Host: Dampier Downs Station
Written by Anne Marie Huey – Station Manager, Dampier Downs.
The sun hasn’t quite poked its head over the horizon and I find myself in St Trinian’s (aka the dog run for its occasionally very naughty inhabitants). The Princesses are out having a stretch and a bit of a play.
While I am the first to admit I am not really a morning person, this is one of the best jobs of the day. The Princesses (as our crew of working dogs are affectionately known) are always happy to see me first thing and, after their initial mad tear around and comfort stops, one by one they come for their morning pat interspersed with some serious doggy business.
Poco is chewing on her favourite bone, Missy is smooching, Turnip and Fridge are having a wrestle, Slipper is trying to work out what Turnip and Fridge are doing, and Megsy is excavating her way to China. And Dougal? Well, he’s just being Dougal.
Although the girls are first and foremost working dogs, they are also part of our family. They each have their own individual personalities, strengths, quirks, and definite mischievous streaks.
Missy is a beautiful dog and if she wasn’t so handy working cattle would make a great house dog. She has been known to sneak into my office on occasion and curl up under the desk for the day. Missy knows when she is breaking the rules but is so affectionate it is hard to stay mad at her – and she knows it.
Slipper probably has the most raw talent of all the dogs. When working she is totally focussed and poetry in motion. When not working however, she is a little less adept. There’s not really any filter with Slipper. If she wants a pat she’s on your lap giving you a hug. If she’s in the car with the window down a couple of inches and sees cattle, she will spend hours trying to work her way free. It doesn’t matter if the door on the other side of the car is open – there are no cattle on that side!
Poco isn’t a pure kelpie like the others. We’re not really sure what her genetics are but suspect there may be some bull terrier back there somewhere. She is our go-to dog when an animal needs to be put back in the mob. She is also something of a Houdini and it is a constant battle of wits to keep her from escaping the dog run.
Megsy had a rough start to life. We’re not really sure what happened to her before she came to us, but when she arrived she was very timid and had obviously been kept in a cage or on a chain for most of her life. She has been with us for just over a year now and with patience and time has blossomed into a very handy dog. She has found her feet and is now a happy, confident dog that loves working cattle. .
Turnip is one of the kids. She and her sister, Fridge, arrived a little over a year ago when they were just eight weeks old. She is fearless. There is no looking before leaping with Turnip – it’s all or nothing. She loves action, to the point where she can sometimes have the attention span of a peanut, but it is all part of growing up.
Fridge is probably the prettiest of all the Princesses. She is a bit more prudent than Turnip – she likes to think about things before committing to a course of action. She is a very graceful little dog. If Fridge and Turnip were people, Fridge would do ballet and Turnip would be into roller derby.
Our team of working dogs are a vital part of our operation. Although we are by no means experts, we are learning how to use them to educate cattle, particularly weaners (teenagers), which decreases the stress of being processed in yards and generally handled later in life.
The six girls are all very clever and talented kelpies. They have the most amazing way of moving when they are working cows. They just seem to glide around the mob, keeping the cattle under control by sheer force of will and the occasional bark. They all have their own area of expertise – Poco is great at putting wayward individuals back in the mob, Slipper is always towards the front ‘blocking up’, Missy is constantly on the go keeping the mob moving, Megsy is a barker and is a great back up for Poco. The youngsters, Turnip and Fridge, are still learning, but seem to be everywhere.
And then there’s Dougal. Dougal’s about seven now and I’ve had him since he was eight weeks old. He was a great field work companion but when he first arrived at Dampier Downs he would have to have been the world’s worst kelpie. Although he loved being in the yards he had absolutely no talent, ability, or courage whatsoever. Interestingly, the cows seemed didn’t seem to mind. On one occasion, he physically ran into a cow and it still didn’t move.
Over the last couple of years, though, he has been watching the Princesses and it looks like he is actually picking up some tips. Now, if the girls are in the yard, Dougal will be in the thick of the action, backing up Poco or Slipper or just generally moving around the mob, usually in the right direction. Even when the girls have been benched and are safely back in their pens, Dougal is pretty much Mike’s constant companion in the yards. In Mike’s own words “He doesn’t do anything wrong and occasionally does something useful.” However, Dougal thinks he always does a great job and whenever he is particularly proud of himself he goes and sits in the trough.
Having the Princesses (and Dougal) really sums up what is so great about being part of the beef industry. Yes, the days are long, dusty and hot, but working with animals pretty much guarantees events that will bring a smile to your face every day. From the herd bull that refuses to leave the yard until he’s had his scratch, to the myriad of native animals we come across on any given day, to the pure joy of watching a talented dog move a mob of cattle. Or even watching a not-so-talented dog wagging his tail in his sleep, fully convinced he has done his ancient-inner-wolf proud.
Good boy, Dougal.
— Late Breaking News –
Mike has acquired another puppy. She is a NZ huntaway x kelpie!