March 21, 2010

New Zealand farm working dogs. Doug Lang's TED

By Dr Clive Dalton

Too many Ag Grads
I arrived at the Whatawhata Hill Country Research Station, near Hamilton, New Zealand from Leeds University in 1968, after the UK government in its wisdom, in the hands of PM Harold Wilson and Sir John Wolfendon of the University Grants Committee (UGC), decided that we were turning out too many ‘agricultural’ graduates, and we needed more ‘agricultural science’ graduates. Our Leeds Vice Chancellor Sir Roger Stevens, an ex Foreign Office diplomat who knew nothing about agriculture bought this con, and we were on our way – out the door!

Closed down
The UGC closed the Agricultural Schools at Leeds, Oxford and Glasgow and the end result, that I heard from colleagues who hung on at Leeds trying to reinvent themselves with new names to include the word 'science', was a monumental shambles that only high-powered bureaucrats and Knights of the Realm could accomplish.

Nothing was achieved to benefit agricultural education or farming, but it got our family away from the Leeds winter smogs to breathe the pure air of the New Zealand hill country.

Whatawhata Hill Country Research Station 1970s

After five weeks at sea, we arrived at this research station with the funny name – ‘Whatawhata’ which is of Maori origin for ‘elevated storehouse, with its 2000 acres (800 ha) of steep green hills. The ‘wh’ in Maori is not pronounced as an ‘F’ or a ‘W’ – it’s something in between, spoken with exhaled breath. It was like coming home to my Scottish Border roots.

Farm working dogs
During the subsequent 11 years of research with sheep and beef cattle at Whatawhata, I had the opportunity to form many love/hate relationships with one of the most important bits of equipment that we had on the research station – the farm working dogs.

In 1986 I wrote a tribute (expanded below) to one of these helpers, of which we had at least 20 on the station at any one time, belonging to the shepherds and technicians. But in terms of memories, one stood out head and tail above all the rest; he was called ‘TED’.

'The Working Dog’s Contribution to Agricultural Research'
In, Whatawhata Hill Country Research Station, A historical review 1949-1986 by Elizabeth J. Farrelly. Eljay Enterprises, Hamilton, New Zealand. 1986.

It’s sobering to think that without the thousands of dogs that served the staff at Whatawhata and the other Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries research stations in New Zealand over the last 40 years, the good, the bad and the ‘reach-for-the-rifle’ dogs, very little research would ever have been completed.

No medals
Yet few of these dogs received any permanent recognition by having their names recorded on a plaque or in the Public Service archives in our Wellington Head Office. They had no hope of a gold collar on retirement or being put up for a Royal NZ Honour. There should have been a medal for them – The Canine Order of New Zealand (CONZ) ‘for distinguished service to agricultural research’.

Doug Lang’s TED

Ted and Doug - and the old Landrover scanning the
Whatawhata Research Station hills

Dr Doug Lang was my Research Director at Whatawhata and Ted's origins start with Doug remembering seeing some rugby players training when he moved from the UK to his new job at New England University, Armidale in New South Wales, Australia,. He wandered over to see what the blokes were up to.

He ended up with them in the pub that evening, as a newly recruited member of the club, and somewhere in the many liquid conversation(s), he happened to mention that he would need a ‘handy dog’ to help with his work. Next afternoon he heard a tap at his office door and there was a wee pup, with the guy he’d met the previous evening leaping into his Landrover and beating a rapid retreat.

Doug named the pup ‘Ted’, and he (not Doug) started a long career as a Research Assistant by regularly piddling on the polished floors of the labs at Armidale. Ted soon became the official mascot of the University rugby and cricket teams in which Doug played, and Ted spent many hours snoozing behind the goal or on the boundary waiting for sundown.

Always on call
Then Ted moved with Doug to work at the University of Queensland at Canon Hill Research Station, where during the week he was on call for at least ten different staff members who needed to shift stock, or bring them in for manipulations. But come Saturday, Ted was back minding the goal and/or the boundary depending on the time of year.

Ted’s next move was to the real outback - to Kununarra in the Northern Territory. To get there, Doug first flew from Queensland to Perth sitting with Ted in cargo, Doug remembering that Ted was very pleased to get down on terra firma again.

Ted then continued his journey by boat from Perth – a trip of 21 days during which his bodily functions came to a complete standstill. So when Doug picked him up at the wharf – Ted just stopped rigid and let it all go. In seconds a puddle, then a lake, then an inland sea, surrounded him with his face showing signs of absolute ecstacy.

A thistle up his bum
In terms of Ted’s bodily functions, before evacuating his bowels he was famous for spending ages selecting the biggest, most prickly Scotch thistle he could find, and then backing on to it with great delicacy – with a sort of grin/smirk of satisfaction on his face. You just had to wait for this sequence to be completed as Ted clearly deemed it far more important than your job in hand.

