The Making of a Vegetable Herding Dog

Reader Contribution by Ilene White Freedman and House In The Woods Farm
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English Shepherds are herding dogs. They are work dogs and need to be kept busy. We have animals on our farm, and our dogs help herd and protect the farm animals at times, but it’s not a full-time job. And this puppy needs a full time job. We are vegetable farmers. Vegetables don’t need much corralling. Now that Kenai is two, I am starting to realize we have created a job opening we didn’t know we needed. He really is herding the vegetables.

Not So Helpful Help

As a puppy, when we would dig in the soil to plant, he would dig in the soil too. This was not helpful help. When we were digging up sweet potatoes, he would dig holes too. Cute, but this is a job that could get out of hand. I could see how this digging job could become a real problem on a vegetable farm. We needed to find a different job for Kenai.

The hard-working dog was just trying to find his job. He tried on another hat that summer. When we would carry row covering, he would try to tug the pile of cloth the other way. Another not-so-good job. When we were carrying a big crate of produce, he would try to get under our feet or take the opportunity to bite at our shoes. More unhelpful helping.

Herding Vegetables

Kenai is two years old now and he has settled into his role as a vegetable herding dog.  Here is how it works. When I am making my way down a row of cucumbers or zucchini, harvesting, he walks along, keeping close attention to what I am doing. When I find a dinged up cucumber, I cut a piece off and throw it. Kenai dashes after it. He chews it a little, drops it and waits for the next one. Sometimes he gets a few in a row, back and forth along an open row, and then he knows he needs to wait a while. He will stay at attention, monitoring for the next cucumber to step out of line. You’ve got to keep those vegetables all together, when you are herding produce. Minutes go by; you might be lost in thought. Look up, and you will find you are being watched quite intently. He is on the job, herding vegetables.

Kenai is very good at his job. He respects the little piles of cucumbers or zucchini that I set next to the plants as I am harvesting. He might look at them longingly, but he doesn’t touch them. He doesn’t really want one anyway. Taking one for himself is not what he is after. He wants me to pick one up and cut it, so he can catch or chase a piece.

When you’ve got 300 feet of cucumbers to harvest, you might need a farm vehicle to help haul heavy crates. After that, it is good to have a friend to help get the job done. And in this case, a vegetable herding dog might be just what you need.

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life on the farm’s Facebook Page. For more about House in the Woods Farm, go to the House in the Woods website, and read all of Ilene’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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