A Coolac woman and her dog have come close to rounding up top honours in a competition to find the hardest working dog coast to coast and across the Tasman.
Emma Stocks will tell you she and her black and tan kelpie Koby – with the most beautiful eyebrows – weren’t even close to winning, but their second placing in the inaugural trans-Tasman Cobber Challenge was nonetheless impressive.
With Daniel Pumpa and his dog Turbo, from Koorawatha, near Young, placing eighth, it’s given the NSW South West Slopes Region pretty good paddock cred.
In its sixth year, challenge organisers decided to invite Kiwi farmers and their dogs to compete for the first time in the three-week competition which saw 12 working dogs from each state wear GPS collars to track their distance, average speed and working duration on a farm.
But it was Aussie dogs all the way with Victorian Kelpie Skyblue Jack and owner Ben Jeffery taking out first place from their 3200-hectare farm in the state’s Western District, in the unique competition.
Six-year-old Skyblue Jack mustered sheep for drenching, checked up on lambing ewes, showing his owner ones that needed help and shifted sheep and cattle onto paddocks with more feed.
With Ben’s boss unable to get back to Mepungah Pastoral because of border closures, Ben, Skyblue Jack and his kennel mates had to step up to get all the stock work done.
Those circumstances gave Skyblue Jack a leg up in the competition and saw him clock a Cobber Challenge record of 1012.6 kilometres over the three-week period.
They recorded 87 hours worked and an average speed of 11.59 km/h. That’s an average of just over four hours and 48 km a day.
Emma bred 18-month-old Koby – the young’un of the competition – who came in second, clocking up to an average 30 kilometres per day in the very steep Coolac country.
Koby is one of five in Emma’s team of working dogs, but there’s also a retiree – a border collie-kelpie-cross Mya – and three pups in training, so her hands are full.
But, she says, the rotation works well on the mixed livestock property.
It’s clear Koby is her blue-eyed boy.
“He’s got such a gentle temperament, he’s so patient with stock and very versatile. And for his age, he’s very wise and mature which makes it easy to work with him,” Emma said.
The training of working dogs is no mean feat and Emma said she eased into it with Mya and the help of a couple of highly skilled on-farm mentors. Such is Mya’s standing, Emma’s working dog stud “MyRu” is named after her and another favorite, Ruby.
“I’ve always loved dogs, we’ve always had them, but Mya was my first working dog and she possibly taught me more than I taught her,” she said.
“She was a natural, she always knew what direction to go – I could leave her, send her over mountains to get a mob of cattle and I’d catch up with her later. She kind of set the bar for all dogs since.”
Each day of the challenge Emma would head out on the motorbike and put Koby to work. In that country, they disappear over hills you wouldn’t even want to roll down.
“I’d just stay put and he’d be about a kilometre away and I could still see what he was doing on the GPS,” she said.
“It was a real learning experience for me in seeing just how much ground the dogs cover in a day.”
Raw data was uploaded each night of the competition, giving the judges and the competitors a running total.
“It was pretty good, I definitely know the dog worked his heart out – there was no way first position was in our reach,” she said.
“You wouldn’t want to do it day after day, there were days I pulled back a bit, three weeks was enough for them.”
While coming second didn’t earn a prize, there were plenty of pats and scratches for Koby’s effort.
“Yeah – he got lots of love from me – he’s certainly done a good job,” she said.