We animal behaviorists tried in vain to figure out the reason for these doggy antics, going back to Ted’s wolf or Dingo ancestors for an answer – with no avail. The pain stimulus on a sensitive part of the body must have concentrated his mind or something. No other station dog ever approached him in this art.

Ted’s two pet hates
Doug reckons two things drove Ted crazy in the Northern Territory – silver-crested cockatoos and crocodiles! It must have been deep in his Australian genes. He maybe thought both were out to get him – and he was probably right!

So Ted wasn’t sorry when the day came for his final Aussie journey by VW beetle with Doug, through the Northern Territory from the Orde river to Alice Springs. Then back through Queensland to Sydney from where he flew to New Zealand to do service first at the world-famous Ruakura Agricultural Research Centre, before his final research job at the Whatawhata Hill Country Research Station.

Ted’s genetics
Ted didn’t arrive with pedigree papers or the approval of the Australian Kennel Club, and as far as anyone could predict, his father was a Kelpie and his Mum a Border Collie – and the chances are high that it was not a planned mating. So the moniker ‘handy dog’ fitted him perfectly – a dog that would do anything and everything on a sheep and cattle farm, and do it for anyone who asked him nicely!

At bad moments, many of us downgraded Ted’s kelpie DNA to ‘Aussie Blardy Dingo’ when his performance didn’t coincide with our objectives. So at trying moments, his description of “Ted you Baarstaard” may well have been the truth.

When he had really got in the way by volunteering his unwanted assistance, and stuffed up some great plan by a shepherd with his own dogs, there would be a whole range of other well chosen adjectives inserted in front of ‘baarstaard’. Coming from the north of England, I used to marvel at the richness of the English language which had embedded so well in the antipodes.

Ted's holy sires
Many a time from a distance on quiet autumn mornings with no breeze, you would regularly hear someone who had called on Ted’s services, threatening him with his Biblical pedigree of ‘By Jeeeesus Ted, By Chrrrroist Ted’ or ‘By the Holy Powers Ted’.

A ‘Handy Dog’

Ted was certainly a classical ‘Handy Dog’, that can do anything around a farm from mustering, droving, woolshed work, backing (jumping on sheeps’ backs to push them forward), heeling and nosing cattle especially recalcitrant bulls, lambing work and much more like playing with the kids and returning the cricket ball to the bowler from the boundary.

Ted could do all these jobs and more without getting a sweat on and needing to jump into a trough or creek to cool off like other dogs did. He did like a trough bath though, usually selecting one full of slime. At lambing time he also loved an afterbirth to roll in or some fresh sheep dung, usually just before going home.

A keen sire

But Ted’s favourite challenge was siring unplanned pups from bitches on the station. He was a master at getting into a cage where the bitch was confined while on heat, and smiling nicely at her owner when he was found, hoping that he could get up more acceleration from a standing start than the owners boot!

Willing helper
Ted’s greatest value, like all good handy dogs, was that he would work for anyone. But let’s qualify this statement. He would do the job his way, accompanied by the person (technician or scientist) who thought they had borrowed him from Doug’s office, from under Doug's desk or station wagon to work for them. The handler accompanied Ted, and not vice versa.

Ted made a major contribution teaching people new to animal research, how to work sheep with a dog. Ted had it all worked out what he would do, and what he could get the newchum handler to do – and then how to get his handler’s grateful thanks for the result whether success or disaster.

Sheep dog No-Nos
But Ted was never around to take responsibilities for the three big No-Nos of sheep work – Ballsups, Boxups and Smothers. Ted could see these coming so he always left for home earlyin the proceedings (presumably on some urgent business or to select a thistle) and left you with the disaster. You could almost hear his Aussie accent saying ‘she’s your problem mate’!

Wool classing and woolshed work
Ted was a keen ‘wool classer’ and he’d regularly draw a mid-side or britch sample for your inspection from an unsuspecting sheep. He loved close quarter work like this.

But his unquestioned skill was his ability to help you pen-up sheep in the woolshed. Unlike other dogs, Ted loved working under the grating as well as in the shed on top.

He was skilled at rushing ahead and barking to baulk the sheep the moment they were about to enter the catching pen. His timing was perfect – and he knew he was safe from boot or stick. When at bursting point, you had to go outside to fire stones at him under the shed, but once you got inside again to continue – Ted was back in position.

But what really made Ted’s day was when a sheep’s leg slipped through a hole in the broken wooden grating made where knots had fallen out. He loved hanging on to a bit of warm, fresh, woolly bone!

The purge of Hydatids
In the 1980s, ‘hydatids’ was still a serious disease where the parasite in the sheep could be transferred to humans by contact with dogs’ faeces. Thankfully it has now been eliminated from New Zealand by many years of vigilant testing dogs for the parasite. Dogs are still treated with pills every 6 weeks for a range of parasites as a prevention.

