love of the cattle that they will keep going even after being pinned against a fence. That is just an occupational hazard. All of these dogs are well cared for and loved. Many of the handlers expressed a deep trust for their dogs and it is evident that the dogs trust their handlers to keep them safe. The working lifespan of a cattledog is roughly eight to ten years at which point they retire. After years of running the fields, a comfy bed on the front porch of the ranch is a spot well-earned.

It was rewarding to see rural life in action. From local ranchers to urban families, everyone got a taste of life on the ranch. You can be a spectator too by watching our YouTube video or browsing our photo album.

The next time you sizzle some steaks on the grill, thank a cattledog -- they worked hard to herd them in!