Passionate about clever kelpies

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Jan Davies with her oldest dog Mac. In the background is Bandit, aka “the middle child syndrome one”. Photo by Daneka Hill

Outside Corowa, a team of three kelpies help keep Jan and Geoff Davies’ Merino operation in line. Miniature dachshund Polly drops in from time-to-time to perform some contract work.

Who are the main team?

There is Mac, 10, Bandit, 8, and Fred, 6. They all come from Wanganella near Deniliquin. Mac and Fred are from Avenpart Kelpies (Mary McCarbb) and Bandit is from Zara Station which is next door to Avenpart. Mac is my baby, Bandit has middle-child syndrome and Fred is the people dog.

Who’s the dog person on the farm?

I’ve always been the dog worker. Geoff always had dogs but I’m the one who loved them and went to dog school and learnt to train them. Geoff was like a lot of farmers where he let the dog learn by watching other dogs. One day we bought a dog called Bess, fully-trained, and she was a revelation. You could do so much more with her and that’s when I got into it.

Tell us about Mac.

I bought Mac as a puppy for $906 and people were astounded I would spend that much on a dog, but he was a delight from the day we got him. He was instinctive and we only did a little training to put a few directions in him. Mac is eager to please, lovely natured and works in the yards and sheds. He’s a very hard worker, you actually have to stop him to make him drink.

Mac is the most agile of the farm dogs and the only one who can jump over the backyard fence. “He thinks the backdoor mat is his property.” When chained to his kennel Mac turns to digging — or as Jan artfully calls it “his little job creation scheme”, keeping her busy filling them in. Photo by Daneka Hill

Mac seems to be the reserved one of the trio.

Mac has now decided he’s an elder statesman. He insists on riding in the front of the ute and refuses to get on the tray with the riff raff. My husband blames me for spoiling him. Now he’ll just turn around if you don’t let him in the ute cab. Geoff usually caves first because you’ve got to get the sheep in at some point.

Mac prefers to occupy the passenger footwell, rather than surviving in the tray with the younger dogs. Photo by Daneka Hill

What’s Bandit like?

Geoff calls Bandit the boof-head. He’s the brawn of the show and very good in the sheep yards with force and presence. Bandit is full-on, a bit of a bully and like bullies he sulks when it doesn’t go his way. He sulks sometimes when we make him work with Fred. Bandit would love to be the only dog on the farm. He wears a muzzle when working close up and I call them his hearing aids because he pays attention better.

Bandit is a full-on worker and knows how to throw his weight around. Photo by Daneka Hill

What’s Fred like?

Bandit and Fred are Geoff’s dogs and they go with him fencing and everything. Fred is really good in the yards and is the most people-loving of the dogs. You know where the men are because Fred is there. Fred wouldn’t mind being a town dog. He’s best mates with a miniature dachshund called Polly who is absolutely tiny — only four kilograms.

Fred and Bandit wait for work. Photo by Daneka Hill

What’s Polly like?

Polly lives mostly in Albury with our son. She lacks a bit of ground speed but is one of the most intelligent dogs we’ve ever met. I didn’t like little dogs before I met her. We call her the ‘low impact’ sheepdog.

Polly cools off in the dog water bowl in the shearing shed. Photo by Supplied
Polly helps out in the big machine. Photo by Supplied

Any funny stories?

When we got our first rain after the drought I tried to get one dog — I think Mac or Bandit —to go through a puddle of water to get some sheep. He wouldn’t do it and I had to get our old dog who’d seen water to do it. I realised later the young dog had only ever seen water in troughs.

Have you always used kelpies?

I’ve had kelpies all my life, even when I was growing up in town because my grandfather had them. I love them with a passion. When we retire into town we might think about a different breed, but I’d probably keep a retired kelpie with me to join the latte set. Probably Mac.

How valuable are they?

We shear twice a year so the dogs are very busy. The dogs are invaluable because help is hard to get and a good dog is needed to keep them up to the shearers.

Words and pictures: Daneka Hill