19 March 2024

Insight from: Robbie Sefton

It's early morning. You head for the shed to be greeted by your most loyal worker who's always happy to see you, is never late and works without complaint - sometimes well into the night.

I couldn't imagine running our farm without our team of working dogs, who are smart, loyal, with big personalities and a total commitment to the task at hand.

Our Border Collies and Kelpies are not only tireless workers, they're great companions and our farm life wouldn't be the same without them.

The working dog has had its profile elevated around the nation in recent years by the TV program Muster Dogs, which has introduced the Kelpie and Border Collie breeds - and what they're capable of - to a whole new audience.

Many in rural and regional Australia probably already had a good idea of their value around the farm but thanks to this program, people in metropolitan areas are getting to know Australia's working dogs and are growing to love them.

Of course, the working dog is not a new concept here in Australia, having worked alongside farmers for decades and immortalised in poetry, stories, art and films along the way.

There are statues honouring them around the country and the local agricultural show wouldn't be the same without the working dog trials that showcase just how clever these canines really are - plus the amazing bonds established between dog and handler.

In the past few years the prices for Kelpies and Border Collies bred to work on-farm has reflected just how much they are valued by farmers, with auctions seeing successful bids in the tens of thousands of dollars.

"Spending as much money on a dog as a decent car", some might say, but when you consider the cost of employing staff, it makes more sense. And when it's getting harder to find people to work on remote and rural properties, you can further understand the interest.

They really are seasoned athletes, able to go for miles at a time and across all different types of country and landscapes. They can go where it can be hard for people and vehicles to access at times and weather doesn't dampen their enthusiasm or abilities.

The natural instinct of these breeds to herd, and work and control stock, is also amazing to watch - kicking in from such a young age and then ready for an adept trainer to add the final polish.

Because a good dog doesn't happen by accident and isn't achieved by instinct alone. Years of knowledge, experience and effort has gone into the process by breeders to find the best genetics and bloodlines to maximise the odds of a litter of top pups.

Then there's the training that has to go into capitalising on those genetics to further enhance the innate traits.

Hours and hours of skill, persistence and patience is put into training a dog to work to its fullest capacity, which is beautifully highlighted in the Muster Dogs series. If all the elements come together, the result is awe-inspiring.

The contribution working dogs have made to Australian agriculture over many generations shouldn't be underestimated.

And, today, despite the advancement of technology across all aspects of the industry, it hasn't managed to replace what these four-legged warriors offer when it comes to commitment, intelligence, courage and companionship.

To read this article in The Land newspaper, visit Four-legged farm workers who've helped make Australian agriculture what it is today | The Land | NSW

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