Farmers get paid to let pet dogs herd their sheep

Marketplace Staff Mar 3, 2011

Farmers get paid to let pet dogs herd their sheep

Marketplace Staff Mar 3, 2011


Steve Chiotakis: It was a Scottish Deerhound, a hunting dog, which won the Westminster Dog Show a couple of weeks ago in New York. But the popularity of herding dogs has come a long way in recent years too. We’re talking canines such as Australian Shepherds. So some sheep farms now let dog owners rent time with their flocks so their herding dogs can do what they do best.

From Olympia, Washington, Ann Dornfeld reports.

Ann Dornfeld: On this chilly Saturday, half a dozen city-dwellers are lined up with their dogs along a muddy field. The dogs are waiting for their turn to chase a flock of sheep into a tiny pen.

Sylvia Griggs is the facilities manager at Fido’s Farm, an 80-acre spread with hundreds of sheep. It’s been in operation for seven years. Griggs says business is booming thanks to the growing popularity of herding dogs as pets.

Sylvia Griggs: A large base is mainly Australian Shepherds. People have no clue how active those dogs really are. They’re not designed as a pet. The dogs are bred to work, to have a job, and they don’t do well if they don’t have some type of outlet.

When herding dogs don’t have an opportunity to round up livestock, they devote that extra energy to nipping at your kids’ heels as they ride their bikes or chewing up the house.

Greta Zuercher knows firsthand. She’s here with her young Border Collie, Tess.

Greta Zuercher: She destroyed some Oriental carpets — every single one she chewed the edges. I ended up duct-taping them to the floor to keep her from chewing them.

Dornfeld: How much were those worth?

Zuercher: About $5,000 each.

Today, Zuercher is spending $15 so Tess can spend a day with the sheep. Zuercher lives in a Portland suburb. But she says the two-and-a-half hour drive is worth it. Zuercher says as soon as she got Tess around sheep, it was clear that this dog was born to herd.

Zuercher: It was actually really interesting. I carried her into a packed pen and she had them all in the corner just by looking at them. It was just impressive to me.

Zuercher says Tess’ behavior has improved a lot since she started herding. Sylvia Griggs says Fido’s Farm now gets more than a dozen customers like Zuercher a day.

Griggs: Basically, it’s all word-of mouth! We do very little advertising about the herding.

Other breeds can herd, too. Standard Poodles, Rottweilers and Rhodesian Ridgebacks all have a knack for it, apparently. But if your dog doesn’t have a natural herding instinct, Fido’s Farm gives lessons for $35 a pop.

In Olympia, Wa., I’m Ann Dornfeld for Marketplace.

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