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Why I chose Aussies
By Norm Andrews, Nebraska, April 2004
It is kind of funny, I've always told people I got into using Australian
Shepherds by accident and chance, but as I sit here to write you the details, it
might not have been as accidental as I have always thought. I am a fifth
generation Nebraska Cattleman. My Great Great Grandfather trailed some purebred
Shorthorn cattle to Nebraska from Canada in the 1870's. After a lifetime of
working to import, and improve the breeding stock in the new state, he was
inducted into the first year of the Nebraska Hall Of Agricultural Achievement;
and was asked "How they got so far on so little Capital". He replied "By
trading off everything I owned except my family and my dog!"
In the summer of 1988, my wife took our three kids to a field day of the Nebraska Simmental Association for a 4-H judging contest. I went to the field to cultivate corn. About 4:00pm they all showed up in the field with a root beer float telling me about the demonstration that Bruce Nelson had put on with his Australian Shepherd, WTCH Oliver's Romulus Five. They insisted that I had to leave the tractor in the field, and come with them to the second demonstration he was giving. They had all had their turn being yelled at when we worked cattle, and were certain I would agree. They said that this dog worked cattle the way I work them, and I would own one soon.
I was doubtful about the whole thing since the last dog we had owned I had
shot because it chased cattle, and we don't need that kind of thing on the
place. I had also seen sheep dogs work with their wide circles, and no power
and didn't need something that managed to only find it's way to laying under the
chute when you try to load stock!
But, I went, the kids got a trophy for judging cattle, Bonnie won a silver cattle plate in a door prize drawing, I saw some of the first black Simmentals in the area, and we saw a beautiful demonstration of working cattle aimed at the everyday farmer.
Bruce had Rom move cattle away from us, go through a gate and stop. Then he
sent him into the far pen and had him bring calves to us through the gate right
up to the small group that was watching. The dog would walk right through the
middle of the calves, split them, put them together, haze them up to the gate
where Bruce was standing, and let him sort them into two separate pens. All
with a quiet confidence that was backed up with a nip or bite when needed, but
not just running all over. When I talked to Bruce later, he said those were
fresh calves that he had worked once the day before the field day to make sure
there weren't any crazy misfits that would ruin a demonstration. He assured me
the dog could handle a crazy critter, but that it just didn't make for a great
Two weeks later, when I asked about the availability of pups, Bruce had
already rated me, and recommended that I would be better suited to a started
pup than a puppy. It would be of help right from the beginning, and I wouldn't
be frustrated trying to train something completely new to me. Take the started
pup, use her, learn with her, and make mistakes with her, and she will still
always work for you. I spent considerable time trying to talk him out of $50
since I didn't need papers and wouldn't be raising any pups. We left with a
$200 eight month old black female Australian Shepherd, Andrews Right Cross Ebony
Lady, that I expected to work
miracles in the cattle pens. I wasn't disappointed, either.
16 years later
I have used Australian Shepherds ever since that time. I appreciate their power, direct style of working, ability to hit heads and heels when needed, but most of all their desire to work for me! They work when we need to work! They own you, and form a relationship with you and your place like no other thing does. I have supplied calves to a lot of stock dog trials over the years, and appreciate the pretty runs that other dogs have on the first day when the cattle are fresh. But the real test for me is the second day when the cattle are tired of the game, and want to challenge the dogs. It's on that tough run that you get to measure the real worth of a dog. When the cattle are chasing it across the arena no amount of training will help it. When the cattle won't move and all the dog can do is bark, you can scratch another dog off of the list that you would want to take home and work the cows.
I am a cattleman first! That is our living! I can train a little with the dog, but the Australian Shepherd follows me, seems to learn what we are doing, and just gradually steps in and takes over with a minimum of correction and effort. They have trained my cows, made my life so much more efficient, and keep every day fresh and enjoyable. They love to work, don't worry about the note at the bank, and will walk through mud and manure to put themselves in harms way because a job just needs to be done.
I often wonder what my Great Great Grandfather would think of my cattle. I think he would like my kids. I know he would like my dog!