Adventures of South Dakota Cowdogs

Anybody who works young dogs knows things can get interesting even under the best of circumstances. Imagine how exciting things can get when you add 10 inches of hard packed snow and below freezing temperatures.

One of those VERY cold and snowy mornings proved to be just that, exciting! I had loaded my two young boys, Dustin and Brady, enough corn for the calves and two of my young dogs, Gypsy and Zac. And so, the pickup load of us headed out to feed the calves.

We got to the windmill in the Red Shed pasture (480 acres) where we spotted about half the calves. We continued down through the draw and up to the far hills. The deep, crusted snow made driving difficult, but the tractor had broken a good track through it just the morning before. We spotted the remaining calves down in the tree filled draw about 250 yards away.

I stopped, jumped the dogs out and sent them on a wide cast to the left. (Just in case I couldn't see some of the calves further down the draw.) The dogs went down in the draw together and Gypsy came up on the far hillside to pick up two calves on the other hill, but no Zac. Gypsy went on a little farther and picked up four more calves I hadn't seen when we parked that were hidden in a little "finger draw". Still no Zac. (I was starting to get concerned!) Gypsy had everything gathered up and started them toward the pickup. Just then, Zac popped up from the draw, covered from head to toe with Burdock!! (soft, brown, burrs) He looked like a big brown cactus! It was a good thing Gypsy had complete control of the herd, because I was laughing so hard at that funny looking pup, I couldnít possibly be any help!

Zac managed to keep working despite the restriction of movement caused by the overload of burrs. He and Gypsy brought the calves behind the pickup until we reached the feed bunks.

Once at the bunks I called the dogs in so they could keep the calves away from the bunks while I poured corn in. (Itís also a good time to work on holding pressure!) After the corn was all in, I called the dogs off and told them to go get a drink. They ran the 1/2 mile back down to the windmill. Needless to say, since our temperatures hadnít been above freezing in two months, the tanks were completely iced over except for a small opening under the lead pipe.

Gypsy leapt onto the side of the old tire tank and put her front feet out on the ice to reach the opening to water. Just as she put her head down to get a drink, I saw the ice give way under her feet! Her head, shoulders and front legs were completely under water. Unfortunately, her back feet were still on the wide brim of the tank. I ran toward her as I could tell she was struggling to pull herself out backwards. The deep, icy snow made running down the hill very difficult; being in a total panic wasnít helping me!

As I neared the tank, Gypsy finally jumped all the way in and was able to turn around and reach out to the side of the tank with her front legs and pull herself out. When she jumped free of the tank, I could hear her gasping for air. The whole ordeal probably lasted only 40 seconds, but it sure seemed like she was under water for an eternity at that moment! I called to her and we ran back up the hill to the pickup. As quickly as possible, I wrapped her in an old coat and put her in the pickup on the floor next to the heater. By the time we got home, she had dried and thought she was ready for more work!

I put Gypsy in her kennel and took Zac in the house to start the enormous task of removing hundreds of brown burrs from a very long haired dog! By the time I finished, I had a ball of burrs the size of a volleyball laying on my kitchen floor! Quite the sight.

Working with dogs is an adventure I look forward to every day. I have learned that there is rarely a dull moment with them around!

- Laura, her husband and two young boys (ages 4 & 6), raise beef cattle, Quarter Horses and Border Collies in Southwestern South Dakota. Laura enjoys training horses and dogs. If you would like to visit with her about ranching, stockdogs, horses, or life in general, feel free to email her at lmhicks@gwtc.net or call her at 605-455-2580.