Dogs had to be taken to marked areas on road verges in varying places designated as ‘dog dosing strips’ by the District Councils. The 'Hydatid’s Officer' arrived in his car and trailer with all his gear and after checking all dogs were registered, administered a chemical to stimulate the dog to purge so a sample of faeces could be collected and taken back to the lab for checking for worm eggs.

The dogs hated being dosed and they certainly knew what was up when the farm truck came out and they were all told to ‘get up’ into the back. Some saw the truck, then all the dogs in the back, and had to be grabbed by the scruff and heaved in. They knew what was up.

Les Dobson - Raglan Hydatid's Officer

The Heddon Road dosing strip, 40 years on -
place of many memories for Ted. ALL BAD!

But more fun came on arrival at the strip along from the Station in Heddon Road. The old dogs would not leave the truck – you had to put their chain on and drag them off, before dragging them and hooking them to metal hoops set out by the Hydatid’s Officer Les Dobson. Les was a ‘real hard case’ if ever there was one. He had to be to deal with all the dogs and their owners in the Raglan area.

Les had been around a long time and had some special tricks up his sleeve when filling out the records of dogs present, to fool any shepherds into blurting out what dogs they had at home that should have brought along for dosing and should have been registered. Pups didn’t need to be registered or dosed, so Les was expected to believe that all dogs at home were still ‘pups!

The slowest purger on the strip
Ted was famous for being the slowest purger of all dogs on the strip. He hated the whole experience, and his bowels just wouldn’t co-operate. After about three drenches to purge him, with his Les holding him in a snarling headlock, and four enemas up the other end where Les held him high by the tail at full stretch of the chain – and after more waiting, we’d all get fed up and go home with Ted having contributing zilch. All he sometimes obliged with were a few mouthfuls of sick.

One memorable time (looking back now, but not then), Doug was busy so I took Ted down to the strip. He had his usual few up the front end and then more up the back end, with the usual nil result, and as we all had work to do we went back to the station. Ted returned to his usual spot under Doug’s desk and I clean forgot to tell Doug that he hadn’t purged.

When I did remember, Doug said that it was OK as he had found out. Ted had purged hours later at Johnstone’s corner going into town in the back of the station wagon!

Master of the brawl
Ted was also a master of starting scraps and then clearing off when things got heated. One Christmas I was feeding about 25 dogs for owners on holiday, and I always let them all off for a run and a swim in the creek below the office.

Ted must have heard all the excited barking and appeared from nowhere, and in seconds all hell broke loose. The result was a rolling ball of snarling dogs, slowly working its way past the hogget shed down the hill towards the creek.

I tried everything – sticks, stones, boots, whistles, oaths, Biblical quotes, Northumbrian oaths, and new Kiwi terms I had learned and didn’t understand. All useless! The battle only started to unwind when Ted shot out the side of the maul, and did a runner off back home up the hill to Doug’s house.

Dalton's Bob – by Lang's Ted out of Derrick's Sue
I foolishly got a pup for our kids sired by Ted, from an unplanned mating (as usual) with technician Graham Derrick’s Sue. We called him Bob (sometimes!) and he was intended as a non-working pet. All the other pups in the litter were useless I learned, but the little sod we got would never stop working.

No way could he be let off to play with the kids. I only let him off for basic training – a very basic mistake. So not surprisingly, he assumed that when off the chain it was sheep work time. When he saw sheep, even on the far horizon he would take off and even muster half of Ken Johnstone’s farm next door! Bob had clearly inherited plenty of Ted’s hard genes. I had to wait till he was exhausted before he responded to my ‘way leggo’ whistle.

He created some great memories among the technicians and shepherds, and when we meet after 40 years now, Bob’s antics are more memorable than mine. Bob had Ted’s hard genes, and I had to work him most of the time with his front foot through the collar to slow him down. That didn’t work for long, as he learned to handle three legs with ease. I used to then change his legs hoping to fool him, but he soon solved that one too.

I used to make him run behind the motorbike going flat out up to the yards. This tired him for a short while, but even when his soft pads wore off with a few days of yard work, he only slowed temporarily.

Possum hunting Ted
Ted was a great possum hunter. He loved the chase and would locate possums in the tree, barking to inform Doug of their location. After Doug dislodged them, Ted would drive the possum towards him to be dispatched by a forward push or straight drive from Doug’s old autographed cricket bat. Doug’s main worry was the possibility that he would miss, and the possum would continue its journey thinking Doug’s long legs were another tree to nestle in a nice safe crotch!

The end of an era
Ted worked to the ripe old age of 16, ending his days in semi retirement when Doug went farming. There must be at least 20 scientists of note around the world who will remember Ted with warm emotions for the contribution he made to their work. There would be at least five times as many shepherds and technicians in Australasia at the many research stations who would all have instant recall when the name TED was mentioned.

Without doubt, Ted will be in some working dog paradise, most likely under St Peter's woolshed, listening for his quoted parentage and a holy leg to slip through the grating.

Happy memories

Ted winning the heart of Olive Dalton on his rounds of the Research Station houses

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