What's the story of the Flying Mule Farm dogs?
At Flying Mule Farm, our dogs are more than just pets – they are our everyday partners! As commercial sheep producers, we rely on our border collies [photo right--Mo, who’s 4; Taff, who’s 9; and Ernie, who’s 2; with Dan Macon] to help us manage our 400 sheep efficiently and humanely. We rely on our livestock guardian dogs (Buck – 8; Reno – 3; and Rosie – 1) to protect our sheep from predators!
What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
Most days, I make my first check of the sheep with Ernie, Mo and Taff early in the morning. Around mid-morning, we usually head into town (Auburn) for an iced coffee at Java Detour – a drive-thru coffee spot. We all like Java Detour because the ladies always have treats for the dogs, and they always have my coffee ready for me when I get to the window! All three dogs sit up in the back seat when we get to the window – they want to make sure the ladies know they’re with me!
What are your dogs' tasks on the farm?
Buck [photo left], a Great Pyrenees/Anatolian mix, is in charge of our security division. As the senior livestock guardian dog, he’s responsible for protecting the ewes while they are lambing. Since he’s nearing retirement age (which means he’ll get to move home and spend his days on the back porch), he’s training Reno (an Anatolian shepherd) as his replacement. Rosie (an Anatolian/Akbash cross), our newest addition, is still a pup, but she’s already responsible for protecting 200 ewes from coyotes, mountain lions and stray dogs. Our guardian dogs do an amazing job – we’ve not lost any sheep to predators in seven years! These dogs live with the sheep around the clock – they view themselves as the alpha dog in a pack of sheep!
Taff is definitely the alpha dog in our border collie pack, although he’s by far the most benevolent ruler I’ve ever been around – he’s so mellow we call him the “Buddha collie.”
Mo [photo right] is Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky – if there’s no sheep work to be done, he loves chasing bird shadows and butterflies. Ernie is the joker of the bunch – his favorite hobby is chewing on garden hoses (he’s usually the only one who laughs at his “jokes”).
Taff came to us through our friend and fellow shepherd Ellen Skillings. We purchased him as a trained 4-year-old. Ernie and Mo are half brothers out of Ellen’s dog Emer – we got them both as puppies. Our oldest daughter, Lara, started Mo’s herding training. Our youngest daughter, Emma, shares Ernie with me. All three dogs live to work – they absolutely love to herd sheep. Because we rely on our dogs to accomplish our work, our relationship with each of them is far more rewarding than any “pet” relationship we’ve ever had – they are our partners in the truest sense of the word.
Of the three, Mo is easily the most talented. When I need to do something complicated (like load sheep into the trailer without the benefit of a pen), I always turn to Mo.
Taff has the biggest heart – he may not have Mo’s talent, but he never quits. Ernie is just beginning his working career, but I think he’ll combine Mo’s athleticism with Taff’s stamina.
[Reno, photo left]
What have you learned from your dogs?
If you asked my dogs, they’d tell you that they are trying to teach me to be patient and observant. They see and sense things when we’re working sheep that I sometimes miss.
I’m learning to pay attention to what they’re trying to tell me when we’re working – they speak human better than I speak dog at this point!
If a movie were made about your life in which your dogs could speak, who should do their voices?
If a movie were made about Flying Mule Farm (maybe a reality show instead – Extreme Sheepherding!), I think Sean Connery would be perfect for Taff’s voice!
Hugh Grant would do Mo’s voice, while Ernie would definitely be played by Jim Carrey!
[Rosie, photo right]
If your dogs could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?
Finally, I’d love to be able to ask my dogs where they prefer to ride – in the cab or in the back of the truck!
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