Sheep for Their Dogs

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Once upon a time, Americans got dogs for their sheep. Now they get sheep for their dogs:

Sue Foster knew what she needed to do when her border collie, Taff, was expelled from puppy school for herding the black Labs into a corner.

She rented some sheep.

Then she bought another border collie and rented some grazing land. Then she bought some sheep of her own. And a third border collie. Now, like the old lady who swallowed the fly, Ms. Foster keeps a llama to chase off the coyotes that threaten the lambs that go to market to finance the sheep that entertain her dogs.

This presents a business opportunity:

Each day, an average of 18 dogs visit Fido’s Farm outside Olympia, Wash., their owners paying $15 per dog to practice on the farm’s 200-head flock of sheep. Herding revenue at the farm is up 60% over the past five years, says owner Chris Soderstrom, who bought the farm in 2004.

“We get many people sent down here from the dog park in Seattle,” says Ms. Soderstrom, 63 years old. “They need to get their dog a job.” Newcomers get a 30-minute herding evaluation, to weed out biters and ovinophobes. One crucial test: Does the dog instinctively know it should circle around the sheep, not charge into the center of the flock?
Border collies appear willing to herd until they drop. In fact, they never appear to grow bored of organizing sheep. If they do, for an extra $5 dogs at Fido’s Farm can also herd ducks.


  1. Dregs says:

    I expected to be annoyed by this article, but I must admit that it left me feeling impressed with what this lady has done. Yes, the impetus was somewhat absurd, but she has created something truly useful out of it: grass-pastured lamb and sheep are being raised, with meat and wool coming from it, border collies are kept from going insane, it has contributed to a real sense of community and cooperation among the people who are doing this, etc.

    One other thought I had when reading this, and here I start to think that awareness of HBD is a road to madness: who wants to calculate the racial aspect of everything, no matter how superficially unrelated to race.

    Yet, I have to admit that, upon reading the article, viewing the video and slides, and in particular reading this paragraph — “Ms. Soderstrom runs the sheep-rental operation on the honor system. Owners sign in, noting how many dogs they brought. A map on the wall of a shed shows where flocks can be found that day — perhaps grazing in the clover field or the east lambing pasture.” — it struct me how this type of activity is (1) more likely among certain groups than others and (2) more likely to happen in a non-diverse area (it is in rural Washington state).

  2. Isegoria says:

    I suspect any community with small-town values and big-city wealth could develop something like these sheep-rental operations run on the honor system.

  3. Dregs says:

    To continue my admitedly reductionist train of thought in response to your remark: WHAT communities tend to have “small-town values” (which itself sounds like code for…well, you know; kinda like “good schools”) and WHAT peoples tend to have “big-city wealth”?

    Maybe any such place “could” develop it, but DO they? I’m sure some places do; but some more than others. Also, it may be that the more salient factor of the two I mentioned is lack of diversity rather than presence of any one race in particular. Nevertheless, regarding dogs in particular, it is a very Western thing to bring out the best in dogs.

  4. ICR says:

    You’d think that these “white people” would have smart enough to find out in advance of purchase that Border Collies don’t make good pets.

  5. ICR says:

    To an amazing degree, once you’ve seen one Border Collie you’ve seen them all:

    There are 643 registered foundation dogs with genetic influence on the current population. 0.01% (25) of all registered dogs determine 75% of the genes in the current population. Effectively the genes of only 8 of the founder dogs determine the genes in the current population.

  6. Isegoria says:

    Yes, modern dog breeds are amazingly inbred — apparently because breeders have wanted dogs to breed “true” across so many different dimensions at the same time: size, shape, coloration, temperament, etc.

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