I’d like to give you a brief background about me so you know who I am and where I have come from.
I grew up on a beef property near Inverell in Northern NSW. We had never used working dogs to work cattle due to ‘old school’ thoughts. I was part of a big family so we always had plenty of people around to lend a hand. The year I turned 20 we purchased a sheep property next door and with the family growing up and moving on it was time to learn how to work stock more efficiently with less labour.
I started out with 2 Collie-cross bitches – one more Kelpie, and the other more Collie. They made a handy team. Right from the start I decided that I would learn as much as I could from whatever source I could find about training and working my dogs.
Then I took the leap and went to a sheep dog yard trial. I was immediately hooked.
I went to every clinic I could get to and bought a well bred Kelpie (Biddy) after it was suggested at an early clinic I attended. I had her for quite a while and enjoyed working with her. She taught me a lot about training and working dogs, both good and bad. The best day I had was the day I sold her.
She taught me a very important lesson about instinct, nature and trainability. I have since found that these three attributes are most important to get the balance right. Another very important point that I learned from a very reliable old trainer was that dogs are what they are. So, when the pressure comes on, they will always go back to natural – for better or for worse.
A very important thing to remember.
At this time I was shearing and getting around quite a few places. I would help with penning up when time permitted and it was always interesting for me to watch people working stock with and without dogs.
What is the pattern? What works? What is not working? And the main question – How could I make things work better – both with stock flow and with the health of the stock?
Asking questions and observing are the most powerful learning tools we have available to us at any time in our lives. After all, it’s the quality of questions we ask that will determine our results.
After my first son was born I took a job managing a property on the western side of the Northern Tablelands of NSW, “Banalasta”. At that time the property was running 50 cows and about 2500 sheep but shortly afterwards the owner purchased the property next door, taking the property to 14000 acres. Then we could lift the stock numbers to 450 cows and 11000 sheep. While on this property, I organised a rotational grazing system. I was managing the livestock as well as the fencing program. The area is renown for poor nutrition and drench resistance, so the only way to keep stock healthy and productive is to move them to a new paddock on a regular basis.
Over the years I was there I would move all the stock on the property at least once a week. It would be nothing for me to do 80kms a day and work 2-3 teams of 2 dogs/team to achieve this on a motor bike. Quad bikes were too slow in the very steep country on Banalasta. I needed to be quick and efficient to be able to read and understand stock in some very rough country.
As the fencing progressed and the paddocks became smaller, the job got easier but more regular. It always amazed me how in rough country with large mobs of 2500+ sheep, how little pressure you needed to move them and how much of a mess you could end up in if a dog did something wrong. This sort of work teaches you very quickly all about position and pressure and the consequences of not getting these basic things right.
From Banalasta we moved up to South East Queensland to run a small cattle block in the hills behind the Gold Coast. It was here that I started to do some training in and around Brisbane. I would take sheep and basic yards to various locations to help people to understand and manage their working bred dogs by starting them on sheep.
This was very interesting as it taught me that a lot of working and training dogs comes back to the basics and it’s not always quantity but quality of the training that makes the dog. For sure you need the genetics to be right but with the right genetic picture and the right exposure you can develop a dog into a very useful working companion.
There is a point where there is no substitute for work but it is no where near as much as what most people believe it is. One thing that I find that is very important when building a dog up without a lot of work available, is to work with critical stages/ages of development.
All this time I have continued with a team of dogs running between 10 to 14 while breeding the very occasional litter to progress my lines and team.
In 2008, I took a job to develop and run a 3000 acre property at Rathdowney, Qld, where we had Wagyu cattle. On this place we were running embryo and AI programs on the Wagyu cows as well as a mob of commercial cattle. The Rathdowney property had some very steep country in it and the dogs had to adapt to working cattle out of the hills and through the lantana. I found they made the transition without any drama. Once again, if you breed the basics right, with just a few changes you can work anything.